Legislators to reject pay hikes for top officials

DOVER — The Delaware Compensation Commission is formally suggesting a 2 percent pay raise for elected officials and increases of about $20,000 for judges on the Supreme Court, Court of Chancery, Superior Court and Family Court.

However, the commission’s proposal is expected to be swiftly shot down by lawmakers, who have already spoken out against pay hikes.

A resolution rejecting the plan could be introduced by legislators as soon as today.

The six-member group meets every four years to provide binding recommendations on pay for elected officials, judges and cabinet secretaries as part of a process designed to keep salaries competitive.

Under this proposal, legislators would see their salaries rise from $45,291 to $46,197, while the expense allowance given to each member would increase from $7,334 to $8,000. Supplements provided to legislators who serve on key committees or in leadership roles — about half of the 62 members in total — would also increase by between $3,205 and $768, depending on the role.

House Speaker Pete Schwartzkopf speaks after being sworn in during the 149th General Assembly at Legislative Hall on Tuesday. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

All other elected officials save for the governor would also get 2 percent more in salary.

The lieutenant governor’s salary would increase from $80,239 to $81,844, and the auditor and insurance commissioner would see their pay rise from $110,667 to $112,880. The treasurer would make $117,894 instead of $115,582, and the attorney general would earn $150,851 instead of $147,893.

Most judges would see their pay rise over a period of three years.

Spectators in the Senate chambers during the national anthem at the 149th General Assembly at Legislative Hall on Tuesday. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

Cabinet secretaries, currently grouped into four tiers, would be re-organized into three levels. The heads of the departments of Health and Social Services, Transportation, State, Agriculture, Labor and Services for Children, Youth and their Families, as well as the Delaware Economic Development Office and the Delaware State Housing Authority, would have their pay increase.

Keeping with recommendations from previous compensation commissions, the group proposes the governor earn 10 percent more than the top cabinet member. That would raise his salary from $171,000 to $179,361, although it would not take effect until 2021.

District 1 Sen. Harris McDowell is sworn in with his wife Sunnee to his right in the senate chambers during the 149th General Assembly at Legislative Hall on Tuesday. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

“The 2017 Commission, as was the case with the previous commissions, believes strongly that the quality of state government depends largely on its ability to attract and retain highly talented individuals to lead its various programs and activities,” the group wrote. “While no member of the 2017 Commission argued that government salaries should parallel those in the private sector, the 2017 Commission concluded that reasonable compensation, set by an impartial body such as the commission, would play an important role in attracting and retaining top talent.”

The group is composed of the head of the Delaware Business Roundtable, two people appointed by the governor, one by the Senate president pro tempore, one by the House speaker and the director of the Office of Management and Budget.

Michael Ratchford, Terry Murphy, Linda McCloskey, Harold Stafford, Don Puglisi and Meghan Brennan were on the 2017 commission.

While direct comparisons for legislators can be difficult due to varying lengths of session and per diem allowances, data from the National Conference of State Legislatures suggest Delaware’s lawmakers make more than legislators in 36 states before expenses and other benefits are counted.

Delaware Lt. Gov. elect Bethany Hall-Long in the senate chambers at the 149th General Assembly at Legislative Hall on Tuesday. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

Forty-one governors are paid less than Delaware’s chief executive.

House Speaker Pete Schwartzkopf, D-Rehoboth Beach, said in a statement last week raises are “unfair to the many hardworking state employees,” while House Minority Leader Danny Short, R-Seaford, said the looming $300 million budget deficit means “the legislature cannot endorse pay hikes for the state’s elite.”

Both said they believe lawmakers should consider whether changes are needed to the process.

The legislature rejected the 2013 report, and no increases were called for in 2009.

Reach staff writer Matt Bittle at mbittle@newszap.com

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