Brian Bushweller, State Senator

17th District of Delaware

August, 2017

So, What Happened With the Budget This Year?

            Most Delawareans who have any interest in state government know that this was a bad year for the budget.  For the first time in anyone’s memory, the General Assembly failed to enact a budget by the constitutional deadline of June 30.  Instead, we passed a bill on June 30 that extended the provisions of the Fiscal Year 2017 budget for three days into Fiscal Year 2018.  Then, in the wee hours of Monday, July 3, we passed the new operating budget along with the capital budget and the “Grant-In-Aid” budget.

            The political battles giving rise to the budget dispute had victims.  Notably, Delaware’s senior centers, including the Modern Maturity Center, will experience a 20% cut in their Grant-In-Aid (GIA) awards.  GIA is the major source of funding for many senior centers and a 20% cut will be noticed.  But lots of other things were cut, too.  Support for the K-12 public schools was cut, as was support for our three colleges and universities.  GIA for veterans’ organizations and volunteer fire companies will see the same 20% cut as senior centers.

Many other programs were cut and some taxes were raised.  People buying a home will pay a 4% realty transfer tax, up from 3%.  A pack of cigarettes will cost 50 cents more and a six pack of beer will go up 10 to 12 cents.  Of these, the realty transfer tax increase is the most worrisome to some people because they think it will make it harder for lower income people to buy a house.  There is discussion about considering a bill in January that will exempt first time home buyers from the increase.

The biggest tax increase was on companies that incorporate here in Delaware.  Their “corporate franchise fees” will go up considerably.  I am concerned we might be threatening this “golden goose” the same as we are already threatening our casino industry.

All of this took place because of a $400 million gap between anticipated expenses and anticipated revenue for Fiscal ‘18.  For several years now, our spending has been growing faster than our income.

Even after the trials and tribulations we wrestled with this year, as of today there is no reason to believe that next year will be any better.  The major cost drivers – increased costs for Medicaid, state employee health care and state retiree health care, as well as growing public school enrollment – show no signs of letting up.

Contrary to the opinion of many in the public, I believe the “Budget Battle of 2017” was based on far more than petty political bickering.  It was a sign of fundamental, ideological differences playing out here in Delaware just as they are playing out across America.  How big should government be?  In how many aspects of our lives should government be involved?  Should government be the main solution to all of society’s problems?  Who should pay for government?  Is government part of the problem?

These are the kinds of questions causing our political strife.  They are real issues and how we address these issues will have real consequences.  I’m hoping we can all rise above the heat of the moment and understand that we are debating the future of our state and our country.  Future generations are depending on us to do the right thing.