What does Delaware’s $200 million surplus say about its budget management?
Earlier in 2020, the Delaware Economic and Financial Advisory Council announced revenue projections revealing a $200 million state budget surplus. While some lawmakers see this as an opportunity to fund new projects, political advocacy groups like A Better Delaware, founded by Chris Kenny, are concerned that the surplus is a sign of mismanagement, and are troubled about a lack of voter input into how lawmakers will spend the funds.
Where did the “surplus” come from?
New tax increases over the past few years resulted in over $200 million in additional revenues by raising taxes on corporate franchises, realty transfers, alcohol and cigarettes. The $200 million surplus is being treated as if it came from better fiscal policy, but A Better Delaware argues that it’s a sign that the state is overtaxing Delawareans.
Delaware’s portion of income that goes to state and local taxes is 10.2%, above the national average. Delaware taxes can also be difficult for businesses; not only do they have high corporate income taxes of 8.7%, but they’re also one of only six states to impose a gross receipts tax. Even so, lawmakers continue to propose and pass new taxes, despite these already high tax rates and the fact that they don’t seem to need the additional revenue if they’re collecting in excess of their budget.
A Better Delaware, therefore, wants taxpayers to know that they have been “overcharged.” Tax increases enable the government to authorize additional spending, when many people feel that they’re paying too much in taxes already.
What will happen to surplus funds?
When the “surplus” was announced, the initial plan was to wait for a final projection in June from the Economic and Financial Advisory Council in order to accurately disperse the funds. Shortly after the announcement, though, nearly all of the $200 million was promised to various projects at the call of Dover politicians.
House Minority Leader Danny Short, R-Seaford, cautioned that all new spending proposals be “scrutinized completely.” Unfortunately, says A Better Delaware, it appears that this won’t be the case and that voters won’t get a say in how the state spends the additional funds. The new proposed spending has been raised with minimal transparency or public input into how to remedy the situation. It also appears that a refund to taxpayers is not being considered as an option.
Building on a concerning past precedent
This isn’t the first time that Delaware is dealing with an unexpected surplus. Last year, Rep. John Kowalko, D-Newark, criticized another surplus issue resulting from excess charter school transportation funds, saying that letting charter schools keep the excess funds without further scrutiny was the wrong move, as it gave “no oversight and no accountability to the taxpayers or anyone else” and that the move was “a shocking display of disregard for taxpayer money.”
The same objections can easily be applied to the current $200 million in additional revenue from over-taxing, A Better Delaware says. That’s because once again, the state’s inaccurate budgeting means that taxpayers’ hard-earned funds will go to projects that weren’t designated as part of the initially agreed-upon budget.
How do Delaware taxes compare?1
- Delaware has the 9th highest combined corporate tax rate
- Delaware ranks 41st for personal income taxes
- Delaware has one of the highest real estate transfer taxes in the nation
- Delaware is one of only 5 states to still have a gross receipts tax
How can taxpayers object to the current budget situation?
While funding key projects is important, A Better Delaware believes taxpayers should be concerned by the manner in which the state currently managing its budget and the general lack of accountability to voters. Given the group’s claims of mismanagement, A Better Delaware argues that excess funds would be better off back in the hands of the state’s taxpayers.
Delaware residents that want to object to register their objections to spending the budget surplus can call their legislators. Additionally, to prevent similar issues in the future, voters can call their legislators any time a new tax is on the table and demand better scrutiny by the Joint Finance Committee in budgeting.
The Joint Finance Committee will be meeting during February. Find the JFC public hearing schedule here.
Joint Finance Committee:
- Bruce C. Ennis (302)-744-4310
- Trey Charles Paradee (302)-744-4286
- Laura Sturgeon (302)-744-4286
- Dave G. Lawson (302)-744-4237
- Bryant L. Richardson (302)-744-4298
- William J. Carson (302)-744-4193
- Stephanie T. Bolden (302)-744-4378
- Earl G. Jaques (302)-744-4351
- Ruth Briggs King (302)-856-2772
- Kevin S Hensley (302)-218-0130