Several dozen residents gathered at a Wilmington restaurant to hear Governor John Carney outline the budget challenges facing the state.
With stagnant revenues and growing expenses, Delaware is facing a $350 million budget shortfall for the coming Fiscal Year that starts July 1. Before that date, the General Assembly will need to approve a balanced budget making up for that shortfall.
Before making his first budget presentation addressing that shortfall, Gov. Carney is meeting with residents in a series of town hall style events throughout the state. The first of those meetings was at Timothy’s restaurant along the Wilmington Riverfront Monday morning.
“I thought it went well, it was a little bit easier than I expected to explain to the constituents who showed up, it seemed they really got it,” Carney said. “I didn’t know what to expect in terms of the reaction, but had some good ideas.”
The crowd of several dozen listened for nearly an hour as Carney walked them through the process, explaining how Delaware’s revenue for FY 2018 is expected to be $3.94 billion while expected spending will total more than $4.29 billion.
While 31 percent of the growing expenses are for rising Medicaid costs, half of the growth is related to state employee costs. Carney said things like increases in health care costs, salaries and pensions account for 50 percent of the spending increases for the new budget.
For some at the meeting, the bleak outlook for state finances was a familiar picture.
“It’s very discouraging because it seems like the same broken record over and over and over for the past eight years, so it’s sad,” said state employee Christine Kirkland. The Delaware Psychiatric Center worker “We just want to be able to come home and take care of our families and not be taken away from our families because we have to work double shifts.”
At the end of the meeting, one resident suggested the state legalize and tax marijuana as a way to create another revenue stream for the state. Carney dismissed the idea. “I’m not in favor of it,” Carney told the group. “We ought to learn from the experience of other states that are doing it. I don’t think we ought to be out on the edge of that curve.”
Carney will host more meetings in February and March in addition to hosting a tele-town hall on February 22. He’ll release his budget proposal at the end of March and then work with lawmakers to get a balanced budget approved before July 1.
“It’s going to be a tough spring I expect,” Carney said.