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Lawmakers could soon debate big changes to Georgia police pay


A task force appointed by Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle urged lawmakers on Wednesday to set aside at least $7 million in state funding for salary hikes to local law enforcement amid a growing debate over how much to pay police officers and sheriff’s deputies.

It also recommended studying a potential 1 percent tax on auto-insurance policies that would flow to the state’s retirement fund for law enforcement officers, but stopped short of endorsing a statewide sales tax hike for increased police pay.

The panel was formed earlier this year by Cagle, a Republican candidate for governor, as some local authorities criticized Gov. Nathan Deal’s initiative to give state law enforcement officers a 20 percent raise.

Read more: Georgia police pay hikes spark salary fight

Candidates from both parties have explored hiking salaries of local police, and several have embraced minimum pay for sheriff’s deputies and local officers. Critics, including House Speaker David Ralston and Deal, have said those salary increases should be up to local governments and not funded by state lawmakers.

In a Twitter post on Wednesday, Deal's chief of staff Chris Riley highlighted that divide when he questioned whether local governments "are going to send the state an additional $7 million in revenue to pay for their local law enforcement pay raise?"

"If so, not a bad idea!" he added. "We are for local control, right?"

 

Cagle was also slammed by a Republican rival on the other side of the issue.

State Sen. Michael Williams, who sponsored a proposal to raise the salary of local police officers and deputy sheriffs earlier this year, called the task force's work "reprehensible" because it didn't guarantee pay hikes for all law enforcement officials.

"What the hell are we doing if we don't fix this immediately - no strings attached?" he said. "These are real families that should not be jerked around for Campaign Casey's latest quest for higher office."

Cagle's task force concluded the state grant money would be available for local departments that prove a financial need or demonstrate how they can use the extra money to leverage their resources.

Other recommendations include a call for the state Department of Community Affairs to implement a pay scale for officers based on merit, training, longevity and geographic location or risk losing state and federal funds.

It also suggests studying new tax credits for law enforcement officials and a way for counties and cities to allow local governments to channel some revenue from local option sales taxes to police departments and sheriffs offices.

And it said the Georgia Sheriffs Associations and local governments should review a list of un-funded state mandates – long a bugaboo for sheriffs. It said legislation will be proposed next year to address one of them: The requirement that sheriff’s offices transport state prisoners to probation detention centers.

Not on the list was a recommendation backed by the sheriffs association for a one-cent sales tax to fund a mandatory minimum salary for deputy sheriffs and jailers that would raise the salaries to equal their state counterparts.

In a statement, Cagle said the recommendations will make Georgia “better positioned to compensate the officers who keep our communities safe.”

“There are no exceptions – every single community depends on our law enforcement to keep them safe, and in our most vulnerable moments we rely on these men and women,” he said. “Simply put, these individuals deserve our support.”

Read the report here.


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About the Author

Greg Bluestein is a political reporter who covers the governor's office and state politics for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.