- Associated Press - Monday, May 22, 2017

DOVER, Del. (AP) - Members of the Delaware legislature’s budget-writing committee agreed on about $51 million in cuts Monday as they began drafting a spending plan for the upcoming fiscal year.

Using the current year’s budget as a template for fiscal 2018, members of the Joint Finance Committee waded through a list of cuts and spending changes proposed by Gov. John Carney's administration.

Individual cuts ranged from a few million dollars, including $2.6 million by reducing the reimbursement rate for Medicaid dental services, to as little as $100 by reducing supplies and materials expenditures for the Advisory Council for Exceptional Citizens.

Committee members also agreed to cap a state-funded annual property tax credit for senior citizens at $400, down from the current $500. The move, if it wins final approval, is expected to save the state $5 million annually.

Committee members punted on forcing state employees, who pay an average of only about 10 percent of their health care premiums, to pay on average 3 percent more per month. Administration officials have said the change, which would take effect Jan. 1, could save taxpayers about $6.5 million next year.

Budget writers also postponed a vote on eliminating a “double state share” benefit provision under which married couples who are both state retirees, or are both active employees hired before 2012, pay a combined monthly health insurance premium of only $25.

Lawmakers indicated that they believe forcing state employees or retirees to pay more for their health care could be politically difficult.

Sen. Bruce Ennis, a Smyrna Democrat, said making employees pay 3 percent more of their health insurance premiums will cause personal hardships and eliminating the double state share will exacerbate the financial difficulty for some couples.

“I believe that they’re still ready and willing to continue to discuss the issue,” state budget director Michael Jackson said.

The changes approved Monday still leave lawmakers and the administration needing to find about $230 million more in cuts, revenue increases or both to balance a spending plan for the fiscal year starting July 1.

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