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Delaware’s AAA bond ratings upheld

From The Delaware Business Times

WILMINGTON – Delaware once again received the highest possible bond ratings from all rating agencies ahead of the state’s issuance of $300 million in general obligation bonds later this month.

The news that all four major bond rating agencies – Fitch Ratings, Moody’s Investor Services, S&P Global and Kroll Bond Rating Agency (KBRA) – upheld Delaware’s AAA bond rating in January reviews was heralded by Gov. John Carney’s office in a Wednesday, Jan. 15, announcement. The state last queried ratings agencies in August and next plans to issue its 2020A series of bonds Jan. 22.

The ratings are important because higher grades translate into lower interest costs in repayment of the bonds. The agencies look at a variety of criteria, including a state’s economy, government’s financial performance and management, debt load, long-term costs, and political structure. States that analysts believe could better whether recessions or economic downturns are in turn seen as safer risks and awarded higher ratings.

“Over the last three years, we have climbed out of a $400 million budget deficit to create a $200 million surplus,” Carney said in a statement. “These are funds that will ensure Delaware has the flexibility to continue making improvements to our schools, our local economy, and the overall health of our state.”

The agencies noted the successful efforts the Carney administration and the Delaware General Assembly to bolster reserves by creating a new Budget Stabilization Fund that has a current balance of $126 million with S&P stating that “we believe the state can maintain better credit characteristics than the U.S. in a stress scenario.”

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Delaware General Assembly staff announces union, says it’s the first of its kind in U.S.

From The News Journal

Hours before the General Assembly convened for its 2020 legislative session – and much to the surprise of lawmakers, statehouse staff announced plans to unionize.

The organization, which calls itself the Delaware General Assembly Union, announced its intent to unionize in a tweet on Tuesday morning.

“NEWS: A majority of Democratic, Republican and nonpartisan staff from all four caucuses of the Delaware General Assembly have announced their intent to unionize,” the tweet says. “This will be the first partisan-inclusive state legislative union in the country.”

“We have requested voluntary recognition from General Assembly leadership and we are excited for swift, amicable and productive contract negotiations,” another tweet from that account said.

There are about 170 part-time and full-time staffers at Legislative Hall. According to the progressive nonprofit publication Prospect.org, which published an article on the news that was shared by the union’s Twitter account, the union group would include 44 of those staffers.

A press release announcing the union called the effort a “historic step forward for public service workers across the country.”

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Lawmakers start 2020 session expecting more money, return to same controversial topics

From The News Journal

Delaware lawmakers returned from their six-month break Tuesday to everything they weren’t able to get done last year — and a projected surplus of about $200 million.

For many divisive issues such as legal weed, gun control and a $15 minimum wage, it’s not clear if much has changed since lawmakers left in July.

But surplus cash no doubt will ignite new debates about how and where it should be spent.

It could mean more money to spend on government-paid projects, such as school renovations or road repairs. But it’s also a source of anxiety for the General Assembly’s top leaders, who don’t always agree with the governor, or one another, about where it’s needed the most.

“It’s more difficult to run the Legislature when you have a surplus than when you have a deficit,” said House Majority Leader Valerie Longhurst, D-Bear. “Everybody will be down in Legislative Hall putting their hands out.”

The Democratic governor and some Republicans are pushing for the extra money to go to one-time expenses, stressing that the state needs to be careful because future years may not be as fortunate. That translates into not starting programs that require future dollars.

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Legislator proposes live streaming, archiving of General Assembly session

From Delaware Business Now

Delaware State Rep. Mike Smith, R-Pike Creek, is introducing legislation that calls for audio and video of all General Assembly proceedings to be streamed live online.

His bill will also call for all the content to be archived and accessible via the internet, according to the House Republican Caucus.

Currently, only audio of the House and Senate floor deliberations is streamed online, and none of the content is available on the internet. The overwhelming majority of committee meetings are not streamed or digitally recorded in any fashion.

A growing number of local governments have been streaming and archiving their meetings on the Internet.

The governor’s office also streams some events, including the State of the State speech before the General Assembly.



Will raising the base wages for tipped workers really improve things?

