Local Legislators Weigh In On State Budget

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Senator Gary Simpson discusses the State Budget with the Milford Rotary Club earlier this year.
Senator Gary Simpson discusses the State Budget with the Milford Rotary Club earlier this year.

By Terry Rogers

On June 30, the State of Delaware passed a balanced budget as they are required to do under state law. Included in the budget were several items that will benefit Milford specifically, according to Representative Harvey Kenton and Senator Gary Simpson.

According to local legislators, Carlisle Fire Company will receive approximately $117,000 while the Milford Senior Center will receive just over $200,000. Kent-Sussex Industries (KSI) is slated to receive just over $80,000 and the Milford Housing Development Corporation will receive just under $80,000. Also receiving funding from the state are People’s Place, the Veteran’s Home and the LaRed Health Center. Historical organizations will also benefit with the Friends of the Milford Museum receiving $3,060 and the Milford Historical Society receiving $4,162. All funds provided to non-profit organizations in the city are through the Grant-in-Aid package. Senator Simpson says that the state was pleased to help support local non-profits, but that overall spending has grown faster than the State can sustain.

“Just this year, the budget grew by over four percent,” Senator Simpson said. “Despite the best efforts of my Republican colleagues on the Joint Finance Committee, very little attempt was made by the whole committee to study how state government can make real and beneficial cuts. We were told we had to just add more spending. The largest uptick in spending came from increases in Medicaid and paying for healthcare for state employees. We will need to continue to be faced with tight budgets and threats to reduce funding for necessary programs because of the unchecked growth in state spending.”

Representative Kenton agreed with Senator Simpson’s assessment of the budget. He said that there was a structural imbalance between the growth of state expenditures and the growth of state revenue. Representative Kenton feels that the growth in spending outweighs growth in revenue. In addition, Delaware faces a multi-state lawsuit involving the collection of money from escheat, which is abandoned property that has historically been a major source of state funding.

“The members of the 149th General Assembly, which meets for the first time in January, are going to face some difficult, unpopular choices in 2017 to redefine how we acquire and spend revenue,” Representative Kenton said. He also said that the cost of healthcare provided to state employees and retirees, as well as the rising expense of Medicaid were major factors in spending growth in recent years.

Senator Simpson said that Medicaid added tens of millions of dollars to the budget. He also said there were several questionable expenditures in the budget, including $290,000 for a college professor connected to the Chair of the Finance Committee with no explanation regarding what the funds were for, despite requesting answers to those questions. Senator Simpson said an attempt to remove the earmark was defeated on a party-line vote.

“There are big things of concern,” Senator Simpson said. “There are also smaller things of concern, but we definitely need a new approach to our budgeting.”

Senator Simpson said negotiations are currently taking place to obtain right-of-way easements and that a new overpass on Route 1 that has been promised to Milford residents for almost two decades is expected to break ground in the spring of 2018. Representative Kenton said that the transportation budget increased by almost ten percent in the current budget, but there had been a rise in revenue due to vehicle fee hikes enacted in the previous year as well as additional grant monies.

Education is another area where the budget increased. According to Representative Kenton, education funding grew by just over five percent. The additional funding was earmarked for salary increases for teacher as well as some additional early childhood education. In addition, 190 new education employees were funded to deal with higher enrollments.

“One northern Delaware legislator requested increased funding for after-school programs,” Senator Simpson said. “Given this year’s tight budget situation, that request was seen as an impossibility for this year.”

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