Legislators take no action on Delaware Tech funding bill

 

DOVER — Legislation that would direct millions more to Delaware Technical Community College for capital improvements did not receive a vote Thursday. Although the bill was listed on the agenda, senators did not debate the measure on the floor after returning from closed-door meetings that lasted more than two hours.

The proposal, unveiled Wednesday as an alternative to an unpopular bill defeated in the court of public opinion earlier this year, would allow DelTech to issue bonds to pay for renovations, maintenance and equipment.

Under the measure, the General Assembly would earmark 10 percent of the funding allocated to public education in the current year’s bond bill for a new fund to be used by DelTech for capital projects. For the fiscal year ending June 30, $148 million was allocated for education, meaning if the bill is passed, DelTech would receive $14.8 million.

A total of $10 million — the same amount provided to the University of Delaware and Delaware State University — was given to DelTech for capital work in the current fiscal year. It is unknown if DelTech would continue receiving money with UD and DSU if the measure becomes law. The two universities already have the ability to issue bonds, unlike the community college.

Main bill sponsor Sen. Harris McDowell, D-Wilmington, had little to say Thursday after it was announced there would be no vote.

Asked what happened, he said simply the bill “didn’t get a vote today.”

Sen. McDowell said he and others are looking at improvements to the measure, “mostly small stuff,” although he did not specify what those would be. He did indicate a vote next week is likely.

While the legislation would authorize DelTech to issue bonds, it appears taxpayers would not be on the hook for them.

“Bonds or notes issued under this chapter shall not be deemed to constitute a debt or liability of the State or any political subdivision thereof, other than the College, or a pledge of the faith and credit of the State or any such political subdivision, other than the College, but shall be paid solely from the funds provided therefor,” the bill states.

Supporters say additional funding for DelTech is sorely needed, noting 79 percent of the college’s buildings are more than 25 years old and the institution has deferred maintenance costs totaling $89.9 million across its four campuses.

“Delaware Tech is at a crisis point and we must do something now,” Sen. McDowell said in a statement. “This solution would provide a stable funding source to help the college fix leaky roofs, renovate failing heating and air conditioning systems and repair crumbling sidewalks without forcing our residents to pay a single penny more in taxes.”

DelTech for several years has been pushing for a measure that would effectively create a statewide property tax to pay for capital work. Sen. McDowell introduced a bill to that end in January, similar to ones he filed in prior legislative sessions, but it was met with stiff opposition.

Sen. Colin Bonini, R-Dover, predicted in an op-ed “the floodgates will open and within a matter of years, Delaware will no longer be a low-property-tax state” if the original measure became law, while Gov. John Carney, a Democrat, was wary of the idea, noting it could take away funding from K-12 schools.

Speaking Thursday on the revised bill before the vote was postponed, the governor said he does not believe it is “sound fiscal management” even while he understands and sympathizes with DelTech’s needs.

Another alternative proposal allowing DelTech to issue bonds, this one sponsored by Republicans, was introduced in February.

Staff writer Matt Bittle can be reached at 741-8250 or mbittle@newszap.com. Follow @MatthewCBittle on Twitter.

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