State budget hearings begin with questions about state employee pay raise, support for retirees
The Joint Finance Committee begins a month of public hearings with state agencies as lawmakers start crafting next year’s budget.
The hearings opened Tuesday with an overview of the Gov. John Carney’s recommended budget - which approaches $5 billion for the first time, with greater than expected revenues coming in.
Department of Finance director Rick Geisenberger is asking state lawmakers to codify the budget stabilization fund and advisory benchmark Carney implemented through executive order.
“This will codify a practice of building strong reserves in good times so the state is less reliant on budget cuts and tax increases during downturn.”
Carney and many lawmakers cite efforts to stabilize the state budget back in 2018 as the reason Delaware emerged from the worst of the pandemic largely unscathed, unlike many other states.
This year, Carney is proposing another $15 million be added to the stabilization fund, bringing its total to a little over $300 million.
One major sticking point is Gov. John Carney’s proposed scaled pay increase for state employees.
JFC chair Sen. Trey Paradee worries the proposed pay raise will frustrate those on the higher end of the pay scale, who may get a raise as low as two percent, while the lowest paid employees could see a nine percent raise.
But State Budget director Cerron Cade argues the plan benefits everyone - even state employees seeing smaller increases or those in unions.
“For the most part, the folks who are collectively bargaining — I’m pretty confident they will look at this favorably because it lifts the floor of their negotiations,” Cade says.
Other JFC members voiced support for finding more ways to help the state’s seniors and those on state pension plans.
State Rep. Kim Williams says lawmakers should restore the senior property tax credit to $500. It was reduced to $400 a few years ago to address a budget deficit.
Geisenberger is also asking lawmakers to enact desperately needed reforms to reduce the state’s unfunded retirement benefits liability.
He says without enacting reforms, the state’s liability could increase from $10 billion to $36 billion over the next 30 years.
Roman Battaglia is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms.