Markell won’t bust unions to balance budget

Gov. Jack Markell says he is not looking to break up state employee unions in Delaware to address the state’s budget issues.

Markell made the comments Monday from Washington where he was attending the National Governors Association meeting. The weekend-long event concluded with a speech Monday by President Barack Obama. In his address to the nation’s governors Obama says he understands the fiscal challenges facing cash-strapped states and says everyone should be prepared “to give something up.” But he says that shouldn’t mean public employees are “vilified” during budget debates.

Obama’s comments come as Republican governors in Wisconsin and Ohio back bills that would end collective bargaining agreements for public employees.

Markell, a Democrat, says that’s not the plan in Delaware.

“It’s certainly not something that I’m interested in doing in Delaware,” he said. “ And I think it certainly looks like in some of these states that that’s exactly what they’re trying to do. It’s not something I support in Delaware at all.”

Cost-cutting measures in the Markell administration’s $3.4 billion budget plan for 2012 include a proposal to reform health and pension benefits for state employees. The goal of that plan is at least $100 million in savings over five years.

Details of that plan will be ironed out through a series of meetings with union leaders. Markell said Monday that’s a better alternative than what’s going on in some other states.

“I think it’s better to have your conversations at the table,” he said. “As painful as it sometimes can be to have everybody at the table, it’s better that these conversations take place as opposed to just trying to jam it down somebody’s throat.”

Tackling state budgets was only part of the conversation during the conference. Other hot topics included improving public education and expanding trade opportunities for Delaware businesses. But the primary focus was getting people back to work now.

“I agree entirely with the President that we need to ‘Win the Future,’ but we also need to stay fully focused on getting people back to work in the present and he made absolutely clear that he is,” Markell said. “Delaware companies who sell to customers or partner with companies in other states benefit when those states’ economies prosper. Other Governors and the President agreed we need to work together to make that happen.”

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