COMMENTARY: Delaware Expenditure Review Committee needs to be more open

Gov. Jack Markell was rightfully criticized earlier this year for creating a committee to examine the state’s revenue streams, but failing to initiate any similar panel to review state spending.

I called for such a probe in April when I sponsored House Joint Resolution 3. My bill would have formed the Delaware Efficiency and Cost Containment Committee. Comprised of up to 13 members, the group would have been charged with looking for ways to improve governmental effectiveness and curtail state spending growth.

While the state spending has been limited in recent years by flagging state revenue, our operating budget has increased significantly over the last 10 years.

Lyndon Yearick

Lyndon Yearick

Consider that Delaware’s operating budget was $2.6 billion in Fiscal Year 2005, but $3.8 billion for the budget year that just ended June 30 — an increase of more than 46 percent. Most Delaware families and businesses did not see their income or spending increase by half over those 10 years. In fact, many saw their resources diminish.

Despite its good intentions, my proposal was killed by partisan maneuvering. The House of Representatives’ Democratic leadership bottled up the bill in committee without giving it a hearing — a violation of House rules. However, the contention over HJR 3 pushed the need to consider state cost-cutting to the forefront.

In late September, Gov. Markell issued Executive Order 52, creating the Delaware Expenditure Review Committee. The 12-member group, comprised of state officials and appointed community and business leaders, met twice in October.

It is my hope the committee will ultimately provide recommendations on how we can …

• alter our budget process so the preceding state budget is not the assumed starting point for the next;

• institute a program that rewards ideas that successfully lower state spending;

• revise Medicaid to improve public health and trim the growth of the program costing Delaware taxpayers about $700 million annually;

• transform state employees’ health care coverage to include health savings accounts, managed-care options, and incentives for cost-conscious decisions;

• change the focus of education funding so the classroom is the first priority;

• reform the state’s prevailing-wage system so the pay scales on public works projects mirror the marketplace — saving taxpayers millions of dollars.

While I applaud the creation of this group, and its fast start, I am a little concerned about its insular nature. The executive order forming the Delaware Expenditure Review Committee contained no mandate for it to seek public input.

Additionally, of the committee’s eight scheduled meetings, none have taken place in, or are planned for, Kent and Sussex counties. In fact, while the meetings are slated to be held at four different venues, none of them are further south than the Buena Vista Conference Center near New Castle.

The committee is required to present its recommendations by Jan. 29, 2016 — the same day as the governor presents his suggested FY 2017 budget to the General Assembly, making it very unlikely he will incorporate any of the group’s recommendations into his proposals. That work will fall to legislative budget writers, who will begin their work the following week.

As the committee considers its task, I believe it needs to open up its process to the public, holding at least two of its remaining six meetings Downstate — one in each county. I also urge the group to consider adding an additional meeting, preferably in Dover, to facilitate input.

As we look ahead to what is expected to be a challenging FY 2017 state budget, the task of looking at reducing state expenses should be made as transparent and inclusive as possible.

Editor’s note: State Rep. Lyndon Yearick is a Republican representing the 34th District, called “Dover South”; it includes the municipalities of Camden, Wyoming and Woodside, and a small portion of Dover, as well as the unincorporated areas of Willow Grove and Petersburg. Rep. Yearick is serving his first term in office.

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