Joint Finance Committee begins tackling COVID-19 budget shortfall
The budget-writing Joint Finance Committee met Tuesday for the first time since the Delaware General Assembly resumed work last week largely online.
The goal is to close a $455 million shortfall for the state’s FY 2021 budget as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
State Budget Management Director Mike Jackson laid out Gov. John Carney’s plans to close the gap.
“What we wanted to try to do is try to fund a budget that in essence that maintains investments that you have made all the way up and through fiscal year 2020 and be able to make some door openers,” Jackson said.
The Carney administration plan includes using about $76 million from the state’s budget stabilization fund, leaving $50 million for later use, if needed. The state is also refinancing debt service to save another $13.5 million.
A planned 2% raise for state employees would be eliminated and automatic step increases put on hold.
Discretionary funding would be largely curtailed, and new spending would be limited to necessary funding in education, health and social services, and technology needs- such as cybersecurity.
No general fund money would be sent to the Bond Bill for capital projects. Gov. Carney had proposed sending $233 million to the Bond Bill for various capital projects.
Part of the process is also determining what may be covered by money from the federal CARES Act which can only be used on expenses directly connected to COVID-19. Jackson says it’s a moving target.
“Much of our expenditure started to happen in April. Through, I believe, May 26th, we had incurred almost $65 million worth of expenses over and above our budget. And that does not include the employment trust fund,” Jackson said.
Delaware is getting $927 million from the CARES Act. Jackson says the state is also working with New Castle County - which received another nearly 323 million in federal relief dollars.
After the administration's presentation, the Joint Finance Committee spent the rest of Tuesday’s meeting marking up non-controversial parts of the budget. They return to work Wednesday.