There has been considerable talk of late about the darkening budget picture for Delaware, i.e., growing deficits are projected unless taxes are increased and/or spending is cut in some fashion (beyond the normal belt tightening, which has already been done). Most of the state’s political leaders want to increase taxes, and the groundwork has been laid by a “nonpartisan” review of the state’s revenue sources.
Delawareans don’t favor tax increases, however, which according to the News Journal means that they want to receive government services and benefits without paying for them. (So what else is new?)
Hard choices were avoided this year by using one-time funds from a legal settlement to cover the budget shortfall, but no such windfall is expected in 2016. Election year or not, some unpopular decisions may be required. And critics have suggested that a review of government expenditures should be conducted before addressing the recommendations of the revenue study.
Right on cue, Governor Jack Markell issued Executive Order 52 on September 25 to create a Delaware Expenditure Review Committee. This body was to have 12 members: DEFAC (chair + 1), Controller’s Office (1), OMB (director), four nominees of the governor, and four nominees of legislators (Senate majority & minority leaders; House majority & minority leaders). And the very same day, indicating that everything had been worked out in advance, the 12 members of the DERC were announced.
Fred Sears of the Delaware Community Foundation will chair the DERC. Other members are the four designated officials, a former state auditor/county executive, a former state legislator, and representatives of DE State Chamber of Commerce, Christiana Care Health System, Community Bank, DE State Education Association, and Richards, Layton & Finger.
DERC is tasked with conducting a “review of state government services to evaluate whether there are opportunities to provide government services in a manner that is more efficient, more effective, or can be performed at less cost to taxpayers.” Due consideration should be given to “both the overall cost savings that might be obtained and the positive and negative effects of those savings on the provision of services.”
Although DERC will remain in existence until June 30, its report is due to the governor and the Joint Finance Committee of the General Assembly by January 29, including “any findings and any recommendations for the State of Delaware’s operations or budget.
In sum, the background of the DERC members doesn’t suggest a strong motivation to shake up the status quo, their charter is broad but somewhat contradictory, and they will only have four months to do their work. If they come up with any recommendations of substance, it will be a surprise to all concerned.
I’m convinced that there are ways to significantly cut spending without reducing government effectiveness. Just think how much administrative overhead could be eliminated, for instance, simply by consolidating the school districts in Delaware (say from over 20 to half a dozen).
But Delaware politicians will never support real changes like that unless conservatives get engaged and demand action. What are we waiting for?