New group to look for savings among state spending

 

Gov. John Carney signs executive order announcing review of budget at the Tatnall Building in Dover on Thursday. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

DOVER — Gov. John Carney on Thursday signed an executive order creating a permanent group to examine state spending and look for potential savings.

The Government Efficiency and Accountability Review Board will meet on a regular basis and provide recommendations for bolstering efficiency and spending wisely.

“The challenge for us is to think outside of the box,” Gov. Carney, a Democrat, said. “It’s to find ways to do our business differently. It’s to incentivize state employees who know the most about the services and how they’re delivered to think out of the box and to be incentivized to do things differently as well.

“Our goal is to bend the cost curve down so that we can better align state revenue with the growth in state spending instead of having this constant structural deficit.”

The executive order aligns with the governor’s goal of a “budget reset,” while the Joint Finance Committee has begun analyzing spending more in-depth this year than in years past.

“One example of how we’re trying to look at a different kind of measurement when we talk about effectiveness: There are lots of different employment and training programs throughout various state agencies in the government,” JFC co-chair Rep. Melanie George Smith, D-Bear, said. “It’s no longer sufficient to just measure how many people have been served in that program. We’re going to be asking how many people have jobs at the end of these programs, six months later, a year later, and figuring out which are the most effective, and those are the programs, those are the positions, that we really want to continue funding.”

The state is facing a $350 million gap between projected expenditures and revenue for the upcoming fiscal year, the latest in a series of challenging budgets that stem from the Great Recession of 2007 to 2009.

Medicaid and state employee health care costs are ballooning, while key revenue sources like abandoned property, the lottery and the corporate franchise tax are not growing steadily.

Gov. Carney, who has begun meeting with Delawareans around the state to discuss the budget, is hopeful the Government Efficiency and Accountability Review Board can help address the “underlying causes” affecting the budget.

One of those causes is education funding, according to the other co-chair of JFC. The state’s system of school funding, Sen. Harris McDowell, D-Wilmington, said, is “clearly well-founded in the 1950s.”

Merging some of the state’s 19 school districts — a major, if unlikely, change — could be discussed by budget officials.

The Government Efficiency and Accountability Review Board will begin meeting soon and is due to present initial recommendations by May 1. It will issue a report every year by Dec. 1.

Members will include several cabinet secretaries, the chief justice, the state treasurer, the controller general, a business representative and a union official.

Reach staff writer Matt Bittle at mbittle@newszap.com

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