The General Assembly had not even convened when Senate Republicans sent a message to Gov. Terry McAuliffe to put money into state police salaries instead of hiring people for new public safety and mental health initiatives.
Members of the Senate Finance subcommittee on public safety made clear on Wednesday morning that they were not interested in funding new positions the governor proposed for the Board of Corrections to oversee mental health in regional jails, or mental health screening at jails, or new law enforcement training, or part-time parole investigators, or more full-time workers at state liquor stores.
“The needs are many and the resources are few,” Senate Majority Leader Thomas K. Norment Jr., R-James City, told Secretary of Public Safety Brian J. Moran. “You’re creating more programs and employees when we’re not taking care of the employees we have.”
Moran’s grilling — more than four hours before the gavel banged on the 46-day legislative session — made clear that the General Assembly will be preoccupied with the fallout from cancellation of a 3 percent raise for state employees because of a revenue shortfall now projected at $1.26 billion. The needs are especially acute at state police, which is facing a surge of resignations and retirements.
Norment, who also is co-chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, also made clear that he is not impressed with the 1.5 percent, one-time bonus McAuliffe proposed for state employees, college faculty, teachers and state-supported local employees such as sheriff’s deputies.
“I think that the bonus hit the state employees with a thud,” he told Moran.
Moran defended the governor’s budget proposals, which he said include:
- $4 million to address salary compression for veteran state police employees whose pay lags that of new hires, and $8.7 million to address the same issue at sheriff’s departments and regional jails;
- $3.9 million for career development incentives for constitutional officers, including sheriffs and commonwealth’s attorneys offices; and
- $500,000 to develop and carry out law enforcement training for “fair and impartial” policing, “implicit bias” and ways to de-escalate confrontations.
“I would hope over the next 45 days, we’ll be able to have that conversation,” the secretary said.
Moran said $4.2 million to screen inmates for mental health issues at local and regional jails “is a priority” following deaths of mentally ill inmates at Hampton Roads Regional Jail and other facilities.
But Sen. Ryan T. McDougle, R-Hanover, questioned whether the money would be better spent on treating mental illnesses he said are readily apparent to jail officials, rather than hiring more people to identify them.
Similarly, Moran said the Board of Corrections would need $200,000 to hire two people to provide oversight of regional and local jails, as McAuliffe will propose this session because of concern of the lack of accountability by jails for unexplained inmate deaths.
But McDougle warned, “We’ll be looking at redirecting some of these resources at state police and sheriffs’ departments.”
He also questioned why the governor proposed nearly $105 million in new bond revenues to replace the central warehouse and offices of the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control in Richmond, rather than limiting the request to money for planning the capital project.
Moran said the request reflects the recommendations of a private consultant hired by ABC to examine ways to expand the capacity of the warehouse that handles all distilled spirits sold legally in 361 state retail liquor stores for a state monopoly that made about $900 million in sales last year.
“They’re busting at the seams. It’s the recognition that we need a new facility,” he said.