Gov. John Carney’s nearly $4.71 billion Fiscal Year 2022 budget plan is a 3.5 percent increase over the current year budget, highlighted by funding for police body cameras, contingencies for COVID costs and a raise for state employees.
Carney’spending proposal includes $3.6 million dollars in one time and contingency funding to cover development and deployment of body cameras for all police officers in the state.
"This starts a phased-in approach,” said Cerron Cade, Director of the Office of Management and Budget. “We're going to be working collectively with the Department of Justice, Office of Defense Services, Department of Safety and Homeland Security and our goal is to have a statewide program fully implemented by 2025."
Carney's budget also calls for a record $894 million in capital spending - that includes $185 million in school construction and renovation, $30 million for higher education campus improvements, $50 million for the Clean Water Trust Fund, and $50 million for Kent and Sussex Family Court facilities.
Carney also proposes a $500 increase across the board for state employees and funding to gradually phase in a minimum wage of $15 per hour for state workers. The pay raise will cost $22.7 million and the Carney administration is asking for $4.2 million to move about 261 agency workers and 1,000 school paraprofessionals closer to the $15/hour threshold.
Carney said the increases have a specific goal.
"The goal then and still is to make sure that state employees who go to work and work hard everyday are not living under the poverty level that's lower than $15 an hour," said Carney. "This move here in this budget will take us above that we estimate of course it's also based on family size."
The budget also calls for $30 million for one time funding to support testing, contact tracing, and vaccination to fight against COVID-19 to handle costs not covered by federal funding.
The budget proposal also calls for replenishing the state’s Budget Stabilization Fund. Delaware used $63 million from that fund to cover a pandemic related shortfall in this year’s budget. Carney’s proposal would return that $63 million, along with an additional $5 million dollars, leaving a total of $131 million in the fund.
The governor is also calling for a record $894.4 million capital spending plan. Carney proposed a similar, record-setting plan a year ago, but pared it back to $708 million after the pandemic sapped state revenues.
This years's capital plan, as expected, includes Carney’s proposed $50 million to create a Clean Water Trust Fund. It also earmarks $30 million to Delaware State University, Delaware Tech and the Univ. of Delaware for deferred maintenance, capital improvements and technology upgrades
There’s also $50 million dollars to build new Family Court facilities in Kent and Sussex Counties. Work on the Sussex Family Court building is projected to begin this summer and be done in two years. The Kent building is anticipated to be ready two and half years after a start date is identified. State officials do expect work on the two facilities will overlap.
In education, Carney’s budget envisions spending $19.9 million more to account for enrollment growth and 22.4 million on teacher raises sand step increases.
He also starts moving to toward fulfilling terms of the settlement reached last fall in the state education funding lawsuit. His proposal adds $10 million to the state’s Opportunity Funding program that offers weighted funding for low-income students and English learners as a step toward reaching the mandated $60 million annually by Fiscal Year 2025.
He also calls for beginning the process of doubling funding for the Early Childhood Assistance Program (ECAP) to expand access to affordable early education by 2024 and providing full funding for K-3 basic special education, consistent with levels for grades 4-12 by school year 2023-24
The Redding Consortium for Educational Equity and some lawmakers, including the consortium’s co-chair State Senator Tizzy Lockman, suggest those funding goals are a floor, not the ceiling for addressing school funding issues.
But Carney defends his approach.
“What we committed to was a continuation of the commitment I made a couple of years ago and I’ve been talking about since I was first running for governor in 2015-2016,” said Carney. “At the time we considered these stretch goals. You’ll notice some of these commitments are a year or two or more in the future. That was intentional. I didn’t want to commit to anything that we didn’t think our revenues could support. In my view, these are stretch goals.”
Carney and some lawmakers unveiled legislation Thursday to make Opportunity Funding permanent and fully fund K-3 basic special education, drawing wide support, including from the Delaware Hispanic Commission and Delaware State Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, as well as from a number of district superintendents and charter school heads of school.
Carney’s FY2022plan also includes $75 million for a variety of what the administration calls small business and infrastructure investments.
$20 million would go to the state’s Strategic Fund and $5.5 million for ongoing Downtown Development Districts program.
There’s also money for a number of initiatives Carney highlighted in his State of the State address Tuesday, such as $10 million for Graduation Lab Space. $15 million for the Higher Education Economic Development Fund, $10 million for Transportation Infrastructure Investment Fund and $10 million for the Site Readiness Fund.
Carney’s 2022 budget also calls for a slight uptick in funding for Grants-in-Aid from $54.4 million this year to $55.5 million. Those dollars head to non-profits and volunteer fire companies. (Disclosure: Delaware Public Media is among the nonprofits that receive Grant-in-Aid funds)
The budget will now be the subject of Joint Finance Committee (JFC) Hearings in February and March with the JFC reviewing budget proposals after those hearings. The budget has to be approved and signed by June 30. The new fiscal year starts on July 1.