Delaware budget writers trim spending; “park” money at UD over data center

(file/Newsworks)

(file/Newsworks)

The Delaware Joint Finance Committee completed two weeks of budget mark-ups in order find ways to reduce the governor’s recommended budget.

Governor Jack Markell proposed a $3.829 billion budget in January and lawmakers have crafted a $3.809 billion budget for fiscal year 2015.

The governor had requested $37 million in spending cuts to help the state with a forecasted budget shortfall and lawmakers cut an additional $2 million.

JFC Co-Chair Rep. Melanie George-Smith, D-Bear, explained that they also had to add back about $18 million in spending as costs have gone up for some programs bringing the total number of reductions to around $20 million.

A few increases include the addition of $4.8 for the Senior Property Tax, $3 million for medical contracts at the Department of Correction, $6 million to the Post Retirement Increase Fund and $500,000 for new police cars.

Smith added that state agencies made about $90 million in additional requests. “We had to whittle that down to $6 [or] $7 million,” Smith said. “That’s all we had to discretion in.”

One thing that didn’t make the cut was funding to help the state’s three ailing casinos.

“We’d like to do something if we could, the question is how do we do it with the money we have available,” said JFC Chair Sen. Harris McDowell, D- Wilmington North. “We couldn’t find the $9.9 million needed and $20 million next year, which falls right on the heels and we simply couldn’t locate that.”

The casinos have reported low revenues due to increased competition in other states, which had worried some lawmakers that jobs could be headed to the chopping block.

“If we don’t try to fix some of the things the state has done that, along with increased out-of-state competition, are undercutting those businesses, we could see dramatic job losses and that’s something that we can’t afford either as a state or as caring neighbors,” said Brian Bushweller, D-Central Kent, earlier this month.

$3 million message to UD

Lawmakers on Thursday also voted to temporarily “park” $3 million from the University of Delaware’s budget to the Controller General’s fund until they start getting some answers on what’s going on with the proposed data center.

Plans on the proposed center, which would be located on the UD STAR campus, have come to a halt as the university and the city of Newark have faced criticism from environmentalist groups.

McDowell said the hesitation to move forward doesn’t send a good message to the data center’s investors.

“The investors are going to say ‘to hell with Delaware we’re not investing a billion dollars in Delaware because they don’t know what the heck they’re doing,’” McDowell said.

He said they’ve looked into moving the plant to another part of the state but data center officials said they’re too far along at UD.

The data center has the potential to create up to 500 construction jobs and 900 high paying permanent jobs.

McDowell said he hopes the $3 million pullback will nudge UD to move forward with their decision on the center. “We want them to get off the dime and decide what they want to do,” he said.

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