BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - State Police Col. Mike Edmonson says the time is now to get his team paid.
"It is definitely now the right time to do this and that's why I'm going before the session on Friday. What we're asking for is an even playing field. We're asking to bring those numbers up and equal to what the others are paid," Edmonson said.
State Police are moving to become the highest paid law enforcement agency in Louisiana.
According to a 2013 LSU study, at entry level, ten other police agencies in Louisiana are paid better than State Police. But a 30 percent pay increase starting next week for more than 1,600 troopers would bump starting salaries with benefits from roughly $35,000 to over $46,000, making State Police number one. Curerntly, the Gonzales Police department has that top spot.
State Police pay is 42nd out 50 states nationally and the fifth lowest paid out of the Southern states. Mississippi is lower and Texas and Arkansas are higher.
"As I travel around the state of Louisiana and I ask them what's most important to them, they tell me to feel safe," said Col. Edmonson.
Col. Edmonson says public safety should be the state's top priority, but the state treasurer says he has bigger concerns.
Looming in next year's budget, a $300 million cut to higher education.
"We're already last in education. We're not going to catch up by gutting our universities. Our universities are already $700 million down since 2008," says John Kennedy, state treasurer.
Kennedy says new cuts would hit every college and university across the state even harder.
"Our state troopers put their lives on the line everyday. Do they need more money, sure, absolutely. But I will tell you, I make no bones about it, my first priority is higher education," said Kennedy.
Analysts say lawmakers will have to weigh public safety against a strained state economy being hit hard by low gas prices.
"It could be a tough sell, but if anything can override the budget constraints it's the fact that we have a state with a high crime rate. And state troopers, as far as their abilities and their compensation, that's something I think that most people can understand. We want good law enforcement to protect us," said Jim Engster, 9News Political Analyst.
State Police say a pay raise will not come from taxpayer dollars.
About $14.6 million was raised internally. Legislators are voting Friday to decide whether or not to move that amount into an account to pay for salaries.