Minor steps taken on budget by Joint Finance Committee

 

DOVER — The Joint Finance Committee continued meeting Thursday for the second day of budget markup, and lawmakers spent the majority of the day focused on the Education Department.

Legislators approved some provisions of the governor’s recommended budget but placed others on hold, leaving the hard decisions still to be made.

The state is facing a $75.3 million gap, budget officials told committee members Wednesday. After eight hours spread across two days, legislators have made very few cuts and have skipped over some sections they will revisit later.

Co-chair Sen. Harris McDowell, D-Wilmington, said the committee intends to deliberate those portions next week and is set on having the budget finished soon, even if members have to come in for additional hearings in two weeks.

Senator Harris McDowell by The News Journal/BOB HERBERT.

Harris McDowell III

Thursday, Sen. Karen Peterson, D-Stanton, raised several questions about education funding, asking why teachers are paid more for earning additional degrees.

“If somebody can show me a bit of evidence that this makes people better teachers then I’d like to know,” she said.

She noted other state positions do not include provisions raising pay if the holders have advanced degrees.

JFC members also spent a bit of time discussing overtime for correctional officers, with Rep. Joseph Miro, R-Pike Creek Valley, expressing surprise at the department spending $4 million per quarter to cover it.

“As far as the state is concerned we really need to tackle this issue because this is an extreme amount of money that is going out there,” he said.

The agency has heavy attrition: According to Sen. Bruce Ennis, D-Smyrna, it loses about 10 officers per month.

Geoff Klopp, head of the Correctional Officers Association of Delaware, has repeatedly said salaries are too low. Thirteen correctional employees made more than $50,000 in overtime pay alone in 2015, according to data from the Office of Management and Budget.

Lawmakers may soon discuss the $1.5 million that was allocated for Wilmington crime-fighting initiatives but remains up in the air.

Sen. McDowell said he and Gov. Jack Markell may meet with Wilmington Mayor Dennis P. Williams to resolve this issue. The city has balked at strings that would require city officials to follow some steps and provide more information or risk having the General Assembly take over policing power.

“It sits before the mayor,” Sen. McDowell said of the allocation.

JFC will meet three days next week.

Reach staff writer Matt Bittle at mbittle@newszap.com

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