Three months after Gov. Rick Scott vetoed a plan to give the state forestry firefighters a $2,000 pay increase, Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam is making a new pitch to get those raises.
In a new budget request for 2016 released on Tuesday, Putnam is asking the Legislature to give him $2.3 million to help him hand out $2,000 per-person pay raises to the state’s 959 forest fighters and support teams.
“If additional funding for the firefighter positions is not available, the turnover rate will continue to increase,” the Florida Department of Agriculture’s annual budget request states. “The Florida Forest Service will lose critical expertise in its firefighter and fire management/support ranks, which increases the potential for fire suppression accidents because of lack of experience.”
The average annual pay for the state's 606 forestry firefighters is just over $27,000. Starting firefighters make just $24,000. And since 2006, they have had only one pay increase. In June, the state Legislature approved a $2,000 pay hike for them, but it was vetoed by Scott.
In vetoing the funds, Scott maintained that pay raises for state employees should be addressed on a statewide level, and not just for the forestry firefighters. The only other employees budgeted for a pay hike were workers for the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles. Scott did not veto those raises.
The low pay has been one of the reasons why hundreds of the state's firefighters voluntarily travel west to fight fires in places like California, Oregon and Washington. Working out west after Florida's fire season dies down allows firefighters to supplement their incomes in overtime pay subsidized by other states and the federal government.