JACKSON, Miss.–For Candi the issue of having a trooper school is less about politics and more about seeing her husband come back through the kitchen door after his patrol shift. She joined her husband and over 100 other state troopers at the Mississippi capitol Wednesday for the “blue out”, where all those troopers and the “big guns” called for the legislature to include $7 million for a trooper school in this year’s budget.
“There’s always a risk when he goes out,” said Candi. “I’m very worried about him, especially with a lack of troopers in this state because there’s no backup. So if they’re out there, they’re out there pretty much alone.”
The “big guns” want to make sure the Miss. Highway Patrol has the number of troopers it needs. That group Wednesday included Gov. Phil Bryant, House Speaker Phillip Gunn, Sec. of State Delbert Hosemann and the head of the state trooper association, Jimmie Thomas.
“As God as my witness, help is on the way,” said Bryant. “We know we’re 150 troopers short. We know 150 can retire at any time. We simply ask that we send more fine Mississippians who want to serve and protect through trooper school.”
That trooper school is something some in the Mississippi legislature, especially in the Senate, are not sure the state can afford with next year’s budget.
State Sen. Brice Wiggins (R-Pascagoula), said he’s all for law enforcement and public safety, but says the Senate’s version of the budget did not have a trooper school because of pay raise requests from teachers and sheriffs, a billion-dollar Medicaid request, and the rising cost of incarceration.
“It comes down to priorities,” he told News Mississippi’s Kipp Gregory. “It’s a budget issue. I will tell you this, if it is an issue between (Dept. of Public Safety Commissioner Albert) Santa Cruz and (Lt. Gov. Tate) Reeves, then it’s an issue with the whole Senate leadership.”
“I sit on (the Senate) Appropriations (Committee) and last year we appropriated in the neighborhood of $15 million for troopers on the ground for raises they were entitled to years ago that the administration at DPS did not give them.”
An audit said the Dept. of Public Safety had not misused any money.
Reeves Tweeted his support for troopers Wednesday morning, but was a no show at the “blue out”.
“I certainly hope it’s an abundance of caution in the appropriations process,” said Bryant, who put his focus on public safety in his executive budget recommendation.
When asked what he thinks will ultimately happen at the end of the legislative session, Bryant said there may me more back and forth between the House and Senate. He has said he would call a special session, if necessary, to fund a school.
“I think we may have to go to conference committee over the appropriation. Then you’ll see the support coming from the senate, joined by House members. We’ll get this done. I’m comfortable with that.”
For trooper wife Candi, it’s the bottom line that counts.
“When the ice storm happened a few weeks ago, and everybody had to go down south, my husband was left covering several counties that were an hour away and he was left alone to do that, and that’s a big concern.”