Panel to urge pay hikes for state’s top officials

DOVER — A panel providing recommendation on salaries for high-ranking state government officials is set to suggest they receive pay raises.

The Compensation Commission began meeting in November to craft recommendations for the General Assembly on pay adjustments for elected officials. Those officials include 62 lawmakers, the governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, treasurer, auditor and insurance commissioner, and also judges and cabinet secretaries.

The commission’s report, which has not yet been finalized, is part of a process that occurs every four years. The salary review is conducted, officials say, to allow Delaware to remain competitive when it comes to recruiting talented people to join state government.

The commission, which consists of six members, said Wednesday it will likely suggest a 2 percent raise for all elected officials aside from the governor. For lawmakers who have a base salary of $45,291 that’s an extra $906 a year.

Legislators also have an expense account of $7,334, and about half of them receive extra pay for being in a leadership role or serving on one of the three main committees. The pay for that varies from $19,893 for the House speaker and Senate president pro tempore to $3,852 for members of the Joint Sunset Committee.

The expense account would remain the same, while leadership and committee pay would see an increase of between $3,205 and $770, depending on the role.

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.
Other Delaware officials would benefit from the commission’s plan, as well.

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.

The governor currently makes $171,000, and under the terms of the forthcoming recommendations, he or she would earn $179,361 — 10 percent more than the highest-paid cabinet secretary.

Only eight states pay their governors more than Delaware currently.

The commission’s proposal would group secretaries into three tiers instead of four, with the heads of the departments of Education, Technology and Information, and Health and Social Services earning the most, at around $163,055.

The chiefs of the Office of Management and Budget, Delaware Economic Development Office and departments of Correction, Finance, Transportation and State would be in tier two.

Tier three would be made up of the leaders of the departments of Services for Children, Youth and Their Families, Safety and Homeland Security, Natural Resources and Environmental Control, Agriculture and Labor, Delaware State Housing Authority and Delaware National Guard.

The judiciary would see pay raises for judges on the Supreme Court, Superior Court, Family Court and Court of Chancery of around $20,000, broken up over three years.

Salaries for members of each of the four courts would then exceed $200,000 — more in line with the federal court system.

Court of Common Pleas judges, magistrates and commissioners would also see their pay jump as well.

Chief Justice Leo Strine said last month top lawyers can command salaries from the private sector that are several times what they can make as judges, necessitating a need, he says, to increase pay to ensure the state can attract and retain the “best talent.”

According to a presentation from the Delaware Bar Association taxes and fees from corporations brought in more than a billion dollars for the state two years ago.

“We feel confident the bang for the buck the public gets is great,” Chief Justice Strine told the commission in December.

The changes would take effect July 1 for everyone but the governor, who is prohibited by law from receiving pay increases during a term.

The commission will meet Monday, and the report is due to the legislature Tuesday. Unless lawmakers specifically reject it, as they did four years ago, it will become law.

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