No reason to cheer Delaware’s budget.
Here is Rob Tornoe’s commentary:
In the wee hours of the morning on Wednesday, Delaware lawmakers chirped and congratulated one another on yet another budget passed at the last minute.
Forget for a moment that waiting until 4:42 a.m. to cobble together our state’s operating budget has somehow become an honored tradition in Legislative Hall. This budget, despite all the hooting and hollering from Gov. Jack Markell and legislators, really shouldn’t make most Delawareans happy.
Yes, there were positive aspects of the budget. Lawmakers did grudgingly agree to fund long-overdue infrastructure projects and patch potholes (very heroic of them). But instead of raising the gas tax a mere 10-cents per gallon (raising $50 million a year), they decided to borrow more money and jack up DMV fees. At least with the gas tax, out-of-staters would’ve been forced to chip in, and it would’ve raised double the money while costing the average driver just $60 more a year. But it includes the word “tax,” so dead on arrival.
State workers certainly benefited, since Markell delayed any increase in the health care costs of state workers, costing taxpayers $58 million. Considering state employees pay as little as $24 a month for their health care (considered a “Cadillac” benefit under Obamacare), it would have been nice to see a little more backbone from lawmakers on behalf of their non-government employee constituents to balance the health care cost increases a little more fairly.
I would also include non-profits and municipalities in the list of winners, considering proposed funding cuts were avoided. Unfortunately, I fear this budget only delayed tough solutions and harsh remedies that will surely be felt by everyone next year.
If revenue forecasts for 2017 can be believed, the state will face a potential $160 million budget gap next year. Despite such a looming hole, lawmakers didn’t bother raising revenue or talk budget cuts, choosing to ignore calls to raise taxes on the rich by activists being led by soon-to-be-running-for-governor Tom Gordon.
Lawmakers avoided confronting larger budget issues by using a one-time influx of cash intended to help out foreclosure victims of the 2008 financial crisis. I’m sure Beau Biden would’ve approved of the money he fought so hard to secure being used so responsibly by our lawmakers, who even patted themselves on the back for only spending half of the $61 million settlement money.
Not only that, all forecasts assume little to no drop in tax revenue coming from Delaware’s beleaguered casinos, which lawmakers completely ignored in the budget. Considering they provide a whopping 6 percent of the state’s revenue, some attention paid to their survival would’ve been nice.
On top of all that, next year is an election year. If lawmakers weren’t willing to make difficult choices about taxes and spending now, do you think they’ll be willing to do it as they campaign for votes?
“Delaware’s finances are rapidly heading for a cliff,” Senator Colin Bonini, R-Dover, told Newsworks. “At 4 o’clock in the morning you feel good just to get out of here. But we kicked the can down the road.”
Good luck dealing with that giant can as it rolls into Dover next year. At this point, our only hope is that it rolls into an unfixed pothole.
Rob Tornoe is a cartoonist and WHYY contributor. Follow Rob on Twitter @RobTornoe.