Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Talks over new taxes, infrastructure spending stalled again

Delaware Public Media

House Democratic leaders are pillorying Republicans as negotiations are deadlocked over raising money for infrastructure spending and battling future perceived revenue problems.

Leaders in all four caucuses rekindled negotiations over these issues last week, but talks remain stagnant.

Speaker Pete Schwartzkopf (D-Rehoboth Beach) and House Majority Leader Valerie Longhurst (D-Delaware City) called the prolonged process "irresponsible" and that a solution needs to come this year.

DelDOT officials have long spoken about Delaware's deteriorating infrastructure, noting a $780 million backlog of projects – $180 million of them labeled as critical.

Revenue projections for fiscal year 2017 remain relatively flat, but up slightly compared to fiscal year 2016. That still has Democrats worried, saying yearly budgetary pressures like Medicaid and teacher pay increases, which they note could cost hundreds of millions of dollars.

"It's the equivalent of building a house in front of a goddamn tsunami that you know is coming next year. Why would you build a house in the path?" said Schwartzkopf. "I mean, it's a problem now, you fix the damn thing now. You fix this problem, it helps with this problem and then you fix this problem."

State lawmakers still have to fill a hole totaling tens of millions of dollars for FY 2016, but are uneasy about using $61 million in legal settlement money currently parked in the bank to do so.

Schwartzkopf and Longhurst instead threatened to cut grant-in-aid money in half that funds volunteer fire companies and nonprofit agencies across Delaware.

Earlier in the day, Bond Bill co-chair Rep. Quinn Johnson (D-Middletown) also noted that lawmakers may not receive any Community Transportation Fund money or Municipal Street Aid next year.

"DelDOT needs every penny they can get to move significant projects forward."

But Republicans aren't so hesitant about using one-time money to plug budget holes.

"I think we're good to go if we would take that settlement money, close this budget out and work on the efficiency issue over the next many months. We might be able to reduce the size of this government that we've got and we're not really going to have that $151 million problem if the revenues start to increase," said House Minority Leader Daniel Short (R-Seaford).

Instead, Republicans are holding the line on calling for a review of state spending.

Schwartzkopf wouldn't divulge details of the new talks, but said that new revenue may come from hiking corporate franchise taxes and reducing itemized deductions for high-income earners.

"We have been so fortunate in this state with casino money coming in from out of state, corporations and everything like that that we have been able to get other people to pay our bills. That money is slowing down," he said.

Negotiations will continue up until lawmakers gavel out of session June 30.

Related Content