Gov.-elect Carney plans Delaware budget road show

Gov.-elect John Carney answers questions from voters Thursday at a Georgetown restaurant. (Mark Eichmann/WHYY)

Gov.-elect John Carney answers questions from voters Thursday at a Georgetown restaurant. (Mark Eichmann/WHYY)

As outgoing Governor Jack Markell unveiled his budget proposal Thursday, Governor-elect John Carney plans to meet with residents in the coming weeks as he develops a budget of his own.

Delaware faces a big time budget hole. A $350 million dollar hole.

While that amount is less than half of the deficit Jack Markell faced when he took office eight years ago, his replacement John Carney thinks it’s worse. “I think [it’s] probably more difficult,” Carney said Thursday after speaking with voters at a Georgetown restaurant. Over the past eight years, Markell has cut state spending by eliminating vacant positions and other efficiency efforts. “There are 800 fewer state employees today then there were eight years ago,” Carney said. “That was the low hanging fruit.”

That leaves Carney with some heavy lifting before the end of the fiscal year in June. It’s likely Carney’s budget plan will feature some type- more likely multiple types- of revenue increases via taxes. “To do a budget fix without any revenue, you’re talking about a couple hundred teachers being let go. I think that’s something that most people won’t want to see.”

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As part of an effort to get input from the public on what cuts or revenue increases resident’s would support, Carney plans on hosting forums around the state. “We’ll present a budget that deals with the deficit with just spending cuts, maybe one with just revenue increases… [to] try to get a sense from people what their appetite is for cuts and for revenue.”

Carney admits those plans are not likely to have many fans. “My guess is they’re not going to like either, none of us do, the reality is we’ll probably have to have a little of both.”

Delaware lawmakers expect the budget discussion to dominate this year’s legislative session. Republican State Sen. Brian Pettyjohn, who hosted Carney for the question and answer session with voters, says lawmakers need to fix the structural issues with the budget. “We need to figure out a way to fix it, fix the foundation of how we have the revenue and expenses here in Delaware so we’re not spending so much time with each general assembly wrangling our hands over how are we gonna come up with $100, 200, 300 million.”

Democratic State Sen. Harris McDowell agrees, adding that despite economic gains during the Markell years, the state revenue picture hasn’t stabilized. “When it becomes time to budget we can’t predict that that vibrancy will lead to the revenues we need to keep other important aspects of our state functioning at that same high-standard,” McDowell said. “That’s something we need to recalibrate over the long term.”

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