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Gov. Northam proposes police pay raises in upcoming budget

Person speaks at lectern with several others around them
Gov. Ralph Northam, flanked by law enforcement officers from the state, announces that his final budget proposal will include raises state and local law enforcement. (Photo: Whittney Evans/VPM News)

State and local law enforcement can look forward to a pay increase under Gov. Ralph Northam’s proposed two-year budget.

The final proposal will be unveiled next week. The governor announced the law enforcement raises Tuesday morning at the state capitol building, surrounded by public safety officers.

His proposal includes more than $223 million in new money for state troopers, correctional officers, deputy sheriffs and regional jail officials.

It would bump up starting salaries for new state troopers by 7.7%. The starting salary for new correction officers would increase by 25%, and the average entry-level salary for deputy sheriffs and regional jail officials would increase by about 20%.

The governor’s budget would also extend pay raises to a range of existing public safety employees in an effort to address the problem of pay compression. That’s when senior officers aren’t making much more than their subordinates.

“The salary compression in our law enforcement and corrections agencies has been building up for years under previous governors and legislatures,” Northam said. “And it’s time we do something about it.”

Northam rejected activists’ calls to “defund the police” during the 2020 racial justice protests following the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer. He said the focus should be on reform and a shift in funding priorities to training and increasing racial diversity in departments. 

Virginia ended the last fiscal year with a budget surplus of $2.6 billion, the largest surplus in the state’s history. Northam said it’s an unprecedented time to make long-term investments.

John Jones, executive director of the Virginia Sheriff’s Association, said sheriff’s departments have been asking for these increases for years.

“We have in some sheriff’s offices, 30% of our people turning over and leaving every year,” he said. “They’re going to other jobs. They’re finding non-law enforcement jobs. And the pay just wasn’t there.”

Richmond Sheriff Antionette V. Irving said the increases make the department a more competitive and attractive employer. 

“It will help our staff to feel more comfortable about doing their job and wanting to be a part of the job,” Irving said.

The state still has $1.1 billion left over from the American Rescue Plan Act , $690 million of which the governor has already assigned to various budget items. That leaves $424 million for the General Assembly to distribute in the upcoming legislative session which starts Jan. 12.

Northam also announced this week a proposed $2.4 billion increase for pre-K through 12 education, and a 10% pay raise for teachers.

Northam’s two-year budget proposal will have to be approved by the General Assembly in the coming months. 

Whittney Evans is VPM News’ features editor.