9 things to know about Gov. John Carney's fiscal year 2023 Delaware spending plan

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Gov. John Carney's spending plan released Thursday includes pay increases for state workers, millions of dollars in school construction and an immense infrastructure spending plan bolstered by federal aid.

Carney's budget for next fiscal year, which starts in July, includes a $4.99 billion operating budget, $56.9 million in grants-in-aid and a $1.18 billion bond bill. It also sets aside $215.9 million in a "one-time supplemental" bill.

The spending plan also puts $15.2 million into the budget stabilization fund, which would bring that fund to $302.5 million. That fund is essentially a piggy bank that the state can dip into during less fortunate years when revenue is scarce.

Scarcity is not a problem this year: Lawmakers expect a whopping $824 million in extra revenue, on top of gargantuan stimulus packages from the federal government to pay for roads, bridges and other government initiatives.

Carney has promised no tax increases, budget cuts or staff layoffs next fiscal year.

Republicans, moderate Democrats and progressive Democrats can expect to brawl over how to spend the money. But over the years the Democratic-controlled Statehouse has swayed little from Carney's relatively cautious spending plan, which routinely allocates extra revenue into savings and one-time spending such as construction.

Carney's office touts this year's spending plan as moving further to pay equity for state employees, increasing spending to help low-income students and English language learners in schools and paying for school construction in all three counties. The plan also pays to modernize courthouses in Kent and Sussex counties.

1. Spending plan bolstered by federal spending packages

Delaware Gov. John Carney signed the state budget into law on June 30, 2021.
Delaware Gov. John Carney signed the state budget into law on June 30, 2021.

The American Rescue Plan, which Biden signed into law in March, gave $355 million for technology and capital upgrades, $135 million to housing, $121 million to health care facilities, $112.5 million to nonprofits, $107 million to universities, $100 million to COVID-19 response and $50 million to workforce development.

Those funds have been distributed, according to Carney's office.

The infrastructure bill, gives $1.2 billion to federal highway funds, $355 million to clean water projects, $225 million to bridge repairs, $220 million to public transit and $100 million to broadband infrastructure.

Those funds haven't been distributed yet. Carney's administration is still waiting for guidelines and distribution of the funds from the federal government for the infrastructure bill, which Biden signed into law in November.

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2. Attracting businesses

One of routine the pillars of Carney's spending plan, which is a priority for the next fiscal year, is attracting businesses to the state.

The spending plan puts $30 million toward the "Strategic Fund," a pool of taxpayer money used to attract businesses.

It puts $10 million toward a "site readiness" fund to quickly convert existing properties for prospective employers. It also puts $10 million toward a "graduation lab space" for startups and tech companies, along with $10 million toward a transportation infrastructure fund.

The Riverfront Development Corp., the entity overseeing the city's riverfront improvements, will get $6.5 million.

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3. State workers get pay increases

Gov. John Carney signs the budget bill on June 30, 2021.
Gov. John Carney signs the budget bill on June 30, 2021.

The plan increases state worker pay to move closer to a $15 minimum wage, which is in tandem with a statewide law that lawmakers passed last year to apply the $15 minimum wage across industries by 2025.

It also includes state worker merit pay scale increases and 2% pay increases, as well as negotiated wages and salary steps. State retirees also get a $500 bonus.

4. Environment, clean water

Carney plans to spend $404.7 million on environmental initiatives. Most of that money — $367.2 million — will go to clean water, thanks largely to the federal infrastructure bill. The state also plans to spend $7.5 million on shorelines and waterways, as well as $30 million toward agricultural land preservation and "open space."

The state's cover crop program to improve water quality and soil health gets $3.2 million. Its conservation cost-share program, which pays for protections against pollutants in state waters, gets $1.7 million. The Delaware Bayshore, a state program meant to protect coastal wildlife and wetlands, gets $500,000.

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5. School construction

Construction of the new Everett Meredith Middle School in the Appoquinimink School District is underway.
Construction of the new Everett Meredith Middle School in the Appoquinimink School District is underway.

The state will also spend $7 million on the Wilmington Learning Collaborative, which would include a new governing board and partnership among the Christina, Red Clay and Brandywine school districts to better the city’s education system.

It will spend $12.8 million to implement recommendations from the Redding Consortium, a group of education stakeholders working on policies to improve education outcomes for students in Wilmington and New Castle County.

The plan spends $305.2 million on school construction and renovation, and $15 million on school building deferred maintenance.

New Castle County will get $82.4 million, Kent County schools get $89.9 million and Sussex County schools get $122.8 million for construction.

