Modified DelTech funding bill passes Senate

DOVER — Delaware Technical Community College’s capital woes could at last be nearing an end — as long as lawmakers follow the intent of a bill approved by one chamber Tuesday.

The Senate passed legislation recommending the General Assembly allocates to the college $10 million per year over the next five years to address its maintenance needs. The bill, which now goes to the House, would also give DelTech bonding authority, although the institution does not intend to use it in the near future and lacks the necessary revenue stream to do so, according to state and college officials.

By a 19-1 vote, with one member not voting, the chamber approved the bill after a debate of more than an hour. Only Sen. Dave Lawson, R-Marydel, voted against it, while Sen. Anthony Delcollo, R-Marshallton, abstained.

“This is not the full solution we had hoped for at the start of the year, but it does provide us some certainty and allow us to plan for dealing with these structural issues in a thoughtful, rational way,” DelTech President Mark Brainard said in a statement.

Although he painted it as a critical step toward giving the college greater stability, the measure is nonbinding on the General Assembly, meaning lawmakers could provide significantly less than the recommended $50 million sum.

DelTech currently receives the same amount of money for capital projects as the University of Delaware and Delaware State University. While all three were allocated $10 million for the current fiscal year, the appropriation for each institution has totaled less than $5 million per year since 2005.

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.

The two universities already have the ability to issue bonds, unlike the community college.

“Solving the crisis is one of the most important, most effective steps government can do to maintain our healthy economy and workforce in the First State,” main sponsor Sen. Harris McDowell, D-Wilmington, said on the Senate floor.

The proposal is the third attempt to address DelTech’s capital needs this year. The first version of the bill would have in effect created a statewide property tax, but it came under fire from many sides and was killed after getting out of committee.

A replacement would have directed legislators to earmark 10 percent of the funding allocated to public education in the current year’s bond bill for DelTech, but that too faced opposition, causing a planned vote Thursday to be canceled.

This substitute was filed Saturday as a compromise measure.

Senators on Tuesday posed questions about whether the bill could impact the state’s credit if DelTech issues bonds and defaults on them (no, according to a Senate attorney), how the state would recoup its investment if DelTech did default (by withholding monetary appropriations, to start with) and whether this latest version of the legislation would still create a property tax (no, and Mr. Brainard said he never plans to seek one again).

Sen. Lawson expressed concerns the measure would lead to DelTech using the funding to expand programs beyond what lawmakers intend.

He also asked why DelTech is turning to taxpayers instead of raising tuition to generate funding.

Mr. Brainard responded that tuition, which is about $4,500 a year for in-state students, is already above average for a community college.

“When you have a mission to serve those who are unemployed, underemployed or trying to get connected with a job, our job as leaders of a community college is to make sure that we provide the best value that we can,” he said.

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