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By Sean Gorman February 1, 2016

Tom Garrett is amiss on Virginia state troopers' pay

State Sen. Tom Garrett, R-Buckingham, recently explained why he was the lone Virginia senator to vote against the state budget last year.

"Last year, we were the only ‘no’ vote because (Gov.) McAuliffe and leadership on both sides were telling us that we couldn’t fund our core essential functions of government -- public transportation, public education, public safety," Garrett said in a Jan. 11 interview on "The John Fredericks Show," a Portsmouth-based radio program.

"There are teachers that are underpaid. A trooper with 10 years on the force is getting $500 a year more than a trooper with 10 minutes on the force, and yet they somehow found money to waste on tents for our state parks."

What grabbed our attention here is that a veteran state trooper with a decade of service gets a mere $500 more than a newly badged trooper.

We asked Garrett -- who is seeking the seat of retiring U.S. Rep. Robert Hurt, R-5th --  where he got his the information. Kevin Reynolds Jr., the senator’s chief of staff, told us the source is Wayne Huggins, executive director of the Virginia State Police Association, a professional organization that represents troopers.

Huggins told us that the relatively flat pay scale of troopers is a "seriously demoralizing" problem that has caused many to leave the state police for better-paying jobs with local law enforcement departments. But he denied telling Garrett that the pay differential between rookies and 10-year veterans was $500.

So we decided to figure out exactly what, if any difference, exists.

Starting pay

Troopers in most parts of the state get a starting salary of $36,207, although troopers patrolling Northern Virginia start at $45,241 due to the high cost of living there, according to figures provided by Corinne Geller, a spokeswoman with the Virginia State Police.

But a trooper’s pay doesn’t freeze at that $36,207 level for a decade. As an advertisement on the State Police website notes, a year after graduating from the State Police Training Academy the salary rises to $40,482 annually.

So a trooper with 10 years on the force would make almost 12 percent more than a rookie.

Huggins said there are two tracks for troopers. One is that they can rise through the ranks and become a supervisor, earning extra salary. The other is to remain a trooper and, with seniority and good performance, try to rise to the ranks of "senior trooper" and "master troopers." These designations also come with a raises, but are only available to those who have been on the force for at least 12 years.

Pay compression package

Another thing Garrett’s statement misses is that the General Assembly last year took the first step in years to address the pay compression issue for state police.

The 2014-2016 budget Garrett opposed contained a $228 salary hike for every year of continuous service as a trooper -- a payment that is only available to those who served at least three years and met performance criteria.

That means the 10-year veteran’s salary would be $2,280 more than the 10-minute trooper who didn’t qualify for it. And let’s not forget the 12 percent raise after the rookie year -- worth another $4,175 annually.

Our ruling

Garrett said "trooper with 10 years on the force is getting $500 a year more than a trooper with 10 minutes on the force."

In reality, the veteran trooper got a 12 percent raise after a year on the force. And last year’s budget provides a trooper with a decade on the force an added annual salary increase of $2,280. Altogether, that means a well-performing trooper who has been on the force a decade would earn $6,555 more than a rookie.  

We’re not weighing in on whether the state adequately pays its veteran troopers. But Garrett is using an inaccurate number to make the point that Virginia falls short.

We rate his claim False.

Our Sources

Sen. Tom Garrett’s comments on The John Fredericks Show, Jan. 11, 2016. (His statement is made at just over 6:15 into audio).

Email from Kevin Reynolds Jr., Chief of Staff for Sen. Tom Garrett, Jan. 25, 2016.

Interviews with Wayne Huggins, Virginia State Police Association executive director, Jan.13 and Jan. 27, 2016.

Virginia Senate Finance Committee, "Virginia State Police pay compression plan," Oct. 22, 2015.

Virginia Senate Finance Committee, "Conference report on SB 800/HB 1400 2014-2016 biennial budget," Feb. 25, 2015.

Email from Anne Waring, communications manager for the Virginia Department of Human Resource Management, Jan. 22, 2016.

Emails from Corinne Geller, spokesman for the Virginia State Police, Jan. 13 and Jan. 28, 2016.

The News & Advance, "‘What the heck are we doing buying yurts?’" March 19, 2015.

Virginia State Police, "Trooper advertisement/qualifications," accessed Jan. 28, 2016.

Richmond Times-Dispatch salary database "Department of State Police," accessed Jan. 28, 2016.

Virginia Department of Human Resource Management, "Compensation changes authorized by Chapter 665, 2015 Acts of the Assembly," May 4, 2015.

Richmond Times-Dispatch, "Bill would raise fees to aid Virginia State Police," Feb. 3, 2015.

Legislative Information System, "H.B. 1400," March 26, 2015.

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Tom Garrett is amiss on Virginia state troopers' pay

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