Delaware revenue estimate rises again as budget votes near

(AP) — A state panel added more than $46 million to this year’s government revenue estimate Monday as Delaware lawmakers prepare to vote on budget bills for the upcoming fiscal year.

The Delaware Economic and Financial Advisory Council‘s update comes two weeks before fiscal year 2019 begins on July 1.

While this year’s estimate increased by $46.5 million, or 1.1 percent, over last month’s projections, the 2019 forecast remained flat.

The increase for this year is largely attributable to higher personal income tax and corporate income tax estimates, along with real estate transfer taxes and insurance taxes and fees.

In six meetings since September, the council has boosted this year’s revenue estimate by almost $187 million, or 4.4 percent. Over the same period, revenue projections for fiscal 2019 have increased by about $155 million.

Legislative budget writers have used the previous estimates to set aside some funds for future years while still adding new spending items, including bonuses for state employees, to Gov. John Carney’s proposed operating budget.

With the latest projections, available revenues for next year are roughly 12 percent over the appropriation limit for this year.

“It does not follow the normal trend on growth in the budget from one year to the next,” said state budget director Michael Jackson.

But Jackson said he believes lawmakers have been responsible in handling the extra revenue that has come on the table since Carney proposed his budget in January, setting aside some funds and using others for one-time expenditures, rather than creating new recurring expenditures.

The proposed $4.3 billion operating budget includes $23 million for $500 employee bonuses, on top of $26 million in pay raises, and about $11 million for one-time payments of $400 to retirees.

Budget writers also agreed to spend millions more than Carney proposed in areas including disability services, special education and school transportation.

The latest numbers will be considered by lawmakers as they complete a proposed capital budget for next year and a grants package for community and charitable groups.

Lawmakers have made clear that they want to restore funding to the “grant in aid” package for local groups following 20 percent cuts last year, when money was tighter. Those groups include volunteer fire companies, senior centers and other nonprofit organizations.

“When times were bad, as they were last year, we cut back. But when times are good, we should be stepping up to help the organizations that are working on behalf of Delawareans,” said House Minority Whip Deborah Hudson, a Republican from Wilmington.

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