General Assembly budget deadline drama

General Assembly budget deadline drama

DOVER, Del. - The pressure is on Democrats and Republicans in Dover Friday night to make compromises on key issues to overcome a shortfall of nearly $400 million and pass a balanced budget.

There were a number of issues raised on both sides during the week of negotiations leading up to the midnight deadline.

Proposed cuts by the Delaware Joint Finance Committee to Grant in Aid funding have resulted in outcries from Republicans and emergency responders, alike. 

Rep. Ruth Briggs-King says after being excluded from discussions and presentations Thursday night, Republicans were presented with a bill that included 28 pieces of legislation.  In the legislation were cuts to Grant in Aid funding, tied together with a raise in income tax.

"I think the action the Democratic Party took last night, combining a very deficient Grant in Aid budget with an income tax increase was unprecedented and also unconstitutional," said Rep. Richard Collins.

A rally was held by volunteer emergency responders from across the state Friday evening urging legislators to rethink the proposed cuts.

"The problem is this is public safety, and I don't think they're looking at that.  I don't think they realized they've cut the fire service, that they've cut the paramedics, that they've cut the state police," said Warren Jones, a veteran volunteer firefighter for over 50 years.

Democratic house speaker Peter Schwartzkopf says the cuts to Grant in Aid were necessary after negotiations broke down earlier in the week.

"We have a certain amount of money, we have a certain amount of expenses, we have more expenses than we have money, therefore, we have cuts.  We were faced with a $400 million deficit.  The proposal all along has been to raise 50 percent and to cut 50 percent.  So we cut 50 percent and we didn't raise 50 percent.  Now we have to go back to the table and cut more...  Are we going to raise revenue to cover that $88 million that we went down and cut which includes all of Grant in Aid, which is your firemen, your paramedics, your senior centers, all the non-profits in the state.  No one wants to do that.  So we're waiting, hoping that -- we cannot pass revenue by ourselves.  The democratic side cannot do it by ourselves."

The house speaker went on to say if the general assembly is able to raise enough revenue, all funding to Grant in Aid would be reinstated.

Collins says the GOP has presented compromises he calls, "too lenient, too easy to meet," saying Republicans have offered to reform prevailing wage to help curb the cost of government-hired workers and save Delawareans "tens of millions of dollars."  He adds every suggestion made by republicans has been met with "total rejection."

Schwartzkopf calls prevailing wage, "one thing he cannot deliver," claiming when the subject is brought up he loses 22 votes from his caucus. 

The leader of the house says he is willing to reform the survey system, claiming the wage system would fix itself if it was mandatory for both non-union and union companies fill out prevailing wage surveys.

Schwartzkopf claims negotiations Tuesday night "went to pieces" when Republicans drew a line in the sand, saying "it's prevailing wage or nothing."  However, he there could be common ground for the parties to negotiate, if Republicans are willing to work with Democrats on raising revenue.

"I mean we want to do higher tax brackets, they want to do prevailing wage, and I said you're not giving up higher tax brackets, well I can't give you prevailing wage, let's move them out and talk about what we can do."

Other taxes up for consideration include taxes on cigarettes and liquor.

When asked if they believe a balanced budget would get passed in time for midnight deadline, there were mixed feelings.

Schwartzkopf said he was confident a balanced budget would be passed "in some way, shape or form."

"Quite frankly, we're in a little bit of uncharted water at this point," said Collins.

"We may not, if we can't come to some terms.  If they need revenue, they can't make this budget without revenue because I don't think there's enough cuts in the budget that we have the money to balance it.  We must have a balanced budget," said Briggs-King.

Briggs-King tells 47abc if no budget agreement is reached by the deadline, an emergency-type of legislation will need to be passed to keep the government running.

"So if we don't reach that budget option we'll be in July and working until we get a balanced budget solution."

There was no budget agreement reached at the midnight deadline. 

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