Carney warns: Must solve budget woes

DOVER — It’s an easy concept, kind of like a course in Economics 101, Gov. John Carney said.

If Delaware’s expected revenue for the upcoming fiscal year of $3.9 billion falls short of its projected expenditures of nearly $4.3 billion, then the state has a tremendous $400 million problem — and a whopping shortfall.

The concept is easy. It’s the solution that’s going to be difficult.

That’s why Gov. Carney says he is conducting his “Budget Reset” community meetings in all three counties.

He said he wants to gain input on the best ways that people think the state can make more money, lessen expenditures, or a combination of both.

Gov. John Carney talks during his Budget Reset Town Meeting as 17th District Senator Brian Bushweller looks on at Dover City Hall on Wednesday. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

Sen. Brian Bushweller, D-Dover, introduced Gov. Carney at his fourth “Budget Reset” meeting that took place at Dover’s City Hall inside the packed council chambers on Wednesday morning.

“It’s time to solve Delaware’s budget challenges — we need to stop kicking the can down the road,” Gov. Carney said. “My team will work with Democrats and Republicans in the General Assembly on a long-term budget solution.

“But we must also listen to members of the public and gather ideas from Delawareans who balance budgets every day at home and in their businesses.”

The governor said it was important for him to get the public’s views so he is trying to join several members of the General Assembly who have regular town hall meetings in their districts.

A Dover resident looks at the Budget Reset sheet at Dover City Hall on Wednesday.

“The whole purpose of these meetings is really to have a conversation,” he said. “The purpose for me is to kind of get feedback from the people that we all represent about what to do with our fiscal situation.”

The governor’s staff distributed a small packet of graphs and charts showing the difficulty they say the state faces with its upcoming budget.

The numbers showed that Medicaid and state employee health care costs are ballooning, while key revenue sources such as abandoned property, the lottery and the corporate franchise tax are not growing steadily.

Jon Patz, a resident of Rodney Village, was impressed that the governor came to Dover to discuss the issues. He said in his 25 years living in the state capital that he can’t remember any other governor having a community conversation with the residents.

“(Carney) came down from Mount Olympus. Nobody else did,” Mr. Patz said. “I’ve been here since 1992 and (Ruth Ann) Minner never came down from Mount Olympus, (Tom) Carper never came down, (Jack) Markell never came down. Well, Gov. Carney came down.

“I was impressed by the fact that as a representative of the people he recognized, ‘We have a problem. We need help.’”

Dan Shelton, superintendent of the Capital School District, was one of the interested listeners in the audience.

Mr. Shelton expects education will be one of the biggest issues that come up when the state eventually addresses the budget.

“I’m just here to try and get some information from the governor and hear what his thoughts were going to be and also, obviously coming to this one in Dover, I wanted to hear what our public was thinking,” he said.

“Obviously, it’s going to have a significant effect on schools. We are a huge percentage of state budget and it’s all people. We’re a service industry. I’m not buying stuff, I’m paying people to teach kids, so any cut means a cut to people, which will mean a cut to the services that we can provide.”

Some wondered why the state doesn’t consider raising property taxes; others thought a gasoline tax or a hotel tax would help the state government.
Cynthia Newton, associate professor of political science at Wesley College, brought four of her students to City Hall.

“I think it’s great certainly from a budgeting and PR standpoint, but also to hear from the constituents who elected you,” Ms. Newton said. “Having something this close was a great opportunity for students to see how this works.

“I can talk you to death about how government functions, but if you actually come and see it, it makes much more of an impact.”

Althena Richardson, a senior at Wesley College, said she enjoyed the chance to watch people give feedback to the governor.

“It’s nice,” she said. “I like the fact that (Carney) is asking his people what they want to do, so that’s a good thing.”

Gov. Carney said the issue with the budget gets more difficult to solve each year the state puts off addressing the issues.

“The (budget) problem gets harder each year that you don’t fix the structural part of it,” he said. “The best way to address a structural fiscal deficit is to have a strong and growing economy.

“That will mean that your revenues will be coming in at a rate that’s the same pace as your expenses, or greater, and the expenses that you incur as a result of not having a robust economy, people that are unemployed that need services, that need Medicaid, those expenses will go up.”

While the budget issue wasn’t solved at the “Budget Reset” community meeting in Dover, most left City Hall with an appreciation that the new governor at least took the time to solicit their opinions.

“He’s a decent guy,” Mr. Patz said. “He remembers where he came from in Claymont and he hasn’t forgotten his roots.”

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