LETTER TO THE EDITOR: A sensible approach to the Delaware budget

There are many possible areas to cut spending in our state budget; what is lacking is the will from either the administration or the General Assembly. Reasonable people can relatively easily conclude that there is too much spending and there are too many state employees. Employees cost money: benefit costs increase with more employees; then, they become an untouchable entitlement that cannot be cut in the current political world.

Here are some common-sense areas to evaluate for cost cuts:

1. Health care costs for the real working world have escalated significantly. They have not escalated for state employees, according to the news media. Evaluate the average industry health care costs and coverage; then, compare individual costs for industry employees and state employees. Then, we can have a conversation about a fair share for the employees. This must reflect real-world reality, not a tax-supported benefit for government employees that taxpayers don’t enjoy.

2. Some significant number of state employees work a 37.5-hour week. The entire real world is on a 40-hour week. This is ridiculous. For every 1,000 state workers on a 37.5-hour week, if they were to go to 40 hours, we would gain 2,500 hours’ extra work time per week.

Theoretically, this represents 62 excess workers out of every current 1,000 workers, provided workload could be evenly balanced. Obviously, this would be difficult to balance; however, it wouldn’t be a stretch to mandate that all workers go to 40 hours, and for every 1,000 current workers, a reduction of 30, or about half the theoretical reduction in workers, would be required by reassigning work. This would be difficult, but not impossible. Managers are supposed to be able to accomplish difficult tasks.

3. Twenty or so years ago, Delaware had a significant manufacturing base. It has been decimated over these years; it is just a shell of its former self. Evaluate the number of employees in DNREC with the larger numbers of industries 20 years ago [compared] to the number of employees in DNREC for the remaining industries now. Has DNREC’s employment gone down proportionally? It has not. Previous secretaries have indicated that their first goal is to avoid job losses when industry leaves. This isn’t real-world good business. There is little to no heavy industry compared to 20 years ago. DNREC should have cuts to reflect this.

4. DNREC added a Division of Energy and Climate Change several years ago. It was never approved by an act of the General Assembly. DNREC simply added this division to their annual budget; the General Assembly approved the budget, so, we get another division with many employees. Seriously, why do we need a group looking at energy? Are they going to reduce energy consumption? Same for climate change. Is any contribution Delaware makes going to make any measurable difference to the global or country’s numbers?

This entire division needs to go unless there is a bill passed in the General Assembly to sustain this division. Since this was added by a budget addition, it could just as easily be removed by a budget removal. Can we afford this in today’s funding crisis?

5. The General Assembly has raided the gas [-tax-based] transportation [trust] fund in the past, moving gas tax money for infrastructure projects to the General Fund. Transportation funds collected from gas taxes have also been used for bike paths, walking paths, things not originally intended as uses for the gas tax.

Gas tax money should only be used for infrastructure, not as a slush fund for the budget. DOT needs to publicly provide an honest accounting of revenue from the gas tax; then, list money spent on real transportation/infrastructure projects, plus money transferred to the General Fund, and money to bike/walking paths. We, the people, could then make a decision on whether we need to pay additional gas tax, or to stop the extraneous spending on bike paths, walking paths or transfer to the General Fund.

If this were done, and if it truly indicated from an honest accounting that more money is needed for transportation projects, I, for one, don’t have a problem with the gas tax increase. On the other hand, without a true accounting as referenced here, I will never support increasing the gas tax or any other alternative tax. Moving funds to the General Fund indicate no need to increase the gas tax. Keep the tax for roads, bridges, etc. Fix the money problem with the General Fund budget.

6. Review additions and new programs added to the budget over the past 10 years. Have an honest evaluation of how many would be approved in today’s difficult budget situation. Any that could not be justified today, cut.

These are but a few simple ideas that would reduce real spending. They could be implemented very quickly.

There are many, many more, for sure, throughout our multibillion-dollar budget. The General Assembly has the responsibility for this spending; they can make the changes if they have the will.

Nothing will be painless; it requires the administration and General Assembly to optimize current spending before [they] ask for more money. Delaware is one of the top spending per capita states in the nation. Why?

Another area, for your information, after reviewing the current General Assembly individual backgrounds from the state website, at least 22 of the 62 members are deriving benefits or income from tax money. This can be in the form of direct employment by some, University, Del Tech, vo-tech, etc. A number are retired state employees, state police, school systems, various departments receiving retirement benefits.

I am in no way accusing any of the 22 individuals of any wrongdoing; however, by approving the budget, they are indirectly approving funds that they benefit from. I would ask if they should vote on anything in which they have a self-interest. They certainly have the right to elected office, and they have the responsibility to avoid any appearance of conflict of interest for themselves or immediate family members.

The 22 members benefiting directly or indirectly from tax money are only the members of the General Assembly; it does not include spouses, children, parents, brothers, sisters, direct in-laws. The members were identified from the state website. As not all members provided any biographical information, these numbers could vary. We the people should insist that information be made available publicly regarding the member, and relatives that may be receiving, directly or indirectly, salaries or benefits derived from taxpayer money. It would be an interesting news story for the Delaware State News to collect complete data and publish it.

I remember the state income tax rate approaching 20 percent in the late ’70s. It took both parties working together to fix the state problem. It did not include increasing taxes again. Arguing these are only small tax increases is nothing more than taking the steps to point the state to near bankruptcy, as in the late ’70s. Don’t put us on this path again. You can’t keep taxing your way out of revenue problems. Make the hard decisions.

Richard Timmons

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