Delaware budget writers began task of trimming spending

DOVER, Del. (AP) — Members of the legislature’s budget-writing committee began whittling away at Delaware’s state spending Tuesday, including agreeing to eliminate the state Board of Education, as they work toward a balanced budget expected to total about $4 billion for the fiscal year starting July 1.

The Joint Finance Committee worked its way through some $33 million in proposed cuts, a fraction of the roughly $240 million the panel may need to cut if lawmakers can’t agree on revenue and fee increases other than hiking corporate franchise taxes that are paid mostly by out-of-state companies.

By the end of the day, the committee agreed upon about $30 million in cuts affecting a broad spectrum of agencies and programs.

Those cuts include an estimated savings of $231,000 by getting rid of the seven-member state school board, a move that may require separate legislation to sort out which of its responsibilities would be assumed by the Department of Education and which would be taken by local districts.

Roughly half the cuts approved Tuesday involve education. They include $3.6 million less for public school transportation, $2 million less for early childhood initiatives, and $1.5 million less for a professional accountability and instructional advancement fund.

Other proposed funding reductions involve litigation assistance for the poor, tourist attractions and events, arts programs, and international and global trade initiatives. Panel members also agreed to cut funding for immunizations, preschool diagnosis and treatment, the state’s needle exchange program, and Delaware’s infant mortality task force.

Only two cuts involve laying off workers — 7½ positions on the Child Placement Review Board, which works with the foster care and Family Court systems, and 2½ positions on the Commission for Women. Panel members nevertheless expressed heartburn about the decisions they were making.

“We don’t make these cuts lightly,” said co-chair Rep. Melanie George Smith, D-Bear.

Some panel members noted that they were being forced to begin voting on cuts because legislative leaders have been unable to agree on Democratic Gov. John Carney’s proposals for tax increases.

“The bottom line is we write the budget,” said Sen. Dave Lawson, R-Marydel. “Our job is not to placate the governor, our job is to placate the taxpayers.”

Carney’s budget director, Mike Jackson, expressed concerns about some of the committee’s decisions.

“Many of the reductions that were taken today … have significant impact on everyday Delawareans,” said Jackson, reiterating that Carney has called for an equal mix of spending cuts and tax increases.

“There are reductions that I think could be sustainable within the budget, but I would say that there are more that we disagree with given the impact, particularly some of the ones with regard to public health and health and social services,” Jackson added.

The panel resumes its work on Wednesday.

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