- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 19, 2015

DOVER, Del. (AP) - Legislative budget writers on Tuesday added $21 million to the gap between available revenues and Gov. Jack Markell’s proposed spending plan for the fiscal year starting July 1.

Members of the Joint Finance Committee voted unanimously to pay $21 million to cover the state’s matching share of employee health insurance premiums after a state panel last week rejected Markell’s proposal to increase employee deductibles in an effort to trim taxpayer costs for state employee health care.

“That’s really not up for debate at this point,” committee co-chair Rep. Melanie Smith, D-Bear, said of the decision to use more taxpayer money to cover health care costs.

The committee’s move boosted the current projected gap between estimate revenues and proposed expenditures from $48.5 to almost $70 million, making the task of fashioning the balanced budget required by state law a little more complicated.

The $3.9 billion operating budget proposed by Markell also relies on other savings that lawmakers have not been quick to embrace, including reducing tax breaks for senior citizens.

The senior tax proposal is expected to be discussed at Thursday’s meeting of the finance committee.

Meanwhile, members of the panel began chipping away at Markell’s budget proposal in small increments Tuesday, cutting proposed spending on mosquito control by $75,000, for example, and putting other items on hold.

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