Fiscal Year 2018 will involve a lot of pain if the Joint Finance Committee’s marked-up state budget continues down the same dark path it is on now. While some cuts seem like a good idea, others will make children go without desperately needed services. The State Board of Education is kaput if everything stays the same. But could new tax bills, which would bring in more revenue to the state, cause some of those cuts to disappear?
In Delaware, the General Assembly needs a 3/5 vote to pass any revenue bills. In the House, that requires 25 yes votes and in the Senate, 13. This is where it gets very tricky. The House has 25 Democrats and 16 Republicans. The Senate has 11 Democrats and 10 Republicans. The House could conceivably pass the budget just on their Democrat base, but complications could easily arise. Some Dems in the House will not favor certain perks in the epilogue language, such as the Charter School Transportation Slush Fund. There is at least one Democrat, State Rep. John Kowalko, who will not say yes to the budget if that is in there. The Republicans in both houses want something: prevailing wage. They have wanted this for years, but this could be the year where they get what they want, or at least make some inroads towards it.
The Joint Finance Committee has to make the cuts until they see more revenue. Are they going after some of the programs that help people the most? Not yet. But today is another day and is expected to be uglier than yesterday. The JFC does not meet again until Tuesday, June 6th. I expect a whirlwind of activity at Legislative Hall every single day someone is there between now and July 1st.
In Governor Carney’s proposed budget, the local share of student transportation costs went from 10% to 15%. Yesterday, the Joint Finance Committee raised that to 20% with the expectation the school districts can recoup those costs from this mythological one-time Match Tax. Carney proposed the district school boards utilize this option without a referendum. Let’s be very clear on this: if this happens, do not expect taxpayers to pass referenda any time soon.
No matter how this plays out, John Carney’s vision of shared sacrifice will have winners and losers. If the uber-wealthy get more perks like the estate tax repeal, it will become very obvious who is pulling the strings behind the curtain at Legislative Hall in Dover.