General Assembly final night: Budget bills push lawmakers to deadline

Delaware State News photos/Marc Clery

 

DOVER — As of 11:30 p.m. Thursday, the Senate had passed two of the three year-end money bills, while the House had yet to vote on the bond and grant-in-aid bills.

The General Assembly sent the budget to Gov. Jack Markell Wednesday and the Senate approved the grant-in-aid around 9, but the bond bill had yet to be introduced by 11:30 p.m.
Little objection was expected, according to lawmakers.

The budget, which totals $4.08 billion, was set to be signed by Gov. Markell in the early morning hours today, July 1.

The General Assembly typically continues through the night and enters into a special session July 1, which allows them to reconvene at any point later in the year if necessary.

In contrast to last year, legislators were moving quickly on the money bills, which were not signed until 5:30 a.m. one year ago.

Earlier in the day Thursday the Bond Committee revoked the allocation of $1.5 million given to Wilmington in December for a variety of public safety initiatives after Mayor Dennis P. Williams refused to accept it.

Frustrated lawmakers had placed strings on the funds, requiring the city to provide information on its police force and follow suggestions given by an outside consultant.

Irritation and resentment over the issue is high in the General Assembly, and lawmakers expressed those feelings in taking back the money Thursday.

Rep. Charles Potter Jr., D-Wilmington, said it is “shameful” the mayor has not taken the money, and Sen. Harris McDowell, D-Wilmington, advocated for keeping the money out there with hopes a challenger will dethrone Mayor Williams in September’s election and accept the funds.

Although Sen. McDowell and Sen. David Sokola, D-Newark, said they believe the committee should not take back the money in case Mayor Williams decides to agree to the conditions, others were quick to point out the city has had six months to consider the offer.

“I think it would be unreasonable for this committee to sit here knowing there’s $1.5 million that could be used now and that mayor has been given more than enough time and has chosen not to for whatever reason,” Rep. John “Larry” Mitchell, D-Elsmere, said.

House Republicans in April proposed giving the $1.5 million to the state’s police agencies.

The Bond Committee also drafted language placing limitations on red-light cameras, at the request of Sen. Colin Bonini, R-Dover.

The language would create additional restrictions based on safety criteria to limit the number of cameras that are not specifically needed to limit accidents.

“I am very concerned about using traffic control for revenue,” Sen. Bonini said. “It’s wrong.”

Some Republicans had suggested the budget requires three-fourths approval from the General Assembly — like the bond and grant-in-aid bills — because of a provision in state law requiring 75 percent support from lawmakers to give money to corporations.

Sen. Bonini, who had sponsored a resolution examining the issue last year, said the only remaining option for skeptical legislators would be to sue, something he pledged not to do.

“I actually think should have supermajority votes on spending. Just in principle,” he said.

Reach staff writer Matt Bittle at mbittle@newszap.com

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