- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 29, 2016

DOVER, Del. (AP) - Delaware lawmakers have given final approval to a $4 billion operating budget for the fiscal year that starts Friday.

The spending plan cleared the House on a 31-to-8 vote Wednesday and now awaits Gov. Jack Markell’s signature after being approved by the Senate earlier this week.

The spending plan is slightly less than Markell’s proposal but is still about $175.5 million, or roughly 4.5 percent, higher than this year’s budget.

Meanwhile, members of the committee charged with fashioning a capital budget for roads, schools and other construction projects continued discussions Wednesday evening on their spending options.

Each year, leftover cash from the operating budget gets directed to the capital budget, but there was only about $3.5 million available after this year’s operating budget was drafted, far less than the $31.3 million included in Markell’s proposed $487 million capital plan.

The capital budget committee is already basing its spending projections on taking about $6 million in general funds set aside for a controversial school redistricting plan for Wilmington that is languishing in the Senate, and on zeroing out funding for open space preservation, directing the $3 million in savings to capital projects.

“Things are very difficult and challenging,” said Rep. Quinn Johnson, D-Middletown, co-chair of the capital budget committee.

Late Wednesday, the committee voted to draw on millions more dollars in general funds that are being held in various state accounts, including $5 million from a state corporate technology fund and another $5 million from a bottle recycling fund. Panel members also agreed to raid an insurance fund balance for another $1.9 million but rejected a proposal to cut into the $10 million proposed by Markell for Delaware’s strategic fund, which provides loans and grants to businesses as incentives for relocating or expanding in the state.

“We are competing with surrounding states for jobs,” said Markell’s budget director, Brian Maxwell.

In addition to redirecting existing general funds, the committee approved $1.8 million in reductions in general fund cash projects, including research and development grant programs, urban redevelopment and shoreline management.

Committee members were scheduled to resume their work Thursday afternoon.

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