Conservative “balanced budget” proposed with no public input

HB 460 was introduced on a Tuesday, was passed out of committee the next day, and will be brought to the House floor for a vote on today.

This bill is the first leg of a proposed constitutional amendment, and one might ask why such a matter of utmost significance is being rushed through in the final days of a session.

Why is there no time for a fair assessment of the ramifications of a constitutional change?

The woefully lacking excuse from the sponsor is that this bill will have to be passed again in its current form next session. That is a ridiculously disingenuous excuse to push a piece of legislation through a legislature that is mostly uninformed legislature.

In fact, HB 460 is an attempt to pass a Grover Norquist conservative dream known as a “Balanced Budget Amendment.” This proposed constitutional amendment will establish certain budgetary constraints that will force the services and programs of the most vulnerable Delawareans onto the chopping block regardless of the intent of future legislatures, and it will establish regressive taxation policies that will hurt working families, small businesses, and poorer workers.

The proposed bill extensively refers to a report by the Advisory Panel to the Delaware Economic and Financial Advisory Council, titled “Potential Fiscal Controls and Budget Smoothing Mechanisms,” as a supportive and integral to this constitutional amendment. You may recognize the work of this unelected “Advisory Panel” in its previous 2016 report that was used to justify corporate tax cuts and the unforgettably damaging repeal of the “Estate Tax” at a tremendous cost to taxpayer revenue resources. The most recent report of the “Advisory Panel” referred to in HB 460 was released on June 1 this year, and once again fails urges conservative economic policies that will hurt the poor and middle class of Delaware without even considering the needed creation of two additional personal income tax brackets. The report even has the audacity to suggest taking away deductions from Delaware taxpayers as a way to reform personal income tax, without any consideration of the impact on ordinary families, individuals, and small businesses. This is one of the most regressive taxation reform proposals that I’ve ever witnessed. It should come as no surprise considering the make-up of the “Advisory Panel” consisting of Chamber of Commerce and various conservative lawmakers and government agency heads.

I hope that all parties will consider that the use of the phrase “Budget Smoothing” in HB 460 is nothing more than regurgitation and relabeling of a textbook Balanced Budget Amendment. Balanced Budget Amendments set strident benchmarks for spending and revenue considerations. These benchmark plateaus may severely limit what services can be available subjecting them to a constitutionally required cut if the appropriations benchmarks are exceeded. The necessary social services and support programs for the neediest are often the first to be cutback or suffer the most severe consequences if there are across the board cuts.

This bill should not be passed at this time and a serious consideration of its intended and unintended consequences ought to be discussed with the entire General Assembly and the public over the course of the summer.

John Kowalko
State Representative
25th District

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