State lawmakers largely pleased with Gov. Carney's recommended budget
Both Democratic and Republican state lawmakers are fairly pleased with Gov. John Carney’s recommended budget.
Lawmakers are impressed by Carney’s spending recommendations, though some for different reasons than others.
Carney wants a $500 across the board raise for state workers, and is seeking funds to begin moving lower wage earners on the state payroll closer to $15 per hour.
State Sen. Kyle Evans Gay (D-Brandywine) says those moves would send a message to Delaware businesses.
“This is an incredibly important statement both to recognize the work that’s being done and, as we say, to set a tone moving forward that the state is willing to invest in people and we hope that the private sector is willing to invest in people and in workers as well," said Gay.
The state legislature is expected to introduce a bill raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour statewide this session.
House Minority Leader Danny Short (R-Seaford) and other Republicans worry about increasing the minimum wage amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I would hope that those folks in the General Assembly that are here with me listen to the business community, they’ll tell you flat out that this is not the right time,” Short said. “When a restaurant is operating at 30 percent of capacity, to throw anything else onto them at this particular time, it could be the nail.”
Research is largely inconclusive as to whether increasing the minimum wage really does hurt businesses.
Education was also a priority Carney outlined in his State of the State address. Much of the funding presented in his budget recommendations is geared toward fulfilling the terms of a lawsuit settlement between the state and activist groups.
State Sen. Elizabeth Lockman (D-Wilmington) sits on the Joint Finance Committee. She says she believes there’s more that can be done this year could than what was agreed to in the settlement.
“I think it gives us a great foundation to make some additional targeted investments,” she says. “For me, as a co-chair of the Redding Consortium for Educational Equity, I’m always looking for equity in all of our proposals and of course, the budget can and can’t do that. There’s ways the budget can set us up for that and there’s other things we have to do around it.”
Lockman specifically suggests looking at doing even more immediately for the state's Early Childhood Assistance Program than the governor suggests, as well as bolstering existing home visitation services and investments in the educator workforce to address diversity and professional development.
Senate Minority whip Brian Pettyjohn (R-Georgetown) thinks the governor's proposal is enough to start.
“Let’s see what we can do with what he’s proposed first before we do more money. Already we’re paying, I think, per student more than just about any other state in the country,” Pettyjohn says. “So lets just make sure that the extra money that we’re allocating and focusing for schools up in New Castle County, specifically Wilmington results in improved outcomes for our students.”
According to the U.S. Census, in 2018, Delaware was outspent by 12 other states in per-pupil spending at public schools, spending an average of around $15,500 per student.
Carney’s request for funding to begin implementing body-worn cameras on all police officers in the state is finding wide support.
State Sen. Lockman backs the governor's effort to bring more accountability to police in the First State
“We do know that particularly our smaller agencies are going to need state support in order to make that work and be able to deliver on the promise of body cameras across the state.”
Republican lawmakers applauded the phased approach to body camera funding, as opposed to seeking complete funding this year.
State Sen. Pettyjohn says it will give the state the opportunity to improve on the body camera system.
“I’d really like to see happen is what we do with everything else related to law enforcement technology in Delaware and that’s a central system that is managed and maintained and secured by the state of Delaware.”
Pettyjohn adds with body cameras implemented statewide, it would be cheaper and easier to have the state manage the storage and archiving of body camera footage, especially since it needs to be kept securely as evidence.
Carney’s budget recommendations now go through lawmakers' hands, starting with initial Joint Finance Committee hearings that begin next week.
Roman Battaglia a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms.