Delaware Republicans balk at settlement money vote

DOVER — Republican legislators continue to protest a March vote allocating $28.3 million in one-time settlement money, charging the vote was unconstitutional.

Joint Finance Committee members voted 7-4 last month to approve funds they say will help reduce foreclosures, fix up vacant homes and provide more after-school programs for students.

All four Republicans on the committee voted no.

The money is held by the Department of Justice. It was gained from 2014 settlements with Bank of America and Citigroup over alleged mortgage-related improprieties.

The issue lies in whether the committee is constitutionally allowed to allocate funds. Republicans say it is not, noting the budget bill must be approved by the full General Assembly after being crafted by JFC.

Attorney General Matt Denn, a Democrat, said he believes the allocation was legal. But Republicans have criticized the vote.

F. Gary Simpson

F. Gary Simpson

“We are going to ask for a Supreme Court ruling to clarify that whole issue, and I think that will put it to rest, one way or the other,” Minority Leader Sen. F. Gary Simpson, R-Milford, said last week.

To request an opinion from the state’s high court the General Assembly must pass a resolution. That could be tricky for Republicans, however, as they make up the minority, meaning the resolution will be defeated if the vote falls along party lines.

Despite the numerical disadvantage, Sen. Simpson believes “there was enough concern even on some of the Democrat parts on the JFC” to make passing legislation possible.

There’s also some thought that having the allocation approved by the full legislature is not enough. Because some of the money from the settlement funds will go to nonprofits, the vote could need approval from more than a simple majority.

Delaware law requires any measure giving money to a corporation be supported by three-fourths of the entire legislature.

JFC Chairman Sen. Harris McDowell, D-Wilmington, said after the vote Democrats believed a three-fourths vote was unnecessary but the vote “probably will go to a bill.”

On Tuesday he said he believes “there is absolutely no reason” a vote by all 62 legislators would be needed. Sen. McDowell, who appeared reluctant to discuss the topic, did note lawmakers are still looking at the issue and are close to a consensus or solution.

Republicans have objected that some of the money is being used outside of housing and that new programs being funded could grow the budget in future years.

Despite potential opposition from the majority, Sen. Simpson said he believes the forthcoming resolution should be approved.

“Those that think that they did right, well, I would think that they would want to be confirmed as well in their thinking,” he said.

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