Delawareans, chime in on the budget problem

Gov. John Carney held one of his “Budget Reset Community Conversations” on Wednesday in Milford.

Sen. Gary Simpson, R-Milford, kicked off the forum with comments about the $350 million projected deficit, and how it’s not nearly as bad as the $800 million problem former Gov. Jack Markell had.

“We have come through this before,” he said.

Several dozen people were at the Carlisle Fire Company Hall to hear what Gov. Carney had to say, and to share what was on their minds.

Gov. Carney is using the meetings to collect ideas and build consensus on ideas to cut spending and raise revenues. For the latter, he said he has been getting calls for a soda tax and legalization of marijuana. He was clear in saying he did not support the latter at this time.

In January. outgoing Gov. Markell proposed $216 million in new taxes and shifting of some state spending to counties and school districts. Sen. Simpson said the Markell plan will not stick.

“When Sen. Simpson mentioned the Markell budget and that it was dead, someone in the back cheered,” said Gov. Carney. “My guess is that there’s a lot in our budget that you’re not going to like either.”

He said there will be cuts and there will be calls for increases in revenue from such areas as corporation taxes. He is asking for share burdens — nonprofits accepting less, state employees perhaps agreeing to take on a share of the health care costs if they want a little more money in their paychecks.

Education funding was top of mind for many in the audience. One of the Markell ideas was to have school districts come up with a greater share of funds for construction and take on more of the transportation costs.

School district consolidation and duplication of efforts by high schools and technical schools have been growing, too.

An audience member questioned why Gov. Carney would not consider consolidation, based on something she read.

He clarified his stance. “What I may have said was that I’m not sure it’s worth the political fight that you might have to get it done,” he said. “Part of the reason for me having these conversations is to figure out where everybody is, so we can work with all of you and your elected officials and figure out a solution that we can get done. If it’s not feasible, I don’t want to waste a lot of time and energy because we’ve got a lot of other things to do.”

He said school consolidation and creating “back office” efficiencies in the school system needs a long-term commitment.

“It’s a sprint from here to July,” Gov. Carney said.

Gov. Carney said the February prison uprising has been on his mind as the budget process moves along.

“One of the things that is going to make this a lot harder is that we just had a hostage situation in the prison and we lost a correctional officer,” he said. “And I want to tell you that it ripped my heart out.

“It was a real wake-up call. You’ve got to address the problems when they’re there.”

Delaware’s General Assembly has until June 30 to finalize a budget plan.

A 90-minute video of the forum can be found on the Facebook page of state Sen. Gary Simpson, R-Milford.

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We have received several letters and comments on the budget in the past month and certainly welcome more.

Send letters to newsroom@newszap.com or post your thoughts under our stories at www.DelawareStateNews.net.

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Gov. Carney’s Budget Reset Community Conversations continue into April. The only two remaining “below-the-canal” gatherings are 6 p.m. April 10 at Delaware State Police Troop 3 in Camden and 7:30 p.m. April 11 at ChesDel Restaurant, Middletown.

A chance to grill the Kent County legislators is coming up at the Central Delaware Chamber of Commerce’s Legislative Luncheon March 22 at Dover Downs Hotel and Casino.

Reach editor Andrew West at awest@newszap.com

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