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Delaware House’s budget includes pay raises, pot funding

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(The Center Square) — The Delaware House of Representatives has approved a $5.6 billion budget, including pay raises for state workers, expanded education funding, and money to help regulate the state’s newly approved recreational pot industry.

The spending plan, approved by a 32-8 vote, is nearly $125 million higher than Gov. John Carney’s budget filed in January and calls for a nearly 10% percent increase in spending over the current year.

“I’m proud of this budget and what it represents to Delawareans – that we value our workers, teachers, seniors, healthcare workers, parents and children,” state Rep. William Carson, D-Smyrna, co-chair of the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee, said in a statement. “I hope that our investments make a real difference in people’s lives.”

Under the budget, full-time state workers would get raises ranging from 3% to 9% depending on their pay grade, with the lowest grades receiving higher percentage raises. Educators and school staff would get raises ranging from 3% to 6%, according to the plan. It would also set a $15 minimum wage for some state employees.

The package includes an additional $100 million in funding for the state’s Medicaid programs, nearly $30 million in new funds for public schools to help with enrollment growth and another $30 million for housing investments statewide to address Delaware’s housing crisis. There’s also increased funding for child care providers.

Lawmakers also included $4 million in the budget for implementing a state-licensed and regulated marijuana industry. Carney, who opposes legalization, allowed the pot bill to become law earlier this year without his signature.

House lawmakers also approved a $194.5 million supplemental spending plan to address the state’s group health insurance plan deficit.

Republicans uniformly voted against the proposed budget, arguing that the nearly 10% spending increase will force the state to make difficult financial decisions in future budgets.

“That level of an increase is not only going to make the next-year budget harder, but the following year and the following year,” state Rep. Lyndon Yearick, R-Magnolia, said in remarks ahead of Thursday’s vote.

Carney filled his preliminary budget in January, calling for spending $5.48 billion — a more than 7% increase over the current fiscal year — and pay increases for teachers and other school workers. He also pushed for the $15 per hour minimum wage for merited full-time state workers.

The budget now heads to the Senate, which must approve its spending plan before sending it to Carney for consideration.

The fiscal year begins on July 1.

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