NEW CASTLE — Lawmakers on the General Assembly's budget-writing committee received a little breathing room Monday from the panel that issues Delaware's official revenue forecast. The Delaware Economic and Financial Advisory Council boosted the net revenue estimate for the current and upcoming fiscal years by about $33 million over last month's estimate. The upward revision was mostly due to higher-than-expected estimates for personal and corporate income tax collections.
"This eases the pain a little," said House Minority Leader Daniel Short, R-Seaford. Even with the increase, however, available revenue is still $15 million lower than when Gov. Jack Markell unveiled his $3.9 billion budget proposal in January. "The challenges are still there," said Markell's budget director, Ann Visalli. The gap that lawmakers are left with is actually closer to $30 million, because they have balked at some of Markell's proposals to balance his spending plan, including reducing tax breaks for senior citizens and eliminating transportation stipends for students in private schools. Lawmakers must pass a budget before the new fiscal year starts July 1. Meanwhile, Democrats are hoping Senate Republicans will support a bill that would raise motor vehicle fees by about $24 million annually to help pay for road projects. Transportation officials are looking at a gap of more than $700 million between available revenues and planned road projects over the next six years. The motor vehicle legislation cleared the Democrat-controlled state House on a straight party-line vote last month, but Democrats need Republican support to pass it in the Senate. "I'm cautiously optimistic," said Transportation Secretary Jennifer Cohan, adding that Monday's increased revenue estimate may translate into more support for the motor vehicle fee legislation. Republicans, meanwhile, want Democrats to sit down and have a serious discussion about state spending, including revising a "prevailing wage" law that dictates what the state has to pay contractors on public works projects.