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Commentary: Belt tightening in the near future, but not like 2008

From Delaware State News

Commentary from Dr. John Stapleford, Caesar Rodney Institute’s chairman, and past director of the University of Delaware’s Bureau of Economic and Research

There are two views among economists regarding the direction of the U.S. economy. The first anticipates a substantial recession similar to 2008-09.  The second expects a severe dip in the second quarter of 2020 with a steady rebound thereafter. I favor the severe dip scenario.

The 2008-09 recession was prolonged because there were extreme price distortions in residential and capital markets that took time to correct. The wealth effect from stock market losses was compounded by a huge decline in residential housing equity.

The COVID-19 crisis, while painful to many families, will have a temporary sharp impact on the U.S. macro economy. The pandemic measures adopted will fall the most heavily on restaurants, hotels, and airlines. The wealth effect from the losses in the stock market will slow consumer spending in the short term, but the underlying prices and resource markets in the nation are sound and two consecutive quarters of declining GDP is unlikely.

How hard was Delaware hit by the 2008-09 recession? Employment dropped by 50,000 over 20 months, an 11% decline. Total wages and personal income declined for a year with losses of 3-4%, and output fell 6% over five quarters.

Structural changes in Delaware’s economy caused by the 2008-09 recession were profound. As happened following the 1973-75 recession, the 2008-09 recession dramatically altered manufacturing. Over $3.5 billion dollars of annual output was lost from the downsizing of the DuPont Co., Astra Zeneca, and the remaining automobile manufacturing, together with associated wholesale operations.

It took six years for total Delaware employment to recover to its 2008 peak level. And the state’s economy is still struggling. For five months now, based upon its leading economic index for Delaware, the Philadelphia Fed has been forecasting a second quarter 2020 contraction in Delaware’s economy.

Read more:

https://delawarestatenews.net/coronavirus/commentary-belt-tightening-in-the-near-future-but-not-like-2008/

Wilmington proposes business fee hikes amid coronavirus crisis

From The News Journal

Business owners across Wilmington face a hike in their annual license fees, while also facing the challenges of a pandemic.

City officials proposed an ordinance Thursday night to the City Council to raise fees for nearly all kinds of businesses that are licensed to operate in Wilmington, from contractors to financial institutions.

If passed by the City Council, the hike would take effect immediately, according to the legislation.

The proposal has been in the works for months, said John Rago, deputy chief of staff for policy and communications for Mayor Mike Purzycki. The city has not updated its fees in more than 15 years, he said.

The proposal was made separately from Purzycki’s proposed budget for the next fiscal year.

Some Wilmington business owners said the proposal was made with bad timing as bars, hair salons, some retail stores and numerous other nonessential businesses were shuttered either by the governor’s order or economic realities during a nationwide coronavirus outbreak. Restaurants are limited to takeout operations only.

“I’m hanging on off a prayer,” said Abundance Child, owner of the Riverfront vegan eatery Drop Squad Kitchen.

Sales have dropped more than 60% in the past week, she said, and the restaurant is making just enough to still pay staff, rent and utilities.

The city is proposing a more than 50% increase in the license fee, from $181 to $300 for restaurants.

“That’s a lot,” she said. “It’s just poor timing and poor judgment. Why would you have a 50% increase in a time of depression?”

Read more:

https://www.delawareonline.com/story/news/2020/03/27/wilmington-business-owners-face-fee-hikes-amid-coronavirus-crisis/2922379001/

The First State Falls Behind in Pandemic Action

In the wake of coronavirus, Delaware businesses are struggling, shutting down, and asking for help. Unfortunately, many are not receiving the assistance they desperately need.

The Hospitality Emergency Loan Program (HELP)—offering no-interest loans up to $10,000 per business per month—has recently been expanded from the hospitality industry to include relief for personal care services businesses such as hair and nail salons and barbershops.

While this expansion is good news for some, other businesses are still being left behind.

This week, the languishing hotel industry asked Delaware lawmakers for tax deferments and to help their laid-off workers, but were told  this was not a priority and to wait. With over 10,000 Delawareans filing for unemployment in one week, helping businesses and laid-off workers are  just priorities they are deferring to address.

Delaware, who consistently ranks in the bottom in the nation relating to business, should take note from what some of the most business-friendly states are doing to compliment the federal coronavirus relief.

North Carolina, a top ranked state for business, is keeping its businesses and workers in mind while addressing the health crisis. The state has offered help for businesses through:

  • Expanding unemployment eligibility without placing the cost of benefits related to the coronavirus on businesses.
  • Business Edge: layoff aversion strategies and activities to help employers prevent or minimize job losses, by assessing needs and options for “at-risk” firms and addressing those needs.
  • The North Carolina Small Business and Technology Development Center (SBTDC) is offering free assistance to small businesses to assess financial impacts of the pandemic, evaluate credit options, and apply for SBA disaster loans.

