- Associated Press - Monday, January 4, 2016

NEW CASTLE, Del. (AP) - Forcing state government retirees to pay more for their health care and consolidating certain administrative functions of school districts are among the likely recommendations of a state panel looking at government spending.

The expenditure review committee was created by an executive order signed by Gov. Jack Markell in September, with an eye toward more efficient use of state taxpayer money. The panel faces a Jan. 29 deadline for reporting its findings and recommendations to Markell and members of the legislature’s budget-writing Joint Finance Committee.

The committee has spent the past few weeks looking at a variety of state agencies and programs, including the prison and education systems, Medicaid, and health care and pension plans for state employees and retirees.

At a meeting Monday, panel members seemed to agree that changes to health care coverage for state retirees are warranted, although any changes are likely to receive election-year pushback in the General Assembly.

But review committee chairman Fred Sears said the panel is tasked with exploring why and how state government spends taxpayer dollars.

“Why do the state’s retirees have a better health coverage plan than virtually everybody in the state?” Sears said. “… It just seems it’s got to be in the report in some way.”

Jeff Taschner, executive director of the state teacher’s union, argued that any talk about forcing state retirees and employees to pay more for their health care should be delayed until the overall increase in health care costs is addressed.

But other panel members said both issues can be looked at simultaneously, and that there’s no need to delay discussions about cost shifting for retirees.

“We still have teachers retiring at 52 with 30 years of service,” state budget director Ann Visalli said.

Randy Bauer, a consultant with Public Financial Management Inc., which provides financial services to state and local governments, noted that 11 states require government retirees to pay the entire cost for their health insurance and 22 states have made changes regarding health care coverage for employees’ spouses and children.

Delaware taxpayers now pick up about 90 percent of the health care costs for state government employees and retirees.

PFM consultants are expected to circulate a draft report for consideration by review committee members by next Monday, ahead of the panel’s next meeting on Jan. 15.

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