Brian Bushweller, State Senator

17th District of Delaware

January, 2018

How Important Are Senior Centers to Older Delawareans?

The title of this column poses a question that will be asked, in one way or another, in one forum or another, by many, many people across our state over the next six months.  And, that includes State Senators and State Representatives.

This question will be asked because this month the Governor and the General Assembly began building the Fiscal Year 2019 budget.  One of the significant challenges in that process will be how to restore the 20% cut in state aid to senior centers the State imposed in the current year’s budget.

That 20% cut is real.  It has had a real impact on the services senior centers offer.  It has made even tighter the budgets of senior centers that were already stretched.  It has forced senior centers to increase fees they charge for services and to ask their members for increased voluntary contributions.

This year’s 20% cut was a direct result of continued, sluggish growth of state revenues.  When combined with continued, significant increases in other areas of the budget, like Medicaid, state employee health care costs and steady growth in the number of students in our public schools, not enough was left to fully fund the State’s historic commitment to non-profit organizations like senior centers, fire companies, veterans’ organizations and others.  That 20% cut amounted to more than $8.6 million for those organizations.

Just before Christmas, the official revenue forecast for FY 2019 suggested that the period of sluggish growth may not be over yet.  The current forecast predicts an increase of $87.5 million in revenue, which is a little more than 2% of this year’s total budget.  And, while we don’t yet have the actual estimates of increases in the typical growth areas of the budget like health care and education, in previous years, those items alone often accounted for more than the current forecasted revenue increase.

As we go through the budget process, and get closer to our June 30 deadline for finalizing a budget, additional forecasts will be forthcoming.  If those forecasts do not noticeably improve over where we are now, it may be impossible to restore the 20% cut.  Some legislators have proposed raising certain taxes if that is the case.  I myself have supported the idea of one or two new income tax brackets on higher income earners.  Right now, the highest tax bracket in the state income tax starts at $60,000 of taxable income.  That means a couple with taxable income of $60,000 pays the same tax rate as a couple with $1,000,000 (or more) of taxable income.  It seems reasonable to me that new brackets with modest increases at $150,000 and $300,000 would be very fair and would raise sufficient revenue to meet the state’s needs.

Without a revenue increase of some kind beyond the currently predicted 2%, the many programs of the Modern Maturity Center will be in jeopardy.  Congregate meals, Meals On Wheels, Front Porch, Day Break, fitness and pool, pool tables, card games, bingo, line dancing, dinner dances, art and drawing class, trips and tours.  The list goes on.

How important are all these services and activities to older Delawareans?  Stay tuned for the answer.