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State budgeting bill deserves support

June 22, 2018

Delaware's legislators should be elbowing each other out of the way to support a good-government bill that promises to dramatically improve annual budget discussions.

There is no clearer example of its need than last year's legislative session when lawmakers scrambled to make painful cuts in many allocations, and increase certain taxes and fees, to balance the budget. It took an extraordinary extension of the session to make that happen, including late-night hours when clear headedness is rare.

Months of discussions by a bipartisan committee including the state's top financial agents led to House Bill 460 which aims to avoid repeats of that embarrassing year.

Current process involves the administration creating a budget for the next fiscal year based on spending no more than 98 percent of revenues projected by an advisory council. The remainder goes into a constitutionally mandated reserve fund available for emergencies.

That seemingly sensible approach has two basic problems. First, in good years the state budget continues to grow regardless of need because lawmakers are spending almost all of the money projected. Then, in down years, the squeeze comes because there isn't enough money to finance all of that growing spending.

Second, there has been no good policy for how money accumulating in the so-called rainy-day fund should be spent.

House Bill 460 adds greater sophistication to the approach. Rather than spending almost all of what is projected, the bill uses economic measurements to set sustainable growth in spending. The reserve fund converts to a stabilization fund that grows from surpluses in good years, and then pays out in lean years - according to a predetermined formula - to avoid painful cuts.

Even if this bill passes this year - as it should because of its common sense and long-sightedness - it will still be debated and need a positive vote again next year, as required of constitutional amendments, for final passage. That makes support this year even more of a no brainer.

 

 

  • Editorials are considered by the editorial board and written by Dennis Forney, Publisher Emeritus, with occasional contributions from other board members: Trish Vernon, CoPublisher and Editor; Dave Frederick, Sports Editor Emeritus; Jen Ellingsworth, Associate Editor; Nick Roth, Sports Editor; and Chris Rausch, CoPublisher and General Manager.

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