Final budget bills win approval in Delaware legislature

WBOC | by Tom Lehman

Delaware lawmakers have given final approval to spending bills for the fiscal year starting Wednesday.

The state House on Monday approved a $708 million capital budget for construction and transportation projects, and a $55 million package of grants for nonprofit groups, community organizations and volunteer fire companies. Both bills cleared the Senate last week and now go to Democratic Gov. John Carney for his signature.

A $4.5 billion operating budget for fiscal 2021 is already on Carney’s desk after being approved by both chambers last week.

The lone dissenting House vote on the capital budget came from Rep. John Kowalko, D-Newark, who told colleagues he was protesting what he described as the latest “corporate welfare” handout by state economic development officials. The capital budget is where money for economic development gets earmarked.

Earlier Monday, the Council on Development Finance voted to give about $2.5 million in taxpayer money to Barclays Bank to add about 300 call center jobs at its existing facility in Wilmington.

The move came a little more than a year after Barclays announced last June that it was moving about 500 jobs from Wilmington to New Jersey.

Despite Monday’s announcement, the result remains a net loss of jobs, Kowalko noted.

“It seems to me that this state is built on this corporate welfare thing,” Kowalko added.

Meanwhile, the grant-in-aid bill passed both chambers unanimously.

The House and Senate have not met in person since late January, having recessed for budget committee hearings before the coronavirus struck in March. Lawmakers will conclude this year’s legislative session with a late-night virtual gathering on Tuesday.

Even though the coronavirus restrictions Carney imposed on economic activity in Delaware led to sharp drops in revenue estimates, unprecedented unemployment filings and shuttered businesses, next year’s operating budget is still $73 million higher than the one lawmakers approved last June.

The spending plan is, however, $100 million less than what Carney proposed in January.

Similarly, the capital budget is far smaller than the record $893 million Carney proposed in January. It includes $363.5 million for transportation projects and $344 million for construction, maintenance, technology upgrades, environmental projects and economic development.

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