Legislative leaders oppose pay raises for state officials

DOVER — Top lawmakers are voicing their opposition to a proposal that would raise the salaries for elected officials, cabinet secretaries and judges.

The Delaware Compensation Commission is due to issue a report next week that would, unless rejected by the General Assembly, increase the starting salary for top officials.

It will likely include a 2 percent pay raise for lawmakers, the attorney general, the treasurer, the auditor, the insurance commissioner and the lieutenant governor. The governor’s salary would be boosted by about 5 percent.

Some cabinet secretaries would benefit as well, and judges on the Supreme Court, Superior Court, Family Court and Court of Chancery would see pay raises of around $20,000, broken up over three years.

Court of Common Pleas judges, magistrates and commissioners would see their pay jump as well.

In separate statements, leaders of both House caucuses criticized the possible increase.

House Minority Leader Danny Short, R-Seaford, said he plans to sponsor a resolution stopping the increases.

“This is about accountability, in every sense of that word,” he said. “Given the fiscal challenges we will be facing this year, the legislature cannot endorse pay hikes for the state’s elite at the start of the budget cycle.”

The General Assembly is facing a budget deficit in the neighborhood of $350 million.

House Speaker Pete Schwartzkopf, D-Rehoboth Beach, said lawmakers should consider whether the process “should continue as currently constructed.”

“Delaware’s economy is stronger than it has been in past years, but there is too much economic uncertainty. We are facing a large budget shortfall this coming year, and issuing raises to select state officials is absolutely the wrong thing to do at this time. We should not be hamstringing our budget writers for this year and future years,” he said.

“It also is unfair to the many hardworking state employees — teachers, correctional officers, nurses, maintenance workers and other professionals — who have continually done more with fewer resources and have not seen the raises they deserve. Any discussions about raises for state workers should take place during the Joint Finance Committee’s open budget process.”

Stephanie Hansen, the Democratic candidate in the 10th Senatorial District special election, shared similar thoughts.

“We should be looking at ways to save taxpayer money, not spend more of it. Green-lighting these pay raises now isn’t just bad budgeting, it’s inappropriate,” she said in a statement.

“There is a reason it is called ‘public service’ and not ‘public employment.’ To serve and represent the community where you live is an honor. To speak out on the issues that matter most to the people of your district is your responsibility.

“The General Assembly should reject the Compensation Commission’s recommendation for salary increases for lawmakers and other government officials. In light of our budget challenges, the General Assembly should lead by example.”

Mandated by law, the Compensation Commission produces a report every four years, and since its inception in 1984, the conclusions have been rejected just twice: 1993 and 2013, although no raises were recommended in 2009.

Reach staff writer Matt Bittle at mbittle@newszap.com

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