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Budget hearings offer chance for Leg Hall tensions to cool

Delaware Public Media

February’s Joint Finance Committee (JFC) budget hearings give many state lawmakers a break from politics. That might help ease strains already seen in the session’s first 30 days.

Tensions simmering in the first month of session could signal thunderclouds at the end of June.

A minimum wage hike led to a stalemate at the end of session last year. State lawmakers passed a lower youth and training wage as a bipartisan compromise, something Democrats are looking to eliminate this year.

House Republicans call the legislation a 'shameful breach of trust.' And JFC Co-chair Quinn Johnson (D-Middletown) says he’s worried it sets a negative tone.

“I’m charged with getting the budget passed," he said. "Last year, I was charged with getting the Bond Bill  passed and that is a three-quarter vote. I am concerned it is an issue that will cause turmoil at the end of session.”

Other Democrats say abolishing the lower training wage, sponsored by State Rep. Mike Ramone (R- Pike Creek Valley), is no different than his legislation reversing the realty transfer fee increase passed in 2017.

The first month also saw state senators clashing over giving loans to furloughed federal workers.

Republican state senators rejected a Democratic attempt to create a loan program for furloughed federal workers.

Gov. John Carney (D) moved ahead with the program anyway, even as the government shutdown ended.

That frustrated Republicans like Sen. Dave Lawson (R-Marydel), who thinks relations between the parties are more strained earlier in the session than in previous years. He calls it the result of one-party rule.

“The attitude is ‘It’s my way or the highway,'" he said. "And nobody else has any ideas and we’re smarter than you and just the way it is. And so it’s absolute power corrupts.”

Democratic State Sen. Harris McDowell (D-Wilmington North) disagrees, arguing Delaware’s legislature is far less contentious than Congress.

A resolution praising former President Ronald Reagan set off a border wall debate in the Senate. But State Sen. Brian Pettyjohn (R-Georgetown) said the resolution often sparks debate on various issues.

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