Gov. John Carney announced his $4.6 billion budget Jan. 30 including 2 percent increases for state employees and educators in this election year, and a trifecta of $50 million initiatives.
The budget is about 4 percent more than last year's $4.45 billion, with a key focus on strengthening the economy, improving schools and investing in clean-water initiatives.
Using the budget-smoothing plan he established by executive order, Carney said he held operating budget growth to less than 98 percent of revenues, while adding $161 million to reserves and earmarking $233 million in one-time investments. The one-time costs include $46.3 million in deferred maintenance and minor capital improvement costs for state buildings.
“We're putting a budget together today in good times that understands the potential that exists, and we don't know when it's coming,” he said, referring to an eventual economic downturn.
The three $50 million initiatives provide funding for Wilmington schools, economic development and clean water.
The clean-water initiative establishes a clean-water trust fund with revolving funds for stormwater runoff projects and clean drinking water that will primarily benefit Sussex County, Carney said.
“A lot of this money flows south, particularly Sussex County,” he said.
In education, Carney's goals are similar to previous years – proficient reading for third-graders, math proficiency by eighth grade, and college- or career-ready high school graduates. Opportunity Fund investments would go to fund mental health services and reading support specialists in schools. Nearly $204 million will go to school infrastructure.
School construction projects already approved by referendum will continue to receive money, with $35.7 million for Cape Henlopen School District and $16.2 million for Indian River. However, the bulk of school construction – about 60 percent – goes upstate through the $50 million Wilmington Education Initiative and another $59.5 million to Appoquinimink School District.
Sussex County will also benefit from money earmarked for a new Sussex County Family Court facility. Money is also set aside for Farmland Preservation and Open Space – $10 million apiece for each fund – and $5 million is set aside for beach replenishment, which leverages federal money.
In addition to Carney's operating budget, Carney proposes $893 million for state capital and transportation projects, and the issuing of general obligation bonds in the bond bill.