Delaware’s new fiscal year begins with no budget for first time since 1977 [video]

 The Delaware house in their marathon late night session.(Nichelle Polston/WHYY)

The Delaware house in their marathon late night session.(Nichelle Polston/WHYY)

For the first time in 40 years Delaware lawmakers couldn’t reach a budget deadline by July 1. Delaware legislators instead gave themselves 72 more hours to pass a balanced budget.

“We have a constitutional obligation to pass a balanced budget,” said Rep. Valerie Longhurst, D-Bear, who stressed the budget must not sacrifice community services.

A $400 million deficit proved to be quite the challenge for lawmakers. Several proposals were introduced with major cuts to education and grants to non-profit organizations. Firefighters were on the chopping block as a result, prompting many to protest those cuts Friday night.

It’s certainly not the budget outcome many had hoped for said Rep. Stephanie T. Bolden, D-Wilmington.

Bolden, a former educator called this year’s overnight legislative session the most challenging since she was voted in office almost a decade ago.

“There are so many different proposals, whichever one we can come to an agreement on, but for me it got to be one to benefit the constituency that we serve in the state of Delaware,” Bolden said.

However, as a last resort Senate Bill 131 was passed just before 5 a.m. Saturday. That allowed state government to keep functioning while negotiations continued.

“This continuing resolution will ensure that the lights stay on, roadwork continues, paychecks get sent out and nonprofits and fire companies that provide invaluable services to our state continue to receive funds,” Longhurst said.

Gov. John Carney expressed disappointment in the budget session. His office put out a statement, which read in part: “I’m deeply disappointed that the General Assembly has failed to reach an agreement to pass a balanced budget, and a responsible long-term financial plan. The people of Delaware expect us to responsibly do their business, and that includes working together to enact a responsible financial plan for the state.

On the Republican side, Rep. Daniel B. Short, R-39th Dist., said he looks forward to both parties working together.

“We made some very good faith efforts. We actually went away from the concept that this is our best and final and even compromised beyond that,” Short said. He joked that if anyone knew what the Democrats were thinking to be sure to let him know.

Republican leadership was a more critical. Senate Minority Whip Greg Lavelle, R-Sharpley said, “An opportunity to reach a deal was squandered tonight,” said State Senate Minority Whip Greg Lavelle, R-Sharpley. “We had substantive discussions with House Democrats about a budget that would have restored funding previously cut from public education and allowed us to enact the annual Grants-In-Aid Bill — all without raising taxes. We believed we had an agreement, but the governor rejected it.”

Lawmakers will come back to the drawing table on Sunday in Dover.

“We may have differences, but we have to find common ground to bring us together for the betterment of our state. This has been challenging at times, but it also is an essential part of our democracy to continue these discussions despite, and in many ways because of our differences,” Longhurst said.

In the interest of full disclosure, WHYY’s Delaware newsroom is one of the receipients of grant-in-aid funding.

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