Chief justice seeks more benefits for courts, again

Leo Strine by .

Leo Strine

DOVER — Chief Justice Leo Strine reiterated his call for added benefits for the judiciary and its employees Tuesday, urging budget officials to fix “a basic issue of fundamental fairness” by providing a parking benefit for Wilmington-based workers.

Chief Justice Strine, who became the head of the state’s judicial branch in 2014, has been outspoken about what he sees as the need for greater assistance for employees in the court system. He has also spoken out on other issues such as the proposed construction of new Family Court buildings downstate.

Speaking in his annual budget hearing he called for greater financial support for the judicial system, which he described as one of the state’s key industries.

“It’s about time that we put our money where our mouth is,” he said.

Lawmakers set aside $500,000 in this year’s bond bill to study building new Family Court facilities in Kent and Sussex counties and the judiciary is seeking an additional $6.3 million for next year to help make the dream a reality.

The current courthouses are cramped and unsafe, according to the chief justice.

He is also hoping for a parking supplement for employees who work at the New Castle County courthouse in Wilmington. They do not get free parking, unlike many state government employees who work at a Kent or Sussex courthouse. Some legislative and gubernatorial aides who work in Wilmington also receive free parking, according to Chief Justice Strine.

“We need to treat them with fairness and for 50 percent approximately of our employees, they are not treated equally compared to others,” he said. He said many of the people affected are paid less than $40,000 per year.

Last year, he said a supplement for the 572 employees in Wilmington would cost the state about $1.1 million.

On Tuesday the chief justice also made a remark that could be seen as a criticism of the General Assembly and the governor as he described the role the judicial system plays in benefiting the state.

“We have industries that downsize and get tax breaks. We just saw that recently,” he said.

Lawmakers passed legislation with little hesitation earlier this year changing the corporate tax structure in an effort to incentivize DuPont to keep one of its spinoff companies in the state.

DelTech

Delaware Technical Community College also appeared before budget developers Tuesday to detail its needs, including a request for capital funding that exceeds the current allocation.

While the proposed operating budget hike is just 1 percent, DelTech is hoping for $15.8 million for capital projects. The college is receiving $5.5 million in the current fiscal year.

Legislation that would create a statewide property tax to fund DelTech’s capital improvements failed to gain momentum with lawmakers this session, but college officials remain hopeful it can be passed next year.

Over the past 12 fiscal years, the college has received an average of $4.5 million per year in capital funding, well below what administrators say it needs to keep pace with maintenance.

Budget hearings are finished, meaning Gov. Jack Markell will craft a spending plan to be unveiled in January. Gov. Markell, who is term-limited, will be replaced by fellow Democrat John Carney that same month, The new governor is expected to have a chance to revise the budget proposal in the winter or spring.

Reach staff writer Matt Bittle at mbittle@newszap.com

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