WHAT IT IS The total amount included to date in the budget bill being drafted by the General Assembly’s Joint Finance Committee.


WHAT IT IS The total amount included to date in the budget bill being drafted by the General Assembly’s Joint Finance Committee.



PERCENT CHANGE 5.7 percent above the current year’s budget

EXPLANATION After two weeks of budget-drafting sessions, the Joint Finance Committee has voted to include just over $3.49 billion worth of spending in the budget bill for the fiscal year beginning July 1.

The biggest portion of that total is the $3.43 billion base budget presented in January by Gov. Jack Markell. But, since then the group responsible for estimating the state’s income has raised its projections by more than $364 million.

With more money on the table, both the governor and lawmakers on the Joint Finance Committee have offered plans for how to spend the surplus.

So far, the JFC has voted in much of what the governor has asked for in the operating budget, and nearly all of the suggested funding increases that have come from legislators.

GOVERNOR’S PROPOSED ADDITIONS

TOTAL (approved by JFC to date) $33.6M

HIGHLIGHTS

$22 million for early childhood education. Of that, $9 million will be used to raise the reimbursement rates given to daycare centers that provide services to the poor. Another $3 million will go to the Department of Education to develop standards for evaluating early childhood centers. The remaining $10 million will fund an incentive program that will pay higher reimbursement rates to centers that meet high standards.

$3.75 million to make a scheduled interest payment on a $62 million federal loan used to backfill the state’s unemployment insurance fund, which, because of the sluggish economy, has been forced to cover more jobless claims while taking in less money. Without this funding, the state would likely have to assess a special levy on employers to cover the interest payment.

$3 million to restore a proposed cut to general assistance payments distributed by the Department of Health and Social Services. The $95-per-month payments are given to poor and mostly homeless Delawareans. Markell wanted to cut the program and redirect funds to a more accountable anti-homelessness initiative, but he backed away from that plan after pressure from lawmakers.

$1.9 million in additional Department of Education funding to expand foreign language offerings in schools.

COMMITTEE ADDITIONS

TOTAL (to date) $26.6M

HIGHLIGHTS

$19.2 million to cover a 2 percent raise for state employees, salary step increases for eligible workers and a 1 percent bump in pension payouts for current state retirees. The committee voted to augment a $6.2 million raise package presented by Markell, which would have applied to teachers, school paraprofessionals and state troopers.

$4.1 million to increase by 2 percent the payments given to private nonprofits that provide services to the elderly and disabled on behalf of the state, including transportation and in-home care.

$1.3 million for the SEED scholarship program, to keep pace with growing demand. In recent years, the Department of Education has been forced to dip into other areas of its budget to pay for the number of students who apply for and receive SEED awards. Markell had proposed capping the program to save money, but JFC decided that SEED should get the money it needs to cover more students, combined with a codified guarantee that, no matter what, any student who qualifies for SEED will receive the money.

$1 million to purchase 33 vehicles for the State Police, on top of a base appropriation of $1.9 million for 60 vehicles. The department is attempting to make up for fiscal years 2009 and 2010, when it received funds for a total of 20 new vehicles, rather than the normal 60-vehicle turnover budget. The JFC also attached a caveat that at least eight of the new vehicles purchased next year must be four-wheel-drive SUVs.

$500,000 to restore a cut made last year to non-public school driver’s education. With the money restored, parents of private-school driver’s ed. students will be eligible to be reimbursed for the cost of the program, which public school students receive for free.

What budget item should we look at next?

Contact Doug Denison

EMAIL doug.denison@doverpost.com

PHONE 346-5454