School districts will get the following amounts in construction spending:

  • Northern New Castle: $50.6 million

    • Christiana: $14.9 million

    • New Castle County Vo-Tech: $33 million

    • Colonial School District: $2.7 million

  • Appoquinimink: $23.1 million

  • Capital: $56.1 million

  • Cape Henlopen: $2.4 million

  • Sussex Tech: $32.5 million

  • Smyrna: $19.9 million

  • Caesar Rodney: $11 million

  • Indian River: $47.1 million

  • Milford: $37.4 million

The state also allotted $25 million in anticipation of construction bids that could cost more than usual due to inflation.

Carney plans to spend an additional $4.5 million on funding for low-income students and English language learners through a program called "opportunity funding," first proposed by his administration in 2018 as a way to give schools additional funding for English learners and low-income students.

Because of an October 2020 legal settlement that made the funding a permanent fixture in how the state allocates tax dollars for students, the state must spend $60 million on this program per year by 2025.

Carney also plans to spend $20.6 million on mental health services in elementary schools. This was made possible by last year's House Bill 100 by House Majority Leader Valerie Longhurst, which lets elementary schools hire a full-time counselor or social worker for every 250 students and one full-time licensed therapist for every 700 students. The program is expected to cost more than $25 million per year by 2024.

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6. Higher education

Delaware Technical Community College's Wilmington campus.
Delaware Technical Community College's Wilmington campus.

The plan spends $45 million on tech upgrades and infrastructure at the University of Delaware, Delaware State University and Delaware Technical Community College.

About $4.3 million will go toward scholarships at those three schools.

The plan spends $15 million on the Higher Education Economic Development Investment Fund for Delaware colleges, including the state's struggling private colleges.

The plan spends $921,000 to reduce staff and faculty turnover at DelTech and $100,000 to support DelTech's Bachelor of Education program.

The American Rescue Plan gives an extra $107 million to colleges for pandemic-related projects.

7. Public buildings get upgrades

The plan spends $26.8 million on libraries, $80 million on Kent and Sussex family courts, $21.8 million on Delaware State Police Troops 4 and 6 and $12 million on the Customs House in Wilmington.

The Department of Correction gets $11.6 million for facility improvements.

The plan also spends $8.8 million on public safety communications and equipment, $3.2 million on a new James T. Vaughn intake facility, $3 million on Baylor Women’s Correctional Institute renovations, $2.5 million on Howard R. Young Correctional Center renovations and $1.3 million on Leonard L. Williams Justice Center improvements.

The plan also spends $35.4 million on state agency capital improvements and deferred maintenance, $10.5 million on Carvel State Office Building renovations, $6 million on the Delaware Hospital for the Chronically Ill, $5.1 million on the Jesse Cooper Building, $3.5 million on Cleveland White Building renovations and $1 million on the Herman Holloway Campus.

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8. What else?

The plan also spends $6 million on affordable housing; $4 million on "Strong Neighborhoods," which aims to address abandoned and vacant properties; and $21 million on preserving historic and recreational sites.

It also spends $5.5 million on Downtown Development Districts, a designation created by the General Assembly in 2014 to attract investments from private developers in central corridors blighted by vacant buildings and economic stagnation.

The plan spends $7.6 million on police body-worn cameras and $390,000 on in-car cameras for police vehicles.

The plan spends $1.4 million on extended post-partum Medicaid coverage, $1.5 million on a therapeutic foster care program, $3.7 million on expungement programs and $735,000 on crisis beds in Kent and Sussex counties.

It also spends $996,000 on the Delaware Healthy Children Insurance Program, which provides low-cost health insurance to children whose parents don't qualify for Medicaid.

The plan also spends $500,000 on a loan repayment program for health care workers and $300,000 to permanently fund the mental health services loan forgiveness program.

It also spends $11.5 million to support child care providers and workers by paying an increase in the purchase of care rates to support child care access for low-income families.

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9. What's next?

Lawmakers work out of Legislative Hall in Dover during the 2020 session.
Lawmakers work out of Legislative Hall in Dover during the 2020 session.

Two 12-person bipartisan groups of lawmakers called the Joint Finance and Bond Bill committees later this year will draft the state's official spending plans based on Carney's suggestions.

They'll hold hearings in February and March to talk about the fiscal measures with government agencies and other stakeholders, who often use the opportunity to ask for more money.

The final product will ultimately depend on the latest forecast from the Delaware Economic Advisory Council, which meets multiple times a year to predict how much money will come into the state in the near future.

That group last met in December and will meet again in March, May and June to update the forecast.

Whatever it looks like, Carney has to sign the final spending plan into law by June 30 for an on-time budget.

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Sarah Gamard covers government and politics for Delaware Online/The News Journal. Reach her at (302) 324-2281 or sgamard@delawareonline.com. Follow her on Twitter @SarahGamard.

This article originally appeared on Delaware News Journal: 9 things to know about Delaware Gov. John Carney's 2023 spending plan

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