The Senate on Tuesday passed a $5.1 billion operating budget (Senate Bill 250) for Fiscal Year 2023 by a vote of 19-2. Republicans Gerald Hocker and … you guessed it…. Colin Bonini voted no. The Senate also approved a nearly $379 million supplemental spending plan (Sentate Bill 251) consisting of one-time expenditures and contingency funds. The vote on this bill was unanimous.
Both bills now head to the House for final passage, unless the House, as is their habit, amends the bill.
If approved by the House and signed by Governor John Carney, Senate Bill 250 would make sizable investments in affordable childcare and Delaware’s public school transportation network – both of which were severely strained during the height of the pandemic. The spending plan for July 1, 2022 to July 1, 2023 would add nearly $19 million to Delaware’s Purchase of Care program that helps low-income families afford early childhood and after-school education for children up to the age of 12.
According to the University of Delaware’s Biden School of Public Policy and Administration, Purchase of Care helped to cover the cost of child care for more than 15,000 children in 2019. About 9,800 of those children were younger than 5 years old. Many child care centers struggled to provide services during the pandemic as enrollment plummeted.
While total state revenue is expected to increase by 7.3% over the current fiscal year, the operating budget approved by the Senate represents growth of only 6.8%. Most of the remaining funds will be held in reserve to ensure Delaware’s Rainy Day Fund and Budget Stabilization Fund are able to ease the impact of any future economic downturns.
Senate Bill 250 also would invest roughly $17 million in school bus drivers and related programs after a workforce shortage that predated the pandemic and a brief strike at a major busing contractor threatened to cause severe disruptions for thousands of school children and their families in 2001.
The FY 2023 operating budget also would fulfill a four-year commitment to fully fund increases in the reimbursement rates for direct support professionals who serve adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
The spending plan for the coming fiscal year includes a $16.5-million increase to reach 100% of the benchmarks required by the McNesby Act, funding that will result in an additional $27.5 million in federal matching funds.
Other notable highlights in the budget bills include:
- $104 million to provide a 3% pension benefit increase for former state workers who retired between June 30, 1992 and June 30, 2017 and a 2% increase for those who retired after June 30, 2017.
- Approximately $55 million to help keep state employee wages competitive through increases ranging from 2.3% to 9% for the lowest pay grades, in addition to negotiated collective bargaining unit and statutory step increases.
- $38 million to increase pension benefits for volunteer firefighters, the first pension increase of its kind since the program was established in 1986.
- $21 million to fund start-up costs for the Delaware Family and Medical Leave Insurance Program.
- $14.2 million to fund targeted education and support services for Wilmington students, as recommended by the Redding Consortium for Educational Equity and the Wilmington Learning Collaborative.
- $8 million to continue increasing mental health supports in Delaware elementary schools.
- $4.7 million to restore the Senior Property Tax Credit to a maximum of $500.
- $3.6 million to increase rates for private duty nurses and home health care workers.
- $2 million to create a Substitute Teacher Block Grant that will help school districts address teacher shortages through the hiring of full-time substitutes.
|Senate Bill 250 Sponsors||Yes Votes||No Votes|
|Paradee, Ennis, Lockman, Sturgeon, Lawson, Lopez||Senate Passed 19-2. Brown Ennis Gay Hansen Lockman Mantzavinos Paradee Pinkney Poore S.McBride Sokola Sturgeon Townsend Walsh Lawson Lopez Pettyjohn Richardson Wilson||Hocker, Bonini|
|Carson, Bentz, Bolden, K.Williams, Briggs King, Hensely|
|Senate Bill 251 Sponsors||Yes Votes||No Votes|
|Paradee, Ennis, Lockman, Sturgeon, Lawson, Lopez||Senate Passed 21-0. Brown Ennis Gay Hansen Lockman Mantzavinos Paradee Pinkney Poore S.McBride Sokola Sturgeon Townsend Walsh Bonini Hocker Lawson Lopez Pettyjohn Richardson Wilson||None|
|Carson, Bentz, Bolden, K.Williams, Briggs King, Hensely|
“A healthy local economy that is producing good-paying jobs for more and more Delawareans combined with surging corporate tax revenues and a strong real estate market have put our state on solid ground for the coming year,” said Sen. Trey Paradee, chair of the budget-writing Joint Finance Committee.
“Thanks to prudent and responsible fiscal management, Delaware was able to maintain an even keel during the most turbulent years of the pandemic,” the Dover Democrat said. “I want to thank my colleagues on JFC and in the Senate for recognizing that now is the time to invest in the human infrastructure that keeps our state running smoothly, particularly when global inflation threatens to weaken the purchasing power of households across Delaware.”
“The Joint Finance Committee had a difficult task of balancing numerous, worthwhile funding requests against the need to be responsible. We’ve been able to work together to provide a real raise for state employees and retirees and fund various programs that provide necessary services to residents up and down our state,” said Joint Finance Committee Co-Chair Rep. William Carson. “I’m proud of this budget and what it represents to Delawareans – that we value our workers, teachers, seniors, bus drivers, healthcare workers, parents and children. I’m grateful to the Senate for passing this budget, and I look forward to the House passing it in the coming days.”
“The COVID-19 pandemic showed us all just how critical affordable childcare services are for working families in Delaware,” said Sen. Kyle Evans Gay, a leading advocate for early childhood education and the state’s purchase of care system. “Without state support, childcare services are often out of reach for struggling families whose children need the extra support the most. At the same time, providers are having an increasingly difficult time hiring and retaining educators and staff. This funding increase is a great first step that will help shore up staffing and make childcare more affordable for hundreds of families.”
“Like all Delawareans, the men and women we trust to safely transport our children to and from school each day deserve to be paid a fair wage,” said Sen. Laura Sturgeon, chair of the Senate Education Committee and a member of JFC. “I want to thank my colleagues in the Senate for voting today to continue lifting bus driver pay, while also keeping pace with the growing expense of gasoline and bus maintenance, to ensure our state is able to provide the level of service our schools and our neighbors deserve.”
“Much like child care, working families across our state depend on the programs and services that direct support professionals provide to their loved ones while they are holding down jobs that keep food on the table,” said Sen. Jack Walsh, a lead sponsor of the 2018 funding commitment. “The ability of organizations to recruit and retain a dedicated workforce willing to put their own health ahead of the people they serve is what helped hundreds of families survive the pandemic and will help our most vulnerable neighbors for years to come.”