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State’s spending plan receives mixed reactions

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DOVER — The spending plan approved by the Joint Finance Committee Wednesday left Todd Mumford stunned.

The budget, which totals $4.32 billion between the annual spending measure and a separate list of one-time items, drew a range of reaction after legislators finished markup. Mr. Mumford, the president of Delaware Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 10 Probation and Parole, was one of the most critical.

Lawmakers approved Gov. John Carney’s proposal to give most state workers a $1,000 raise and added in a $500 bonus, but they did not provide salary changes probation and parole officers say is sorely needed.

“Right up until the point of them finishing up we were under the impression that everybody supported what we were asking for,” Mr. Mumford said Thursday.

According to him, probation and parole officers make less than correctional officers and state troopers but are required to have a college degree, making it difficult to attract good applicants. They also are paid less than members of some of the other law enforcement agencies the state groups them with, such as Capitol Police, Fish & Wildlife Natural Resources Police and University of Delaware Police, Mr. Mumford said.

Because probation and parole officers have their salaries determined through collective bargaining, they are not eligible to receive the $1,000 raise, although they will get the $500 bonus.

Others left Legislative Hall frustrated as well, with the president of the Correctional Officers Association of Delaware lamenting lawmakers did not include in the budget provisions that would raise pension rates for correctional officers.

“Summer’s coming and this is not going to do anything to help staffing, it’s going to cause people to have to work more 16 hour overtime shifts, so there will probably be some people that won’t be able to take vacations,” Geoff Klopp said Wednesday.

“The inmates are going to be affected as well because there are going to be programs that they’re not able to get due to massive amount of overtime and the unsafe environment that we’ll be working in, and it just is going to cause me to lose more sleep at night because it just increases the chances of something catastrophic happening in a facility this summer tremendously.”

Both Mr. Klopp and Mr. Mumford said they believed going into Wednesday’s meeting lawmakers on JFC strongly supported their causes, and the two are still holding out hope for their members.

Some people were disappointed lawmakers did not do more for retired state workers. JFC approved a $400 payment to pensioners that was not included in Gov. Carney’s recommendations, but not everyone sees that as sufficient.

“While we are appreciative of the funding increase for our pensioners, we have concerns that the increase for those on fixed incomes will not continue beyond Fiscal Year 2019 without further action from the General Assembly,” Delaware State Education Association President Mike Matthews said in a statement.

Some advocates were pushing for an increase to match the federal Cost of Living Adjustment, which they did not receive.

The budget also does not include many aspects of an opioid treatment plan unveiled last year by Attorney General Matt Denn and a coalition of community leaders.

“Although we have not yet received details, we have been told that the Joint Finance Committee did approve additional resources for residential drug treatment and sober living facilities. If correct, that is welcome news, and we are grateful to the JFC for expanding drug treatment funds,” Department of Justice spokesman Carl Kanefsky wrote in an email.

“However, the demand for treatment will continue to far exceed the supply, and we are hopeful that the General Assembly will use some of the additional funds it has not yet allocated to fully address the public health crisis of our generation.

“The Attorney General hopes ideas that were supported by a spectrum of civil rights, child advocacy, and medical groups to fund things like home visitation by nurses for low-income infants and toddlers and better re-entry programs for youth offenders will be revisited in the future, as they are critical to the state’s efforts to control violent crime and create opportunity for Delaware’s kids.”

Not everything various advocates had to say about the budget was negative. Far from it.

Carolyn Fredricks, president and CEO of the Modern Maturity Center, was pleased lawmakers set aside $850,000 to cover a decrease in federal funding for home-delivered meals. Failure to provide that extra money would have resulted in 400 seniors going unfed, she said.

Mr. Matthews praised the pay raise and the investment in education, noting lawmakers added teaching positions to help students who qualify for basic special education services from kindergarten through third grade.

“With this additional funding, we are giving these children what they need when it matters the most. We are giving them a chance to learn and succeed in life through early intervention services,” he said.

Fortunately for those who feel their concerns are not properly represented by the budget, there’s still time and money left — one month and $61 million, to be specific.

Lawmakers will meet throughout June, and with $61 million in uncommitted revenue, some things may be added.

In particular, it remains to be seen what will happen with the grant-in-aid bill, which allocates money to myriad nonprofits every year. Not-for-profit organizations are advocating for restoring an $8 million cut made to the grant-in-aid bill last year.

Gov. Carney proposed adding a bit more than half the cutback, while the two co-chairs of JFC have taken different stances on the issue. Sen. Harris McDowell, D-Wilmington, said Wednesday legislators should closely scrutinize each recipient and whether they get good results, while Rep. Melanie George Smith, D-Bear, seemed to lean more toward undoing the entire reduction.

JFC won’t craft a grant-in-aid measure until the second half of June, and the budget will not be debated by the full General Assembly until near the end of the month.

Sheila Bravo, president and CEO of the Delaware Alliance for Nonprofit Advancement, has her fingers crossed lawmakers opt to fully restore the cut.

“The choices that they had to make, people were laid off, services were shut down or in some cases the hours of service were reduced, so I think there’s a lot of interest in seeing that funding restored mainly because the need for services has not gone down,” she said.