THESE ARE THE RAISES FOUGHT FOR BY SEN. MICCICHE
In the heart of Republican country, where his leading opponent for governor is the strongest, Gov. Bill Walker has announced the Alaska State Troopers will receive a 7.5 percent wage increase.
It’s not only good for Troopers and safety, it’s good press for his campaign for re-election prospects in the Mat-Su Valley, an area where the governor’s popularity is anemic.
By most accounts, the raises are needed. But Walker is taking credit for raises that were fought for hard by a senator from Soldotna.
Sen. Peter Micciche, Majority leader, Finance member and chair of the Department of Public Safety budget, butted heads with the governor in March, when Walker asked for more positions in his Public Safety budget, and Micciche said that what was needed was not more positions at this time — over 50 are unfilled of the 389 Trooper positions funded — but better pay to retain uniformed officers.
Micciche had talked to people throughout the Department of Public Safety, and they confirmed it: Alaska State Troopers are not compensated enough for what they are asked to do on a daily basis.
Back then, the governor’s Chief of Staff Scott Kendall, took to Twitter and demanded that Micciche’s Senate committee restore the budget increases the governor had proposed for more positions.
“Budget served up by
@pmiccic and @AKSenMajority slashes public safety by $4.5 Million from budget proposed by @AkGovBillWalker. Shameful. Funds for troopers/safety not a political football for negotiations. Enough games. Grow up and put the funds back. Now. #AKleg #SaferAlaska,” the chief of staff demanded in a fit of pique in April.
What the governor had asked for was $4 million for more rural law enforcement and various public safety programs.
The governor wanted two more pilots in the Department of Public Safety and some $600,000 for a records and statistics unit. He wanted more troopers in rural Alaska, although there were 50 positions in the department that were unfilled. All this, at a time when the governor was asking for taxes from everything that wasn’t nailed down, and not providing nearly enough budget cuts across the departments.
Micciche didn’t back down. Two years ago, Gov. Walker had come to the Legislature for millions of more dollars in public safety without providing any objective justification to the Legislature.
Micciche met with the leadership of the Troopers and told them to build a case for the money they needed, through an analysis that would withstand scrutiny. The Troopers’ hiring and retention study convinced Micciche of the need for better compensation first, before more positions, and he placed the language in the operating budget and pushed it over the finish line.
In recent months, the governor has come under criticism for overusing Trooper pilots and the King Air for his campaign-related stops around the state. Today’s announcement included a tactical pilot position in the Wildlife Troopers’ Aircraft Section to assist with search-and-rescue and counterdrug efforts.
Last week, the Troopers unveiled a new recruiting logo and branding package to help attract a new generation of law enforcement professionals.
Walker said he will recommend another 7.5 percent pay increase in the coming budget, although it’s uncertain he will be around to defend his budget. He faces a tough re-election cycle with two other heavy-hitters in the race for governor — Mike Dunleavy and Mark Begich.
The governor cites legislative budget intent language as his authority for appropriating the funds through a supplemental budget item, according to his press office.
TIMING WAS TO HURT MICCICHE, HELP WALKER’S RE-ELECTION
But the announcement comes weeks after Micciche sent a letter was sent to the Department of Administration, pleading with the State to release the funds he had fought for to boost Trooper salaries. It was something Gov. Walker had no intention of doing before the Primary Election, as that would have helped Micciche, who was in a tough primary battle with a Republican candidate who was criticizing him relentlessly on public safety issues.
Not until after the primary, and Micciche’s slim win was certain, did Walker finally announce that the wage increases would go into effect.
If Walker couldn’t hurt Micciche by withholding Trooper raises earlier this summer, at least he could help his own re-election chances,and announce the pay increases in a manner that would allow him to receive all the credit.