The final day

4:00 — Lawmakers failed to pass a budget and so are running a continuing resolution to fund the government for three days and allow them to continue to work to hammer out a budget agreement.

The General Assembly has never left the capitol without a budget before.

2:30 — Rep. Andria Bennett, D-Dover, was near tears as she explained her vote against a bill that would have raised income taxes.

The measure failed 24-17, with only Rep. Bennett crossing party lines.

The path to a budget remains uncertain, and the possibility of the General Assembly making history and not passing a yearlong spending plan — a first in state history — looms large. Should that happen, lawmakers would likely approve a measure to temporarily fund the government.

Rep. Bennett said she voted against the measure because her constituents did not support provisions halving itemized deductions.

“They don’t elect me, right?”  she said of the other members of her caucus. “The people of my district (elect me). So you know what, is everybody upset with me? Absolutely. Am I the only Democrat? Absolutely, but what am I going to do? They don’t put me here. These people in my district put me here. I have to listen to them. I can’t listen to being bullied by these people.”

Voice quivering and appearing on the verge of tears, she then walked away.

Members of the House paused deliberations to go into their separate closed-door caucuses after the vote.

Before leaving, House Speaker Pete Schwartzkopf, D-Rehoboth Beach, said House Democrats would consider passing the budget crafted by the Joint Finance Committee Wednesday. That budget is based on cuts and does not include any money for nonprofits through grant-in-aid.

“I think possibly we could up there and craft the votes to do it,” Rep. Schwartzkopf said. “I don’t know whether it’s a good budget. I don’t think a lot of people want to vote for it.”

The budget only needs a simple majority to pass, but Democrats were trying to raise revenue to restore nonprofit funding. Tax bills need a three-fifth supermajority, meaning if the income tax measure had passed the House, it would need Republican votes in the Senate.

An attempt to simultaneously raise taxes and fund grant-in-aid failed in the House late Thursday. Rep. Bennett voted for that bill, but it fell short of the three-quarters threshold needed for grant-in-aid..

“The whole damn building’s disappointed right now,” Rep. Schwartzkopf said after today’s vote. “This has never been done before. We’ve never, ever done this before.”

1:40 — Still no budget. A bill that would have raised income taxes failed in the House 24-17, one vote shy of passage. Rep. Andria Bennett, D-Dover, was the only Democrat to vote against the measure.

The vote followed a break of more than an hour, which featured Democratic and Republican leaders meeting with Gov. John Carney.

The chambers formally entered into a special session at midnight.

10:50 — Democrats and Republicans still do not have a deal to balance the budget.

Lawmakers are expected to work well into the morning, and a possibility the General Assembly could — for the first time ever — fail to pass a budget loomed large.

Democrats, who control both chambers and the governor’s office, have been working with Republicans for months to come to an agreement on eliminating a shortfall of nearly $400 million, but to no avail.

House Democrats surprised their counterparts on the other side of the aisle Thursday night by introducing a bill that would raise income taxes and use some of that funding to fund nonprofits. Grant-in-aid for nonprofits, including fire companies, senior centers and veterans’ organizations, was zeroed-out Wednesday, partly to apply political pressure to Republicans and convince at least a handful of GOP lawmakers to back tax hikes.

The bill, however, was swiftly shot down by outraged Republicans, who said the vote was a transparent political maneuver and walked out in protest.

House Speaker Pete Schwartzkopf, D-Rehoboth Beach, said he hoped some members of the minority would vote for the tax increase out of a desire to fund grant-in-aid.

Democrats remain hopeful a budget deal could be reached but they, like Republicans, are far from certain how the night will end.

While the two sides had previously reached a consensus on raising the franchise tax and making some cuts, prevailing wage held up talks.

Prevailing wage determines the hourly pay for workers on construction projects funded by the state, and it has been a highly divisive subject. The wage is often set much higher than what a laborer would otherwise: an electrician on a state-funded construction job in Delaware earns $66.85 an hour, while average hourly wage for an electrician nationwide is $27.24.

The wage drives cost of projects up, and Republicans say it effectively spends taxpayer dollars inefficiently. They’ve also alleged the process that sets the rates is rigged, calling it “an incestuous relationship between ruling Democrats and their political allies in the state’s labor unions.”

Democrats counter the wage helps middle-class families and they have objected to Republicans including it as part of budget negotiations.

Members of the GOP previously introduced three bills that would suspend prevailing wage on different projects, but the measures have languished because of opposition from the Democratic majority.

On Thursday, Republican lawmakers released a compromise proposal that effectively provide more oversight on the wage rates and, they say, make the process fairer.

Republicans claim union shops complete a survey for every step of the job, skewing the wage rates.

The plan would also alter the rates for certain jobs, such as bricklayers, painters and sprinkler fitters, that have been locked in since the passage of a 2015 bill.

8:00 — The Senate, supposed to clock in at 7, started close to 30 minutes late. It then got off to a very rough beginning when a near-shouting match erupted between President Pro Tempore David McBride, D-Wilmington Manor, and Sen. Colin Bonini, R-Dover, after Sen. Bonini asked to table a bill he is sponsoring.

 

4:30 — The Joint Capital Improvement Committee hearing took a rocky turn when the House Republicans of the committee said their caucus plans to vote against the bond bill unless funding for farmland preservation is provided.

“There’s no question about that,” Rep. Joe Miro, R-Pike Creek Valley, said.

Office of Management and Budget Director Mike Jackson said he would try to find $3 million, the amount given to the program in the current year.

Discussion then segued into a brief debate about prevailing wage, which Democrats and Republicans have fought over for months.

“Christ, every freakin’ year the same stuff,” Rep. Michael Mulrooney, D-Wilmington Manor, said, protesting the GOP’s insistence on reforming the wage. “Keep moving the goals.”

Lawmakers last made changes to prevailing wage, which governs how much laborers on state-funded construction projects are paid, in 2015.

Whether the budget passes or not likely depends on whether Democrats are willing to acquiesce to changes or if Republicans will drop their demands.

12:20 — On the last day of the fiscal year, Legislative Hall is mostly quiet and calm. The Joint Capital Improvement Committee was supposed to meet at noon but has not convened yet. The House goes in at 4 and the Senate gavels in at 7. Lawmakers still do not have a budget deal.

The House of Representatives tried to pass a bill that combined grant-in-aid funding and income tax hikes around 11 p.m. Thursday, but Republicans walked out, protesting the Democratic majority was violating public-notice laws and trying to “bully” them.

The Legislature will not break for at least 12 hours, giving the leaders of each caucus time to negotiate on a budget deal, but the two sides seem far apart.

“Just when you thought the Dover Democrats had reached the bottom of the barrel, they surprise again,” Senate Minority Whip Lavelle, R-Sharpley, said in a statement. “First, they wanted to eliminate the ability for Delawareans to deduct their charitable donations. Next, they took all grant-in-aid funding away from non-profits. Now, they’re holding non-profits hostage once again.”

 

Editor’s note: Stay tuned for updates throughout the day.

Reach staff writer Matt Bittle at mbittle@newszap.com

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