Markell appoints panel to keep watch on state spending

 

WILMINGTON — Gov. Jack Markell announced the formation of an advisory committee on expenditures Friday, approximately five months after two Republican proposals to develop committees on spending were introduced.

Both proposals were opposed by Democrats and originally went nowhere, but after discussions between state officials, Gov. Markell, a Democrat, signed an executive order to put in place such a group.

The Delaware Expenditure Review Committee will examine state spending to determine if it can be reduced or improved in any areas, with recommendations being made to the governor and legislature.

Executive Order 52 was signed Friday to the satisfaction of Republicans who had protested they were not getting a fair shake in the Democratic-controlled General Assembly. A committee on revenue was formed last year, and this new body functions as a complementary piece.

“Delaware’s revenue sources don’t grow with our economy, so even as our state’s economy has improved, we face tremendous budget challenges,” Gov. Markell said in a statement.

“We must do everything we can to deliver the most value to Delawareans at a reasonable cost and the committee I’m creating today builds on six years of work to make government more efficient in providing high quality services to our citizens.

“The results so far have produced the least amount of budget growth during any administration — Republican or Democrat — in modern history. We must remain open to evaluating new ideas and look forward to partnering with the private sector to continue this effort.”

The announcement comes as government officials brace for a tight budget year. A deficit of more than $100 million would not be a surprise, posing serious challenges to legislators who were hesitant to cut services or raise fees this past year.

The committee consists of 12 men and women from both the public and private sectors, including representatives of all four General Assembly caucuses. It is chaired by Fred Sears, president and CEO of the Delaware Community Foundation.

While both the revenue and expenditure panels are subcommittees of the Delaware Economic and Financial Council, the spending committee does not include any legislators. That news was welcomed by Minority Leader Sen. Gary Simpson, R-Milford.

“I have no problem with legislators not being on it,” he said in an interview. “In fact, I think it’s probably a good idea. Legislators have probably formed a lot of opinions over the years about whether additional savings could be made in the state budget.”

Having a “fresh set of eyes” reviewing the numbers could produce helpful results, he believes. He hopes the committee will examine long-term spending and compare Delaware to other states to find inefficiencies in areas such as Medicaid and pensions.

In a statement the leaders of Delaware’s budget-writing legislative committee described themselves as pleased to hear of the executive order.

“The Joint Finance Committee has one of the most difficult jobs in state government — making sure that we pass a balanced budget that reflects our values,” Sen. Harris McDowell, D-Wilmington, said. “Every year, we come through on that, but it isn’t getting any easier. We face difficult decision to meet the needs of Delawareans and hopefully this group can help us with those.”
A report must be issued by Jan. 29.

The members of the committee are:

Chairman, Fred Sears — President and CEO of the Delaware Community Foundation, appointed by the speaker of the House and designated as chairman by the co-chairs of JFC

Fred Cottrell — Richards, Layton and Finger, appointed by the Senate minority leader

Rick Gessner — Capital One, representing the Delaware State Chamber of Commerce

Dennis Greenhouse — Former county executive and state auditor

Joshua Martin — Chairman of DEFAC, member of Potter Anderson and Corroon LLP

Robert McMurray — Christiana Care Health System, representing the Delaware Business Roundtable

Mike Morton — Controller general

Ed Ratledge — Chairman of DEFAC’s Subcommittee on Expenditures, representing the University of Delaware

Jack Riddle — Community Bank member, appointed by the House minority leader

Jeff Taschner — DSEA member, appointed by the Senate president pro tempore

Ann Visalli — Director of the Office of Management and Budget

Lincoln Willis — Former state representative, owner of Willis Chevrolet

Reach staff writer Matt Bittle at mbittle@newszap.com

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