New Bill Would Prevent Lawmakers from Getting Automatic Raises

A new bill seeks to eliminate a practice that currently allows Delaware state lawmakers, judges and other top officials to get salary increases without a vote by the General Assembly.

House Bill 55, sponsored by State Rep. Greg Lavelle (R-Sharpley) and Sen. Karen Peterson (D-Stanton), would change the function of the Delaware Compensation Commission.

The commission was established in 1984 to review the salaries of top legislative, judicial and executive branch officials every four years. The six-member group analyzes salaries paid to officials in surrounding states, as well as states similar to Delaware, and issues a report containing recommendations. The report is delivered to the General Assembly in January following each presidential election year. Unless state legislators intervene to prevent it, the report becomes law automatically at the end of the month, taking effect in the new fiscal year.*

HB 55 would make the recommendations non-binding, removing the autonomous mandate.

“Budget writers and the entire General Assembly would have access to the report and could take its suggestions into consideration as they crafted the state budget,” Rep. Lavelle said. “The key difference is they would have to include these raises in the budget, which needs to be voted on by the General Assembly.”

Sen. Peterson who, like Rep. Lavelle, has long backed reform measures in the General Assembly, agrees. “Raises for lawmakers, judges, and the governor should not be treated any differently than raises for rank-and-file state workers. They should be incorporated into the budget and require a vote on their merits.”

House Bill 55 is identical to House Bill 2, which was passed by the House during the last General Assembly session. HB 2 was introduced Jan. 10, 2007 and was approved just eight days later by a vote of 34 to 4. Reps. Pete Schwartzkopf (D-Rehoboth), Melanie Marshall-George (D-Bear/Newark), Dennis P. Williams (Wilmington North) and Benjamin Ewing (R-Bridgeville) voted against the measure. The bill went to the Senate Judiciary Committee, where it was bottled-up for nearly two years until it died at the end of the 144th General Assembly last fall.

“The Senate has new rules that now forbid killing a bill in this fashion,” said Sen. Peterson, who was also a prime sponsor of House Bill 2. “I’m hopeful this bill will clear the House and get the hearing in the Senate it should have gotten two years ago.”

The Delaware Compensation Committee met this past November and December to take testimony and write its report. The commission decided that given the economic conditions, no raises were warranted, but they reserved the option of returning with a report next January.

“There has only been one time, in 1993, when the General Assembly acted to stop the commission’s report from becoming law,” Rep. Lavelle said. “In that year, legislators passed a bill that contained raises, but they had to vote on it and justify their actions. If we did it then, we can do it now. It’s time to kill this outdated, bad government apparatus and get back to requiring state legislators to be held accountable for the choices they make, especially when it concerns their own salaries.”

* Under state law, any salary increase for the governor cannot take effect until after his/her term in office expires.

Visit our House Website at: @link href='http://www.delawarestatehouse.com'target="_blank">www.delawarestatehouse.com/link.

Joseph Fulgham (LegHall)
Joseph.Fulgham@state.de.us

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