Delaware budget writers turn to the bond bill for additional cuts



Delaware lawmakers are looking for ways to make more cuts to the state’s budget following the latest report from the Delaware Economic and Financial Advisory Council.

The June DEFAC report lowered revenue estimates for fiscal year 2015 year by roughly $7 million. The Joint Finance Committee has already made $20 million in cuts to Gov. Jack Markell’s proposed $3.8 billion budget.

On Tuesday, JFC made a few small revisions to the operating budget before declaring it officially finished. Now it’s up to the Bond Bill Committee as well as Grant-in-Aid to reduce their budgets.

“Based on the total of the governor’s recommended [budget] plus the additional needs that have been identified by the committee, we’re spending too much money and we have to cut that back,” said Sen. Brian Bushweller, D-Central Kent.

Bushweller serves on both the JFC and Bond Bill committees and said budget markup has been especially difficult this year as the economy remains sluggish following the economic recession.

The state also faced increases in Medicaid and education while trying to spur new investments.

“Generally speaking, as the DEFAC estimates of revenue come in, even in a bad year, they will inch upward,” Bushweller explained. “Well, they haven’t done that this year. They basically remain flat.”

New legislation passed to create Downtown Development districts could be on the chopping block. Gov. Markell had proposed $7 million for the project.

Casino help in jeopardy?

Also weighing on lawmakers shoulders is legislation to help the state’s three ailing casinos, which contribute about $200 million in revenue annually.

Bushweller is sponsoring a bill that would save Delaware Park, Dover Downs and Harrington Raceway and Casino about $20 million a year by reducing the state’s cut of gross table game revenue from 29.4 percent to 15 percent. The state would also eliminate its table game licensing fee and would share the cost of vendor fees. 

The bill passed committee but has yet to be introduced on the senate floor. The general assembly has just two weeks left of legislative session.

“I’m not exactly sure how we’re going to work this out, but there’s a lot of people who are smart and they’re looking at ways of doing it and there certainly is the desire to work it out and I still remain confident that we’re going to work something out,” Bushweller said.

Lawmakers also haven’t produced legislation for the governor’s proposed 10 cent gas tax increase which would allow the Department of Transportation to start new infrastructure projects.

“The best way to describe the end result of all this is it’s going to be a sideways year for the state of Delaware,” Bushweller said.

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