UD and DOJ present budget requests in unusual year

DOVER — While most of the country is caught up in the outcome of the presidential election, state government continues to function.

The Office of Management and Budget has begun its preliminary budget hearings for various state agencies and related entities, part of the annual process of crafting a budget proposal.

Working with his financial team, Gov. John Carney will unveil recommendations for a spending plan in January. That outline will look quite different from the one proposed at the beginning of this year, with COVID-19 causing revenues to dip, while creating new expenses.

Over the next week-and-a-half, various departments and related entities that rely on state funding, such as higher education institutions, will make their formal presentations to financial officials. These are being held remotely, a reminder of the ongoing pandemic.

The University of Delaware, which presented its request to budget officials Tuesday, projects a deficit of $228 million to $288 million for the fiscal year ending June 30. The institution has reduced discretionary spending, offered retirement packages to staff, cut salaries for some employees, reduced positions and pulled about $100 million from its approximately $1.64 billion endowment.

“The hard reality is that the financial difficulties facing UD — and all higher education institutions — are not a one-year event, and the road to recovery will extend over the next several years,” President Dr. Dennis Assanis said in prepared remarks. “We are already looking toward the challenges for (fiscal year 2022), including a reduced ability to recruit new students, a continuing need to increase student financial aid and the uncertainties of the economy and its effects on our students and their families.

“As you can see, to reduce our deficit we’ve tightened our belts, leaned on our endowment and even eliminated some of our core workforce. The university has very few cost-cutting options left to help us deal with the unprecedented challenges thrust upon us this year.”

For the upcoming fiscal year, the university is seeking $127.4 million for operating funding, an increase of about $2.3 million from its current state allocation.

That added funding would all go to scholarships for Delawareans, Dr. Assanis said.

As requested by the Office of Management and Budget, Dr. Assanis also laid out what the impact of a 5% cut would be: a reduction in financial aid, elimination of 58 faculty positions and a decrease in research and community programs.

UD’s ask for capital projects is $10 million, the amount earmarked to it this fiscal year.

Mike Jackson, the outgoing director of the Office of Management and Budget, noted that officials are working hard to avoid negatively impacting the institution: “One of our goals in putting together a financial plan that the governor’s going to submit to the General Assembly is to, at a minimum, do no harm to the university.”

On Monday, meanwhile, the state’s top prosecutor unveiled her request for the Department of Justice. The agency is looking to bump its funding from $39.7 million to $41 million, largely for 34 new positions, including 20 more deputy attorneys general.

“There remain areas where we want and need to do more to meet the challenges of this time,” Attorney General Kathy Jennings said.

The bulk of the requested new spots would handle footage from police body cameras, which are becoming commonplace up and down the state. New Castle County police alone was responsible for 41,250 hours of footage in 2019, according to Ms. Jennings.

It would take one person working nonstop nearly five years to go through all that data.

Hearings continue Thursday and Friday this week and Monday through Friday next week.