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Democrats excited with some budget initiatives, while GOP sees positives and negatives

Delaware Public Media

Gov. John Carney’s call for historic funding for housing in his 2024 budget caught the eye of both Democrats and Republicans in Legislative Hall.

The nearly $5.5 billion budget includes over $101 million for affordable housing initiatives, which would be spread throughout the state.

State Sen. Tizzy Lockman (D-Wilmington) is supportive of housing being a big part of the budget.

"It's very exciting I have to say in this moment just to see housing so centered in our state budget which is unusual, and this is an unprecedented investment,” said Lockman. “So you try not to just get swept away in that and remember that we've got to pay attention to the details of it, and make sure that we're doing it right."

State Rep. Ruth Briggs King (R-Georgetown) is also happy to see the focus on affordable and workforce housing, but State Rep. Kevin Hensley (R- Townsend) sees some red flags.

"I do have concerns with a couple of the legislative initiatives that the governor is choosing to fund. In particular legislation to provide free legal counsel to all tenants in JP Court proceedings," said Hensley.

Hensley is also concerned about a bill that would allow tenants to ask a court to hold rental payments in escrow if a landlord doesn’t quickly address serious health and safety hazards.

He cited both bills not making it out of the House or a committee.

Republicans see the rest of Gov. Carney’s proposed budget as a mixed bag.

They support adding to the budget stabilization fund, focusing on affordable housing, putting back money into clean water, and salary increases to state workers and teachers to keep Delaware competitive.

But Republican Joint Finance Committee members worry about the 7.4% budget growth and no increase in grant-in-aid.

And Briggs King has one other area of concern.

"I would like to have seen a little bit more directed towards public safety,” said Briggs King. “We had one of the deadliest (years in) history last year with traffic and accidents both pedestrian and auto accidents, and I know it takes more coverage in order to get the safety that we need."

Briggs King also notes if marijuana legislation is passed and signed, that will put more pressure on law enforcement agencies throughout the state.

State Sen. Eric Buckson (R-Dover) believes big ticket needs should be handled first when the JFC hearings begin next week then “wants” can be addressed.

Democrats in Dover are excited about the governor’s emphasis on education in his proposed 2024 budget - specifically pay raises for Delaware teachers, and a commitment to early childhood education,

Gov. Carney’s plan includes a 9% pay increase for teachers in Delaware as part of an overall wage increase for state workers.

It also pumps money into early childhood education by doubling early child education programs, expanding eligibility, and increasing the rate of purchase care, something some Republicans support.

State Rep. Kim Williams (D-Newport), a member of the Joint Finance Committee, says focusing on early childhood education is crucial.

"It's really important for us to invest early. The earlier we invest, the better it is for us as a state in the long run as far as other funds that we would have to put out if we don't invest early. So I am very excited for the governor doing this," said Williams.

Williams notes Carney’s plan delivers on years-worth of discussion about investments in teachers and early childhood learning.

She adds the teacher pay hike will allow Delaware to compete with neighboring states in the battle to recruit and retain teachers.

The Joint Finance Committee begins dissecting Carney's plan next week when it begins its budget hearings. They run until March 3.

Joe brings over 20 years of experience in news and radio to Delaware Public Media and the All Things Considered host position. He joined DPM in November 2019 as a reporter and fill-in ATC host after six years as a reporter and anchor at commercial radio stations in New Castle and Sussex Counties.