House Democratic Leaders Call on House Republicans to Provide Specifics for TTF Proposal

House Republicans pushing to add more than $200 million over several years to the state budget to solve transportation funding issues should identify specific cuts they would make to balance the budget, House Democratic Caucus leaders said in a letter they sent to GOP leaders today.

In January, Governor Jack Markell announced his proposal to raise $500 million over five years to fund needed transportation projects. The plan, which calls for a mixture of additional borrowing and increasing the gas tax, has been met with resistance from both parties. House Republicans have backed a recommendation from the Transportation Trust Fund task force to move Department of Transportation operating costs out of the TTF – where they were moved more than 20 years ago – and back into the operating budget.

In their letter, House Majority Leader Rep. Valerie Longhurst and Majority Whip John Viola asked House Minority Leader Rep. Danny Short and Minority Whip Debbie Hudson to identify the specific cuts they would make to accommodate moving $262 million in seven annual $38 million installments back into the operating budget.

“For the past two months, House Republicans have talked about solving our transportation funding problems by just moving DelDOT operating costs back into the operating budget,” said Rep. Longhurst, D-Bear. “We think this is a good long-term goal, but it’s an incomplete option. If we move $38 million into the operating budget, we have two choices: cut $38 million or raise revenue. Otherwise it’s just a shell game of moving money around. That’s the part they gloss over by saying ‘just build it into the budget.’

“If this is a serious proposal, then they need to identify what specifically they want to cut. And that process needs to start now, well before our Joint Finance Committee starts putting together the budget. If they have good ideas, we’re open to listening and working together. But that requires Republicans to put their cards on the table.”

The letter asks Republicans to provide a list of recommended cuts by May 1 to allow time for JFC to consider them before assembling the fiscal 2015 budget.

In a February op-ed in the News Journal, Reps. Short and Hudson proposed moving DelDOT operating costs back into the operating budget over seven years – adding $38 million in new spending each year. They refer to it as “not an insignificant task” that would “create a continuing challenge for budget writers for many years to come.” The solution proposed is to simply add the additional spending “to what budget-writers call ‘budget drivers’ – higher expenses that need to be accounted for at the start of each budgetary cycle.”

Most recently, Rep. Short also presented the proposal to the Joint Finance Committee last week.

A former member of the Joint Bond Bill Committee, Rep. Viola said that it’s easy to talk about cutting in general terms, but when you open the budget and look at the numbers and specific programs, it’s not as easy as it sounds.

“A lot of the budget is tied up in personnel, so you’re talking about laying off hundreds of Delawareans or eliminating programs that people rely on,” said Rep. Viola, D-Newark. “We’re just asking our Republican colleagues to go beyond words and tell us how they would actually do this. Where would you find an additional $38 million per year for seven years?”

In the letter (attachment is below) to House Republicans, the House Democratic leaders wrote:

“Since this seems to be your caucus’ preferred solution to our transportation funding needs, we ask that you to do more than simply state that we should move $262 million out of the TTF in $38 million increments. We ask that you work with the Controller General’s Office and produce a list of which specific cuts you would make in the budget to allow this move. Simply saying that there is waste in government or saying that state agencies should be able to find the money to cut is not a solution – it is passing the buck in the name of partisan rhetoric.

“We agree with you that this is an option worth exploring, and we stand ready to work cooperatively to make it a reality. But for it to rise above the level of rhetoric, you must be willing to identify which specific cuts can be made to accommodate adding tens of millions of dollars to the operating budget each year. We ask that you provide such a list of cuts by May 1 so legislators can conduct meaningful discussions before the Joint Finance Committee begins its budget mark-up process.”

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Longhurst and Viola - Transportation Trust Fund.pdf183.3 KB