Georgia has delayed registration and registration fees for its corporations; Utah has combined health actions with economic responses in the “Utah Leads Together” program, and the Utah Governor’s Office of Management and Budget will oversee the project management to ensure the state’s economy can recover quickly from the pandemic.

A Better Delaware recommends our lawmakers enact similar policies to those listed above, as well as implementing the following recommendations from the U.S. Small Business Chamber’s “Resources to Help Your Small Business Survive the Coronavirus:”

  • Waiving fees for businesses with low margins
  • Offering no-interest loans for businesses
  • Cancelling or deferring payment of payroll taxes

Delaware leaders can help our businesses recover now. To do this, the Delaware Prosperity Partnership (DPP) can reallocate their funds used to attract new businesses to helping businesses in the state that have been impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.

The Governor and the legislature have a chance to minimize the impact of this health crisis on Delaware’s businesses, workers, and economy, and boost the First State’s standing nationally again. Policy decisions at this time must be made with caution, as the opportunity to further burden our businesses and economy is great.

Delaware’s senior most politicians admitted their focus is not on helping businesses at this time. Other states with more favorable business climates have already recognized the importance of this assistance and has taken steps early on to mitigate the problem.

Express the urgency of a dedicated response for businesses by contacting your legislator or reaching out to the Governor’s office.

Coronavirus and Delaware’s Future

The COVID-19 (coronavirus) epidemic has changed the day to day for many across the globe. Grocery stores struggle to keep essentials stocked, employers are mandating work-from-home policies, and health care systems are feeling a strain from testing and treatment.

Over the past week, many businesses in Delaware and nationwide have been forced to reduce service or even close their doors. Workers are concerned about lost wages, and business owners are facing massive revenue shortfalls.

Both are concerned about their ability to pay bills.

New cases are cropping up every day in the First State, and things will only get worse. Businesses will need help that comes from both the community and the state, and that help should not come at the expense of others struggling at this time: taxpayers.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has released “Resources to Help Your Small Business Survive the Coronavirus,” including some temporary measures lawmakers can take to help business survive the impact such as:

  • Waiving fees for businesses with low margins
  • Offering no-interest loans for businesses
  • Cancelling or deferring payment of payroll taxes

Governor Carney has already taken some steps to help businesses with programs like the Hospitality Emergency Loan Program (HELP). Under HELP, businesses are eligible to receive state support to pay rent, utilities, and other major overhead costs.

The state has also formally requested loans from the U.S. Small business Administration’s Economic Injury Disaster Declaration to help support over 25,000 small businesses in Delaware. Small businesses and non-profits would be eligible for up to $2 million each in low-interest loans.

As for the worker, unemployment must be revisited in a manner that expands eligibility and benefits without adding a burden onto already struggling or inoperable businesses.

There is still no such thing as a free lunch, and as our state’s government works to protect small businesses and workers, the total cost must be monitored closely. Increasing taxes to cover these programs will hurt Delawareans, and so will cutting essential programs to cover loss of revenue.

While a health crisis may be an extreme scenario, it is the perfect example of why our government must watch its spending habits in better times. Luckily, Delaware has a Rainy Day Fund that could be utilized to offset some of the financial burden associated with the critical programs coming from the Governor’s office, but requires a super majority vote from the General Assembly to spend. Additional coverage could come from the reserved monies from budgeting 98% of revenues, or Budget Smoothing. This $100M+ can be spent at the Governor’s discretion. However, our savings account is only so big, taxpayer pockets so deep, and business revenues so sustainable.

As the situation improves, it is imperative that our state leaders move forward with caution in any new spending or programs while revenues recover. Earlier in 2020, a $200 million “surplus” was attempted to be spent on various new spending projects. Now, that $200 million likely does not exist, digging the state into a worse position to help Delaware businesses and workers, and to recover from the impact of the coronavirus.

That revenue was from increasing taxes on Delawareans in recent years. The same can happen again if the state raises taxes to cover spending from the coronavirus, or to fund new, long-term programs deemed necessary because of it.

There won’t be tax cuts or a return of your money—so what will the new “surplus” be used for in five years?

Irresponsible fiscal policy now will likely hurt Delaware residents and businesses in a way that cannot be ignored or excused.

A sound recovery from Coronavirus will be tough job for our state leaders in the coming months, who must consider how to not worsen our already struggling business climate and interstate economic competitiveness in the aftermath.

Let’s have the foresight to implement recovery policies that encourage economic and job growth, a better place for businesses to grow and thrive, and an economy that lifts up Delawareans as a whole.