Gov. John Carney is not proposing a tax increase for Delawareans this year as part of his $4.2 billion budget plan.
But he said the state would be in better fiscal shape if the legislature had passed hikes to personal income taxes a year ago.
While lawmakers have a bit more revenue to work with this budget cycle, The Delaware Economic & Financial Advisory Council predicts spending will rise and revenue will fall in future years.
So Carney said he’s using about $170 million expected to be left over from this year’s budget to fund one-time expenditures. He’s putting most of that money towards infrastructure projects.
If legislators agree, that could mean the biggest bond bill in recent years, over $667 million. The current year capital budget was $590 million.
Carney says he’s trying to limit new spending to one-time expenditures or sustaining current programs - pointing to the 3.8 million dollars he wants for the Delaware STARS initiative.
“You may have noticed, I highlighted early childhood education because it’s a good example," he said. "It’s a program that I support and we all support. But it’s a program that started less than 10 years ago with no state funding and now it’s at 60 million dollars and and it increases every year.”
But Carney is also asking state lawmakers for $1,000 raises for state workers and a two percent raise for public school teachers. He says the state can save money by investing and retaining state employees and relying less on contractors.
“We’re competing with private industry," he said. "We’re having a really difficult time on the correctional officer side. A lot of our employees are really unpaid relative to the private sector.”
Carney also wants to invest more in schools.
He's proposing $6 million dollars for the Opportunity Grants program his administration launched last year with a million dollars in competitive grants. If approved by lawmakers in this budget, the money would not fund competitive grants, but rather be targeted to schools with 60% poverty level or 20% English Language Learners.
Carney's also seeking $18 million in Christina School District’s Wilmington schools. That includes $15 million in capital investments should the district and Carney's administration finalize a Memorandum of Understanding that would consolidate five Christina schools in the city into two.
There’s also about $19 million for the Delaware Department of Correction to increase staffing, increase correctional officer starting salaries and enact other recommendations made by an independent review of state prisons following last February's deadly inmate riot and hostage situation at Vaughn Correctional facility.
Carney's plan would also give the state's Strategic Fund, which is used to provide economic development incentives, $12.5 million dollars and restore $20 million dollars in funding for Farmland and Open Space preservation cut during last year's budget crunch.
Carney is also recommending a $41.7 million dollar Grants-in-Aid budget. They would partially restore a 20% across the board cut made last year that dropped that budget to $37.2 million for non-profits and volunteer fire companies.
The budget-writing Joint Finance Committee begins its initial hearings next week.