Rep. Quinn Johnson: Perspective on the call to "Cut Cut Cut"

 

By Rep. Quinn Johnson

The General Assembly is back in session and working yet again on another difficult budget. The governor’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2016 accounts for a $153 million dollar shortfall. As required by our state Constitution, we must pass a balanced budget each year and may only do so using 98 percent of projected revenues for the coming year. The remaining 2 percent is held to cover contingencies, overages and emergencies.

My fellow members of the capital budget committee and our colleagues on the operating budget committee have heard many calls to simply cut spending across the board. Since I’ve been a member of the House, every budget we’ve worked on has required significant cuts, which we have made. It’s been our mission to realize savings and efficiencies wherever we can find them in the budget, without jeopardizing the services and programs that Delawareans rely on.

Since 2008 the state has eliminated 1,021 state employee positions with another 100 cuts proposed for this year. We enacted state employee health and pension reform that saved approximately $9.7 million in the first year and is projected to save $480 million over a 15-year period. By consolidating several areas of the Department of State, DNREC, Division of State Services and the Department of Education, these agencies increased efficiency and lowered staffing requirements.

We reduced the state’s energy costs by $3 million per year and saved $5 million by renegotiating leases for state offices and facilities. We eliminated state-owned vehicles for cabinet members and reduced the state fleet by more than 20 percent.

A new prescription program for Medicare-eligible state retirees will save more than $12 million per year, and we brought down the number of residents living in state long-term care facilities, saving $3 million.

Over the last several years the General Assembly has implemented a host of smaller cuts and efficiencies in every facet of state government. Even small savings add up, and it’s important that the public understands what has actually been accomplished during these difficult budget cycles.

At the same time, the state has successfully supported a recovering economy. Unemployment rates are down, and there are more people working in Delaware today than there were pre-recession. With training funds from the state, Delaware businesses helped more than 5,000 people back into the work force. Job centers were opened to provide training services for the unemployed and underemployed.

We’ve supported education, providing opportunities for over 7,400 high-needs children to experience high-quality learning and development programs, an 82% increase since 2012. Delaware’s high school dropout rate hit a 30 year low of 2.9%, and the number of students taking college AP courses in high school has doubled, saving families almost $7 million a year in potential college tuition costs.

Even with extremely limited resources, accomplishments like these have been made possible through the annual state budget process. As this year’s budget debate continues, and the calls come out to “cut cut cut,” it is important to put into perspective the significant savings realized in the last several years, and remember what taxpayers’ funding actually supports and what that support has allowed us to achieve.

 

Rep. Johnson serves the 8th District in the Delaware House of Representatives, which includes Middletown and surrounding communties.