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JFC cuts senior tax credit, punts on healthcare changes

Delaware Public Media

Delaware’s seniors will have to pay up to $100 more per year for their annual school property tax bill.

Lawmakers on the budget writing Joint Finance Committee voted 9-3 to take a small bite out of seniors’ property tax credit, cutting it by $100 per year to save $3.5 million next year.

The state will still pay up to $400 that a senior owes and JFC members say they wanted to revisit the issue should extra money suddenly become available.

Rep. Debra Heffernan (D-Bellefonte) says it’s unfair to those on a fixed income.

“Even though it just sounds like $100, that could be the difference between a senior paying for medication or not being able to pay for it,” Heffernan said.

“Elder people are on a fixed income and we essentially had a contract with them when this was made years ago and I think it’s wrong,” said Rep. William Carson (D-Smyrna), who voted against the measure.

Others who supported it said they felt the same way, but note a projected $382 million budget shortfall requires drastic action.

A bill under consideration in the House would require anyone claiming the credit be a resident of Delaware for at least 10 years.

Right now, those 65 and older only have to live in the state for three years.

State budget officials say without that kind of a check, an expected influx of seniors over the next few decades will squeeze tens of millions of dollars from the budget each year.

Earlier in the day, JFC punted on making changes to the state’s generous healthcare benefits package.

Under the plan from Gov. John Carney (D), state workers would on average pay 13 percent of their insurance costs. The three percent increase would save $6.5 million.

Carney also wants to eliminate a provision called "double state share" that allows married state employees enrolled before 2012 to pay about $25 a month for both of their benefits.

The move would affect about 1,100 retirees, saving another $3.5 million.

They would instead pay anywhere from $58 a month to $218 a month for coverage, depending on the plan in which they were enrolled.

In all, legislators pruned about $51 million from the budget. Should state senators sign off on an increase to the corporate franchise tax, JFC has $230 million left to cut or backfill with tax hikes, according to state budget officials.

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