Delaware Lawmakers Sign Off On $6.1 Billion Operating Budget For The Fiscal Year

DOVER, Del. (AP) — Delaware lawmakers approved on Thursday a $6.13 billion general fund operating budget for the fiscal year starting July 1, an increase of more than 9% from this year’s operating budget.

House and Senate lawmakers also approved a separate “supplemental budget” bill of more than $168.3 million, using one-time appropriations.

The operating budget is about $54 million higher than what Democratic Gov. John Carney recommended in January. The supplemental spending bill is $76 million higher than what Carney proposed.

Sen. Trey Paradee, a Dover Democrat and co-chair of the budget-writing Joint Finance Committee, described the spending plan as “a responsible, balanced budget that reflects Delaware’s solid economic growth over the last year.”

Approval of the budget continues a pattern of Delaware lawmakers signing off on spending increases that have approached 10% annually, even as officials expect essentially flat revenue growth this year and next year.

House Minority Whip Lyndon Yearick, a Dover Republican, noted that the state budget has increased by $1 billion over the past two years.

“I’m challenged to see how we’re going to keep that pace of spending up,” said Yearick, one of three House Republicans who voted against the budget bill. The supplemental bill received unanimous support in both chambers.

The operating budget marks the third consecutive year of pay raises for state employees, with most rank-and-file employees receiving a 2% increase. For teachers, base salary has increased by 11% increase over the past two years while base pay for support staff, including custodians, secretaries, bus drivers and food service workers has increased between 6% and 18% during the same period, depending on their job classification.

The operating budget includes $2.1 billion for public education, up from $1.98 billion this year. Spending by the Department of Health and Social Services increases from just under $1.5 billion this year to $1.63 billion next year.

The spending plan includes a $132 million increase to cover the state’s share of employee and retiree health insurance premiums, a $94 million increase for Medicaid, and $39 million in new spending to cover projected enrollment growth in public schools.

Meanwhile, the supplemental bill includes $51 million to fund cost-of-living increases for retired state government workers, and $56 million for retiree health care costs.

The spending plan also increases childcare subsidies by $10 million and reimbursement rates for certain Medicaid service providers by about $6 million.

Lawmakers will vote next week on a capital budget for construction, transportation, maintenance and economic development projects. A grants package for community organizations, nonprofit groups and volunteer fire companies also will be put to a vote.

Carney proposed a capital budget of $944 million, roughly $500 million less than this year’s capital budget. His recommended grants package of $66.5 million marks a slight decline from this year’s record $72 million.