Delaware lawmakers in June will be asked to vote on a budget proposal that would increase the salaries of state workers by one-percent effective July 1st. The recommendation cleared the legislature’s Joint Finance Committee (JFC) in the first week of its two-week budget mark-up session.
However, the proposal originated with the two chairs of the JFC, and not with Gov. Jack Markell’s administration, which cautioned that the money for the raises is based on limited sources and that other funds such as farmland preservation, open space and the Transportation Trust Fund may not be getting as much as desired.
Retired state workers would also get an additional one-percent in their pensions.
Joint Finance Committee Chairman, State Senator Harris McDowell (D-Wilmington North), opened Thursday’s meeting by saying that discussion among committee leadership, staff and the administration had reached a resolution on a “pay policy.” It would cover a wide sector of the state workforce including merit employees, employees in public education, and workers at Delaware State University and Delaware Technical and Community College. About $20.7-million would be budgeted for the increases.
After the Delaware Economic and Financial Advisory Council Monday added $66-million in revenues to the FY ’13 budget, lawmakers began discussing a salary plan which originally included a two-percent increase.
“The process we normally go through, we didn’t go through,” Office of Management and Budget Director Ann Visalli said. She also warned of a possible cascading effect of relying on sources of funding that may not be there in the future – a decision that could potentially lead to tough choices for lawmakers down the road.
“I’m concerned about the finances for years to come,” State Representative Joseph Miro (R-Pike Creek Valley) said. He raised the idea of phasing in the increase by only applying the one-percent raise to workers on the lower end of the salary scale, possibly setting $50-or-$60-thousand as a cutoff point.
“Those are the employees who need it the most,” Miro said. He also proposed a one-time bonus as a possible alternative to a salary increase.
Representative Ruth Briggs King (R-Georgetown) suggested working toward a “more meaningful increase somewhere down the line.”
“We absolutely can afford this,” McDowell said in an interview with DFM News. “What we have done is shifted the priorities that represent six one-hundredths of one-percent of a $3.5-billion budget.”
“These people have always been struggling,” JFC Co-chair, State Representative Dennis P. Williams (D-Wilmington) said. “If we don’t start somewhere and help these folks out we’re going to be in the same boat next year, the next year and the next year.”
Williams added that the idea of different pay scales had the potential to create dissension among the state work force.
“I see the one-percent as a compromise and I’m willing to vote for it,” Representative James “J. J.” Johnson (D-New Castle East) said. He was among the seven JFC members to vote in favor of the increase. Three went on record as “not voting.”
About 4,000 state workers are represented by AFSCME Council 81. Its Executive Director Michael Begatto was pleased with the outcome, and he said the union did not want to see any plan where some workers got a raise while others got nothing.
Begatto also said the state workforce is still recovering from a 2.5-percent reduction in their salaries several years ago, although they are also coming off of a year in which they received two-percent raises.
“One percent may mean that they stay here and continue to work and not look for employment somewhere else,” Begatto said. Many state workers, he said, carry out difficult responsibilities such as working all hours at state-run hospitals, plowing or maintaining roads, or going to prison for work every day as a correctional officer.
“It’s tough work,” Begatto said. “We just hope that the citizens of the State of Delaware are happy with the services they’re receiving and appreciate the hard work the state employees do.”