Delaware Budget Wrapped Up Early; Districts to Foot Transportation
Last Wednesday marked the conclusion of the Joint Finance Committee’s work, as the draft FY 2012 budget—which begins July 1, 2011— will now be compiled into a bill for review by the General Assembly. Typically, the budget bill is filed just days before the end of session on June 30th of each year and often amended late into the night.
The JFC left the most controversial topic for last, considering the Governor’s budget proposal to require school districts to foot 10% of the cost for pupil transportation on the last day of mark-up. Currently the state pays 100% of school transportation costs and approves routes and special circumstances for additional service, and they approve bus contractor reimbursement rates. The first vote for the Governor’s proposal did not garner the needed support; however, when it came time to add in the $7.4 million expenditure to the budget, members of the JFC passed the proposal. Committee members also voted to restore the 2.5% cut, which the contracted bus companies endured last year, at a cost of $1 million.
Some say the rationale for shifting the cost burden is to create incentives for the districts to operate more efficiently. But district officials argue that they now have to come up with significant local funds that have not been part of their plans or previous referenda. Efficiencies may be difficult given the Department of Education’s power to approve bus routes and exceptions and to set the rates for bus contractors. Instead of shifting a tax burden, the LEAD Committee recommended reforming the way we plan and fund transportation through a competitive bidding process. Given our rank as one of the top states in per pupil transportation costs, this seems like a rational consideration.
The last DEFAC meeting is June 16; the Committee will announce the state’s final revenue numbers, on which the budget is based. However, even if there is additional money found, JFC chair- Rep. Dennis P. Williams, announced the JFC will not be reconvened. If that is the case, any fluctuations in revenue will most likely be decided by the Bond Bill Committee, which meets next Monday, June 20, to finalize the state’s annual capital spending plan.
We’ll look next week to see if DEFAC “finds” more revenue to be spent and if General Assembly members are pressured into reconsidering the cuts based on district lobbying.