State Budget Practice Report Cards and Budget Resource Guide
Delaware’s decision in 2018 to release its first five-year general fund expenditure estimate helped the state raise its three-year average grade in budget forecasting to a top A for 2017 through 2019 from B in the previous three-year period. While Delaware had already produced long-term revenue estimates, it forecast expenditures for only one year before the change. Having long-term revenue and expenditure estimates makes it easier to plot budgets for several years.
The state received a C average in legacy costs, which cover public worker pensions and other postemployment benefits (OPEB), principally health care. The public worker pension was 85 percent funded as of 2018, 15 percentage points above the total for all states. Delaware’s grade was held down by OPEB underfunding. As of June 30, 2018, the state and other participating public employers had a net OPEB liability of $8.2 billion—almost twice the size of the general fund as of fiscal 2019.
Delaware scored a B average in reserve funds. While the size of its Budget Reserve Account lacks a tie to historical revenue volatility, state rainy day fund policies otherwise align with best practices cited in the recent Volcker Alliance working paper, Rainy Day Fund Strategies: A Call to Action.
To emphasize the need for clear and comprehensible budgets to inform citizens, promote responsible policymaking, and improve fiscal stability, the Volcker Alliance in 2016 began a study of budgetary and financial reporting practices of all fifty states. The Volcker Alliance’s mission is to improve the effectiveness of the administration of government at all levels. Making state budgeting more transparent and accountable is an important part of that goal.
The report cards found here contain grades of the state's budgetary practices during the fiscal years of 2017 through 2019. Each state received marks in five critical categories, based on their adherence to best practices in several key budgeting indicators. The five categories covered methods used to achieve budgetary balance as well as how budgets and other financial information are disclosed to the public.
States received grades of A to D-minus (there are no “failed states”) for their procedures in estimating revenues and expenditures; their use of one-time actions to balance budgets; how they oversee and use rainy day funds and other fiscal reserves; the adequacy of their funding of public worker retirement and other postemployment benefits; and the quality of transparency of budget and related financial information. The grades are based on research conducted by public finance and budgeting professors and students at eight US schools of public administration or policy. The universities’ research efforts were augmented by Volcker Alliance staff, data consultants at Municipal Market Analytics, and special project consultants Katherine Barrett and Richard Greene.
State Budget Sources
State Budget Sources: An Annotated Guide to State Budgets, Financial Reports, and Fiscal Analyses is a resource published by the Volcker Alliance designed to help public officials, policy advocates, journalists, academics, and concerned citizens fully understand the critical fiscal decisions that governors and legislators must make. The guide includes the links below to budgets for this state as well as legislative analyses of budget bills and treasurers’ or comptrollers’ monthly state cash-flow statements; capital spending plans; reports on public-worker pension funding and returns; and reports by local and national fiscal research organizations, bond rating firms, and associations of state fiscal and finance officials.