A proposed measure in Delaware would increase base wages for tipped workers (servers, bartenders, etc.) to 65% of the current state minimum wage, claiming to provide these workers with a fair pay structure and rate. But would this action actually help Delawareans? A Better Delaware, a new political advocacy organization supporting pro-growth, pro-job policies, wants tax payers to have all the facts.

Do tipped workers and restaurant owners want this?

Measures to increase the base pay of servers are designed to stabilize their earnings. However, in an Upserve survey, 69% of tipped workers said that they would favor keeping their tips over a “substantial increase” in their hourly wage. Anecdotally, other cities who have instituted such measures have experienced mixed reviews from tipped workers – some of whom found they actually made less.

In cities like New York City and Seattle that have enacted higher minimum wages for tippers, restaurant and bar owners (in addition to organizations like the National Restaurant Association) have spoken out again and again about the harm an increased minimum wage can and has had on business. With higher labor costs, some small businesses have struggled to remain profitable, and efforts to pass on the cost to customers have often been met with resistance. Some restaurants who have replaced tipping with a mandatory service charge or who have raised menu prices have found that customers are less likely to return.

What the data tells us

Though small business owners and servers are concerned about changes to the tipping structure, what do we know about the efficacy for improving workers’ financial position? Few precedents currently exist, but Seattle’s foray into raising the minimum wage has not yielded especially positive results. A report from the University of Washington and the bipartisan National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) revealed a loss of over $100 per month for low-wage workers and 5,000 fewer jobs after the implementation of a $13 minimum wage.

Additionally, NBER found that from 1989-2013, small businesses in states tied to the federal minimum wage experienced lower employment, lower bank credit and higher loan defaults.

According to these studies, this legislation has had negligible impact on tipped workers’ earnings but has hit small business owners particularly hard.

The implications for Delaware

Delaware has 79,417 small businesses that account for 98.3% of all businesses in the state, and employ 180,179 individuals, or almost half of all Delaware employees, according to a 2018 report from the U.S. Small Business Administration. As the lifeblood of the local economy, any disruption has the potential to worsen unemployment in the state, which has already risen above the national rate.

But businesses and tipped employees aren’t likely to be the only ones affected by minimum wage legislation. Taxpayer dollars will pay for increased government wages as well.

Delaware’s recent minimum wage bill, Senate Bill 105, estimates a fiscal burden of $30.9 million just to raise the wages of state employees. The cost balloons each year: in 2020 it is estimated to add another $1.16 million, over $3 million in 2021, and $5.4 million in 2022. The fiscal note on the bill does not include the non-profits and contractors that will be impacted and will also inflate the state budget from a wage increase.

Groups like A Better Delaware are monitoring issues like these and hope that concerned citizens will stay informed and weigh in when and if legislation is introduced. For those who want to learn more about pro-business policies, visit A Better Delaware or contact Executive Director Zoe Callaway.

First State dead last in the nation for GDP growth

From the Bureau of Economic Analysis

Commentary from A Better Delaware

Delaware ranks dead last in the nation for GDP growth in new Bureau of Economic Analysis report.

Delaware’s 3rd Quarter 2019 GDP growth was 0.0 percent, making DE the only state (including the District of Columbia) to see no growth in real GDP.

Read the report here:


Public-private investment poises Delaware for fintech prominence

From the Delaware Business Times

Economic Forecast: FinTech

WILMINGTON – Build it and they will come.

That’s the idea behind the $38 million FinTech Center announced by the University of Delaware in November in partnership with Discover Bank and Delaware Technology Park. The project aims to prepare hundreds of new technologically skilled financial services workers beginning in 2021, but the question remains: Will those workers stay in the state for their careers?

Delaware has been a banking center of the United States for nearly 40 years, ever since Gov. Pierre duPont IV signed the Financial Center Development Act in 1981 that axed restrictions on interest rates and gave tax breaks to the nascent credit card sector. Today, names like Chase, Barclay, M&T and WSFS dominate the Wilmington skyline, but in an increasingly modern and competitive marketplace, Delaware is once again competing for C-suite attention.

While major financial hubs like New York City, San Francisco, Boston and Chicago will continue to outpace the First State, other small cities like Cheyenne, Wyoming, are now clamoring for jobs that may once have considered Delaware as well.

That’s one reason state officials are stressing how serious Delaware is in supporting fintech, or financial technology, services.


