Carney seeking residents’ input on budget

 

DOVER — Gov. John Carney is engaging on a tour of Delaware, “from Claymont to Gumboro,” to gather input from state residents before releasing his recommended budget in two months.

With Delaware in a $350 million budget hole based on projected spending and revenue, lawmakers are promising cooperation as they craft the estimated $4 billion spending plan.

The Joint Finance Committee begins meeting Tuesday, and in a news conference Thursday, Gov. Carney unveiled his plans to pitch his idea for a “budget reset” to Delawareans.

Legislators have been pledging for years to eliminate unneeded spending and keep the state on a stable path, but the Great Recession has caused budget challenges that have been solved in part with temporary fixes. Now, nearly all of those short-term patches are exhausted.

Many of the state’s sources of income, such as abandoned property, the lottery and the corporate franchise tax, do not reliably grow with the economy, unlike income tax.

“We have state revenues that are growing at a rate that is slower than those big expenditure items we have in terms of our schools and mostly our health care costs,” Gov. Carney said. “And so we have to address the problem this year, but we need to look not just in the short term but the long term to come up with structural solutions to the problem. It’s got to be a balanced approach in my view.”

John Carney

What that approach looks like has yet to be determined — or at least to be publicly revealed.

A budget based solely on cuts is “draconian,” said Gov. Carney, who demurred when asked if he believes a 50-50 balance is best. The budget proposed by former Gov. Jack Markell before he left office relied on a mix of cuts and $212 million in new taxes.

Gov. Carney’s proposal could include changes to state employee health care, a rapidly growing cost that Gov. Markell tried and failed to tackle last year.

Some people have batted around increasing the school unit count, which mandates how many students there are per teacher. Raising the unit count would in effect mean the state requires fewer educators.

Officials believe they can find ways to improve efficiencies and reduce redundancies in state government.

“We have departments like the Department of Education, Department of Health and Social Services and the Kids’ Department that have at the fringes some overlap in jurisdiction and to the extent that we can get the agencies of government working together, we can probably deliver some services we deliver now in a more efficient way that will save us money,” Sen. David Sokola, D-Newark, said.

Sen. Harris McDowell, a Wilmington Democrat who co-chairs the powerful Joint Finance Committee, said earlier this month budget-writing legislators plan to seek more qualitative measures of performance from state agencies.

Balancing the budget, lawmakers and the governor have said repeatedly, will be especially difficult this year.

“No one’s going to smiling on July 1. There’s going to be an awful lot of unhappy people. We’re trying to minimize that,” Rep. Paul Baumbach, D-Newark, said.

Budget tour

Gov. John Carney will be meeting with Delawareans over the ensuing months to gather ideas and explain issues relating to the budget. A list of dates and places is below. Time will be posted online. Delawareans can also visit governor.delaware.gov/BudgetReset or email BudgetReset@state.de.us to offer their contributions.

Jan. 30 — Timothy’s on the Riverfront, Wilmington, with Rep. Stephanie T. Bolden

Feb. 15 — Drip Café, Hockessin, with Sen. David Sokola

Feb. 21 — Drip Café, Hockessin, with Sen. Greg Lavelle

Feb. 22 — Downtown Dover Partnership, Dover, with Sen. Brian Bushweller

Feb. 22 — Tele-conference

March 1 — Nanticoke Senior Center, Seaford, with Rep. Daniel Short

April 5 — Café Gelato, Newark, with Rep. Paul Baumbach

Reach staff writer Matt Bittle at mbittle@newszap.com

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