With some state expenses, such as Medicaid, higher than expected for 2024, legislators who want to create a state office of inspector general plan to wait until next year to introduce a bill to do that.
“[I]t does come with a fiscal note, to create a new agency does cost some money,” said Sen. Laura Sturgeon, D-Hockessin. “It’s not astronomical. I think it’s going to be maybe in the vicinity of perhaps around $2 million or so.”
Because the state budget is tighter than hoped and a chunk of the markup process has been done, “it doesn’t seem realistic that we’ll be able to find the funding to do it this year,” Sturgeon said.
The idea of an inspector general who had the power to examine state programs and make sure money is being spent as meant, among other duties, has been floated for years around the General Assembly.
A push last year by former Rep. John Kowalko failed, but the idea didn’t die.
Last month, several lawmakers and advocates held a meeting to discuss the benefits of creating an inspector general.
That meeting, which was organized by the Delaware Coalition for Open Government and Delaware Press Association, was attended by Sturgeon, Rep. Eric Morrison, D-Glasgow, and Rep. Mike Smith, R-Pike Creek, who all spoke in favor of an inspector general bill.
While finances make no sense right now, Sturgeon said, said there are also some who have reservations about the bill itself.
Many ask why the state auditor of accounts or the Department of Justice couldn’t handle those duties.
“I’ve even heard the Public Integrity Commission, I believe, has been floated as another currently standing agency or group that could do the things that we’re talking about an inspector general doing,” Sturgeon said.
But an inspector general would have its own role, she said.
“We think that an inspector general is distinct from any of those other agencies, and we would stand to gain by having an inspector general,” she said.
Smith said Kowalko’s bill failed because it wasn’t introduced early enough.
“By the time the bill actually got a committee hearing, it was so late in session that there was no chance of it being funded by Joint Finance,” Smith said. “So at that point, there wasn’t really a shot, but it did pass out of committee unanimously.
“We gotta get leadership on board earlier.”
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The bill will grow the size of the government, but Smith said that isn’t an issue.
“I would say it’s like the one part of government expansion that tries to help limit the powers of the other side, of the other sides of government that also pays for itself,” Smith said. “So I get both sides of that.”
The bill has a better chance of passing if it’s included in the governor’s recommended budget, he noted.
Smith said he hopes there are summer discussions about that, but didn’t want to speculate on the governor’s position on the idea.
Other states, such as Louisiana, have inspector generals for dealing with something like the fraud that occurred after Hurricane Katrina, Sturgeon said.
“Normally, inspector general offices are created in the wake of some kind of major scandal,” Sturgeon said. “To me, Delaware has had minor scandals…we’re not perfect and sometimes we get things wrong.
“But we haven’t had a scandal that’s been just so horrible or egregious, where people are saying, ‘Oh my God, we need an office, an agency that’s going to just get in there and fix all this stuff.’”
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