... is not simple, but it's doable.
Governor Jack Markell gets about $93 million of his budget savings from cutting the salary and benefits of State employees across the board.
Here's how you avoid that trap:
1) Instead of cutting salaries, put all State employees making under $100 K on two weeks furlough. That's roughly a 3.8% pay cut, but it is better than simply reducing salaries for two reasons. One: it meets the temporary requirement far better than a pay cut does; it's a hell of a lot easier to eliminate the furlough next year or the year after than it is to raise salaries 4-8%. Two: it gives the employees back the time to use as they prefer, rather than working them for the full year at lower wages. If it inconveniences some customers or causes some problems with service--well, shared pain is what it's all about, anyway.
By my back of the envelope calculations, this would reduce the $80 million in savings from those workers to $34 million, leaving a deficit of $46 million to recover.
2) Put in a two-year, sunseted additional .75% raise in the gross receipts tax above that which Governor Markell has already requested. This, in and of itself, should raise at least $25 million.
3) According to the US Census Bureau there ar 298,000 households in Delaware, of whom just above 9% gross over $100 K. A one-time surcharge on top of existing State income taxes of $500 per family would net $13.4 million. Again, I prefer the surcharge with an appropriate sunset provision to a permanent change in the tax tables. It amounts to, at most, a .5% tax on six-figure incomes.
4) If we were to move toward the decriminalization of marijuana in this State, one of the side-effects would be reducing the prison population. A best guesstimate is that nearly 1,400 of the incarcerated in Delaware are non-violent drug offenders, most of whom were busted for marijuana possession. Let's assume that I am off by a factor of four and there are only 350 non-violent pot smokers cooling their heels in our jails. If we went to decriminalization on the order of Colorado or Massachusetts, and then commuted the sentences of those 350 inmates, what would we save?
On 2004 it cost $21 k annually to keep somebody behind bars in the First State. Release 350 potheads and you save the State something on the order of $7.35 million--or enough to maintain the health benefits for all State employees at the status quo without busting the budget.
Ask yourself: is the State and Federal war against people who toke up worth your health insurance?
So: to recapitulate: we need about $94 million in savings here. We give back $46 million by reducing the pay cut for most workers to a two-week furlough.
We raise the following: $25 million more from the gross receipts tax; $13.4 million from a one-time surcharge of $500/household on six-figure incomes; and $7.35 million by releasing 350 non-violent drug offenders, for a total of $45.75 million, or--as they say--close enough for government work.
This could all be done, in the now-infamous words of a certain progressive gubernatorial candidate--with a scalpel and not an axe--but it does require some thinking outside the box.
My dissatisfaction, of course, is that it is a much less Libertarian solution than I would like, but I took off that hat tonight just to show you what could be accomplished with some imagination.