If you’re going to have a budget fight, it’s always better to battle over a surplus rather than a deficit. And that’s the situation in Delaware with Gov. John Carney’s budget proposal to state lawmakers.
But as Delaware’s fiscal picture has fluctuated between lean years and times of plenty. The fiscal year 2020, which starts July 1, is looking to be a bountiful one. Carney’s $4.43 billion budget proposal is 3.8 percent higher than the current fiscal year.
But despite the rosier incomes, Carney is calling for lawmakers to set aside $92 million this year to prepare for a lean year in the future.
“I think there’s just a fundamental logic in what we’re proposing,” Carney said. “The thing I hear from ordinary taxpayers when I’m out in the community? They like what we’re doing.”
Carney’s plan has another unlikely ally in Republican state Sen. Colin Bonini who ran against Carney for governor in 2016.
“We had a center-left Democrat governor come in and say we are going to put voluntary limits on our budgetary process, and I think that is great leadership and I was incredibly pleased to hear it,” Bonini said.
Carney backed an amendment to the Delaware Constitution last year to make this extra savings plan state law. That effort, referred to as “budget smoothing,” didn’t get a vote last June. In its place, Carney signed an executive order to start the savings plan. Now he’s dependent on state lawmakers to go along with the plan.
“I think if the General Assembly is smart enough to stick with the governor on this, I think we are absolutely going to be putting our state in a much better financial situation in the future,” Bonini said.
Carney said lawmakers in office when he was elected in 2016 will remember the unpleasantness of having to cut programs and raise taxes to fill a $350 million budget gap.
“One of the challenges actually of the Legislature with so many new members is they’ve not experienced a downturn,” Carney said. There are 15 new faces in Legislative Hall this year. “Everybody else who’s been here … has experienced a downturn, and they know how disruptive it is when you have to raise revenue, raise taxes, or cut important programs.”
The budget proposal also includes a 2 percent pay increase for teachers, in addition to yearly step increases. Other state workers would get a $1,000 raise under Carney’s plan. The budget includes $60 million over three years to help low-income students and those learning to speak English. Other funds are earmarked for improving prison conditions including new security cameras and other equipment.
The Joint Finance Committee will spend the next six weeks meeting with various state departments to go through Carney’s plan. Lawmakers have until June 30 to approve a budget.