Gov. John Carney, D-Delaware, and state legislators will meet with Delawareans to educate them on a challenging budget, and listen to their ideas on how to address a looming deficit.
Carney announced the series of “Budget Reset” Community Conversations on Thursday. Residents also will be able to submit their ideas online, and participate in phone call town hall meetings.
“The best way to come up with a balanced solution to this problem is to first go out and explain to the people we all represent, to present the problem, the challenge, the issue to them and invite their comments, to invite their ideas, to invite their solutions,” Carney said.
Delaware currently faces a $350 million deficit. Legislators say part of the problem is that revenue growth is flat and is not keeping pace with mandated expenditures. In addition, revenues do not reflect some of the economic growth occurring, because revenue growth is not tied to the state’s economy.
Additional grade school students, and increasing healthcare costs also are not alleviating the problem.
“This is a challenge for all of us. The solutions going to be hard,” Carney said. “It’s going to be harder than in the past, because over the last eight years, the leaders behind me have been balancing budgets on an annual basis, fixing those budgets with, in some cases, one-time fixes. We’ve run out of a lot of those, so this year it will be harder still.”
Prior to leaving office, former governor Jack Markell recommended a $4.1 billion dollar budget. The recommendations included several cuts to programs, like employee healthcare, and additional revenues on items like corporate taxes, to address the deficit.
Carney said he hopes to release his own recommended budget at the end of March. He said he plans to address both the revenue and the expense side. The challenge will be to preserve areas most needed, like education and public safety, while remaining fiscally responsible, Carney said.
He said he wants to find ways to make state agencies more efficient. While the number of state employees was reduced by 800 over the past eight years, the number of school district employees increased by 2,000, Carney said.
He predicts education will be a top concern addressed in the public meetings.
“There are some things I think we can do in education that don’t touch the classroom. My focus is to keep as many resources in classroom as possible, and have that conversation with the public, what are you willing to pay for?” Carney said.
“I think it’s got to be balanced approach. I think it’s fair to say an ‘all cuts’ budget is going to look pretty draconian. You have to think about, ‘Does that make a lot of sense in a world where education and skills is probably the most important thing?’”
He also said the General Assembly must consider ways to bring in revenues without pushing residents and businesses to other states.
State Rep. Paul Baumbach, D-Newark, who will meet with constituents, said it will be difficult to be fiscally responsible while making everyone happy.
“There is no solution that’s not going to have a lot of pain. You can’t address that at the last minute. This is something that needs the full five months we have ahead of us,” he said. “It’s one where the Governor alone can’t do it, the elected officials alone can’t do it and the people along can’t do it alone—but we need all three to be working together.”
State Sen. David Sokola, D-Newark/Hockessin, said he encourages his constituents to take advantage of the opportunity to meet with him.
“While we up here are representatives of the people it moves us to make sure we get as much inclusivity as we can,” he said.
Here’s a list of where and when Gov. Carney will meet with residents about the budget:
7:30 a.m. – January 30 – Timothy’s on the Riverfront, Wilmington, with Representative Stephanie T. Bolden
7:30 a.m. – February 15 – Drip Café, Hockessin, with Senator David Sokola
8:00 a.m. – February 21 – Drip Café, Hockessin, with Senator Greg Lavelle
9:00 a.m. – February 22 – Downtown Dover Partnership, Dover, with Senator Brian Bushweller
February 22 – TELE-TOWN HALL
9:00 a.m. – March 1 – Nanticoke Senior Center, Seaford, with Representative Daniel Short
8:00 a.m. – April 5 – Café Gelato, Newark, with Representative Paul Baumbach