Gov. Carney hangs budget hopes on $100 million dollar budget surplus
On Thursday, Governor John Carney presented his budget proposal, a $4.25 million dollar plan that is dramatically different from the one that caused issues last year.
This time, the General Assembly has an unexpected cushion of $100 million dollars, money the governor plans to use.
This year, the Governor is focused on "responsible investment" and making Delaware healthier, safer and stronger.
During the press conference, the Governor made it clear that he wants lawmakers to invest in the state's work force, it's schools and it's communities.
While it all sounds good, Republicans say they have some concerns.
After a year of ups and downs, Delaware appears to have it's finances back on track and Governor John Carney is leading the charge.
Governor Carney said, "This is a budget that makes Delaware stronger, focuses on making our state more competitive, addresses some of our critical needs in supporting the schools in our state and does it in a sustainable way."
Under the Governor's newly unveiled plan, The Fiscal Year 2019 budget would grow nearly 3.5% and would fund long term liabilities, allocate surplus revenues into one-time investments, fund a raise for correctional officers and more, all of which are things that Republicans seem to agree with.
Senator Brian Pettyjohn (R – D19) said, "One of the good things that I saw in his budget is that we're using one time money for one time projects instead of using that one time money that's not going to be recurring year after year for ongoing projects, that will help the long term sustainability of our budget."
Republicans, many of them from Sussex County, say they are worried about the sustainability of a budget that gives a $1,000 dollar pay raise for state employees, a $100 million dollar boost for capital projects, and a two percent pay raise for public school teachers.
Senator Pettyjohn said, "The revenues keep going up. The expenses keep going up this year however, revenue is going up. Some years they match, some years they go up when revenues are going down and for our long term sustainability on our budget, we can't be doing that."
Governor Carney is already hearing and understanding their concerns, but he has also been quick to point out that the state expects to take in more than $100 million in revenue than was originally budgeted.
Money he plans to use for the investments and one-time projects to boost state infrastructure and economic development.
Governor Carney said, "So we've got to stay focused on the things I talked about at the end. Growing the economy, focusing on efficiency and effectiveness through GEAR (Government Efficiency and Accountability Review Board), and getting and making tough decisions on health care cost containment."
Now that the Governor has presented his budget plan, it's up to the General Assembly to make it happen or dramatically change it and if 2017 was any indication, this battle could be headed to overtime.
Senator Pettyjohn said, "The devil is always in the details in these budget bills and as we go through that, we're going to see where the governors priorities actually are in terms of funding corrections, funding pay for state employees, infrastructure, things like that."
The Department of Correction was also discussed at the budget presentation on Thursday.
Correctional officers are in line for a raise, but that's not the only proposed change.
The Governor is recommending that the state spend millions to make critical improvements.
$10 million is slated to go towards the salaries of officers, while $3.5 will go towards creating a distinct career ladder. The governor hopes this ladder will encourage employees to stay at the facility longer.
The Governor also wants to spend over $2 million on staff training, transportation, supervision, and therapy and $1.75 million on security.
Department of Correction President Geoff Klopp says this is a good start, but more needs to be done.
Klopp said, "The equipment and technology improvements that we're doing are a step in the right direction, but until we begin to get more staff in the facilities we still have our main struggle and that's what we continue to push for."
These changes will only happen if the General Assembly moves forward with the budget.
They must pass it by June 30th, because the new fiscal year starts on July 1st.