[caption id="attachment_224155" align="aligncenter" width="1200"] Gov. John Carney signs the Fiscal Year 2023 operating budget on June 28 as members of the Joint Finance Committee look on. | PHOTO COURTESY OF GOVERNOR'S OFFICE[/caption]
DOVER – Gov. John Carney signed a nearly $5.1 billion operating budget for the state on June 28, which marks the state’s largest in history.The operating budget, approved by state lawmakers asSenate Bill 250, includes pay increases for state employees, including 2% to 9% increases for all merit employees and increases for public school bus drivers, who have been understaffed in many areas. All state employees will also be receiving a $500 one-time bonus – a byproduct of the exceptionally strong fiscal condition of the state, as independent fiscal advisors estimated that Delaware would end the current fiscal year with a nearly $900 million surplus.Carney also signed a $378.6 millionone-time supplemental appropriation which includes $20.8 million to implement paid family leave, $38 million to support volunteer firefighter pensions and more than $149 million to bolster the state’s pension fund. Pensioners will also receive an extra $500 each this year, totaling more than $17 million.The supplemental funding also covers the $50.5 million that the state spent in DE Relief checks mailed to all adults in the state to provide some relief from inflation beginning in May.“This is a sustainable budget that makes investments where they’re needed most, including public education and our higher education institutions,” Carney said in a statement. “We’re also making a historic movement of the merit pay scales in state government to make our workforce stronger and to further recognize the great work that state employees do every day. We also will be funding the statewide paid family leave program. All of these steps will help ensure Delaware is the best place to live, work, and raise a family. I want to thank the chairs and members of the Joint Finance and Bond Bill committees for their thoughtful work on this budget.”The Delaware General Assembly also approved a $1.4 billion FY 2023 capital budget, the largest in the state’s history, that is expected to be signed by the governor. The so-called Bond Bill is backed by the issuance of state bond debt and includes a variety of infrastructure projects ranging from roadway enhancements to school construction, courthouse expansion to clean water investments, and more.Economic development funding is largely constrained to four grant funds that the Carney administration has launched over his first five years in office. The Strategic Fund, which issues grants for job creation, retention and capital investment, will receive $30 million. Meanwhile, $10 million will be dedicated to each the Site Readiness Fund, which backs speculative development projects; the Graduation Lab Space Fund, which supports buildout of advanced lab space; and the Transportation Infrastructure Investment Fund, which invests in infrastructure improvements ahead of project development.On June 30, the last day of the legislative session, the General Assembly approved its FY 23 grants-in-aid bill, which supports the state’s volunteer fire companies, county ambulance crews, veterans organizations and a variety of nonprofits. The $69.4 million bill is more than $6 million larger than last year’s bill, and more than $12 million larger than Carney proposed in his FY 23 budget. The governor is expected to sign the larger bill that was unanimously approved in both the House and Senate.Included in the grants-in-aid bill is $20.6 million for organizations that provide health services, substance abuse treatment, arts tourism and other community services.“This legislation will provide much needed support to our nonprofit community, which is still struggling to match its previous fundraising totals in the wake of the pandemic,” said State Sen. Trey Paradee, chair of the budget-writing Joint Finance Committee, in a statement. “These organizations deliver critical services to our most vulnerable neighbors and give us an unbelievable return on our investment.”One of the most interesting proposals in the bill is the reallocation of $1 million in other state spending to create an Entertainment Industry Fund, overseen by the state’s Department of Small Business. The funds will establish a pilot program to provide incentives for the creation of media projects and digital interactive entertainment in Delaware. The grants will be administered by the Delaware Motion Picture and Television Development Commission, and awards may reimburse up to 30% of production, pre-production, post-production expenditures incurred in the state.