Delaware Senate to vote on budget this afternoon

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DOVER — The Senate is set to vote on the budget bills today.

The chamber will convene virtually at 3:30 to cast votes on the operating budget, capital budget and nonprofit grant-in-aid bills. From there, the measures will go the House, which figures to vote on them Wednesday or Thursday.

Lawmakers must approve a spending plan by July 1, the start of a new fiscal year.

The operating budget totals $4.52 billion, while the capital bond bill comes to $708 million. The governor proposed operating and capital spending plans of $4.64 billion and $893 million, respectively, in January.

Both would have been the highest in state history, although the operating budget still represents a state record.

The grant-in-aid measure, which the Joint Finance Committee completed Monday, is about $54.5 million, a very slight decrease from the current $55 million allocation.

The difference from Gov. John Carney’s recommendations stems from COVID, which caused combined revenues for this fiscal year and the next one to plummet by about $530 million from January to June. That forced lawmakers, who did not meet at all for nearly three months, to make some cuts and reach into other accounts to balance the budget.

Budget officials have described the spending plan for the fiscal year starting July 1 as a “bridge,” a straightforward plan intended to help get the state from this fiscal year to the one beginning in 2021, when the economic situation hopefully looks very different.

“We have a budget process that works, and we must maintain that budget process,” Rep. Quinn Johnson, a Middletown Democrat who co-chairs the budget-writing panel, said Monday.

Because of COVID, the General Assembly has been meeting online for the first time.

The sessions are conducted through Zoom and can be viewed live through the caucus’ Facebook pages or the chamber’s YouTube pages (Senate, House of Representatives).

Legislative Hall has been closed since March 12, the day after Delaware’s first confirmed coronavirus case was announced.