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Growth initiatives require communities to be ready when opportunity knocks

Editorial from the Delaware Business Times

Many factors must be considered when creating an environment that enables the economic health of an area like Sussex County to flourish.

Almost a year ago, the Sussex Economic Development Action Committee made a couple of suggestions that went to the heart of our efforts to create opportunities for Sussex County to grow properly. One of those ideas was a method for growth that would allow it to pay for itself, a so-called growth fund to pay for infrastructure. I know the idea had merit as I was asked to speak to both Democratic and Republican organizations. Time marches on, yet nothing has happened with this positive idea. The success in both Middletown and Bridgeville can be attributed to communities that understood that one must be ready when opportunity knocks.

Infrastructure was built and put in place to answer the call when it came. If you are ready, that call will come. Millsboro has taken steps to be ready when its time comes, as testified by the number of success stories already in place. Creating a growth fund from revenues tied to existing growth is one idea worthy of exploration before dismissing it.

High taxes are never conducive to economic development. Sussex County Council, since 1973, has maintained a low tax rate while continuing to fund all services required by the law. Back in 1973, property taxes in the county were responsible for funding 79% of the county’s budget; by the early 1980s, that number had dropped to 29% and that was without a transfer tax. The county continues to this day to avoid the use of property taxes as the main source of its revenue. But there are clouds on the horizon. A court challenge to the county’s assessment methods has been filed and all indications are that the court will move to require that all three counties do a reassessment. Assessments for tax purposes are supposed to be fair for every property owner. The court appears to think that they are not. We do not agree. Let us suggest some points that are not being made. Why am I comfortable doing this? I did the last county reassessment.


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Proposed 202 master plan could devastate quality of life, without proper input: Opinion

From The News Journal

Commentary: Senator Cathy Cloutier

My service in the Delaware General Assembly and numerous community organizations over the years has taught me that while our state and local governments are often well-intentioned, from time to time their efforts get very myopic and insular.

Sometimes these plans are brought forth with a “central planning” mindset and a grand scale, where out-of-state consultants are often used. I have found especially that these cases often need to be stopped in their tracks and given full, careful consideration.

Unfortunately, this scenario describes the ongoing “Concord Pike Master Plan” under development by New Castle County, DelDOT and WILMAPCO, which aims to permanently change life in the Route 202 corridor.

This plan, in the works for almost a year, was unveiled again recently at what was deemed a “public meeting” at Brandywine High School.

The plan envisions a future with a massive influx of multi-story buildings, road changes that would devastate quality of life in some of our communities, and possibly even a future with no Naamans Little League fields. It is full of assumptions about traffic, development and even the way we may live 30 years from now.

At what has become the norm at these meetings, public input is partially muzzled.  Following a one-sided presentation, those attending the recent meeting on this proposal were sent to “breakout sessions” to speak one on one with consultants and other planners.

The failure to allow true public comment after the presentation prevented the public from hearing what others from various communities along Route 202 had to say. Denying residents the opportunity to hear and learn from each other was disappointing and should not happen again.

Read more: https://www.delawareonline.com/story/opinion/2020/01/06/proposed-route-202-master-plan-could-devastate-quality-life-opinion/2823603001/

Funding for arts agencies in Delaware to reach $3.3 million in FY2020

From Delaware Business Daily

Legislative appropriations for Delaware arts agencies are projected to reach $3.3 million for fiscal year 2020, which equates to $3.43 per capita in the state, according to a report from the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies (NASAA).

The state’s per-capita funding for arts agencies is the fifth highest among all 50 states and the District of Columbia, the analysis said.

In fiscal year 2019, Delaware allocated $3.2 million to arts agencies in the state. The change in funding between fiscal years 2019 and 2020 was 3.3 percent.

The NASAA identifies a number of ways state governments provide revenue to arts agencies, but the primary source of funds is a state’s general fund, according to the report. Other sources of arts agency funding include special taxes or fees, lottery and gaming taxes, specialty arts license plates and income tax checkoffs.

The assembly surveys state arts agencies biannually to update its database on appropriations and revenues going to arts programs.

Read more: https://debusinessdaily.com/stories/522660617-funding-for-arts-agencies-in-delaware-to-reach-3-3-million-in-fy2020