Delaware Bond: It’s Time… to Improve!
From: Kathleen Rutherford, Executive Director
The annual Bond Bill process in Delaware is one ripe for re-development. While the Bond Commission is a bi-partisan effort in design it delivers a very basic product which is missing many explanatory details. Text with strike-through lines, distinguishes between capital projects of last year and those upcoming for next fiscal year. With this setup, the average Delawarean would have to remember the long list of initiatives previously supported to discern which projects are old and which are truly new. What proves necessary here, are clear statistics to show contrasts in funding for groups of items from one year to the next, which MUST be supported with robust legislation to promote greater transparency around the bidding process for Bond-Bill eligible projects.
While Connecticut and Maryland have similar reporting styles for Bond Bills to that of Delaware, the first state’s City of Wilmington adds a heightened focus on quantitative data with their capital budget reporting. Seen in the publicly available budget books, dollars allocated to principal and interest expenses are noted within the context of the year’s total budget. Additionally, spending is shown for each year and tied to each department’s expenses, clearly stating increases and decreases, while also showing percentages attributed to capital projects. Thus, points of contention center around a short list of staggering increases with arguments made for how to spend funds differently.
Another layer of improvement needed for the nation’s first state is the in-the-background process of contractual reporting. With many of the Bond Bill projects the subject of several bids, minimal information is readily available to the public. Did you know that any money put out with the Bond Bill requires the project to use the prevailing wage? So, if a nonprofit needs $50,000 from the Bond Bill to help with a $150,000 project the entire project rated at the prevailing wage is 25% more expensive. What is published, consists of names, projects, amounts, and dates of approval. A thorough performance evaluation to track how long projects take to complete and how much projects are over or under budget would create better accountability and efficiency in spending taxpayer’s money. Furthermore, the screening of contractors must be more transparent, tagging those with direct political connections as such, so that exclusions are made to prevent backroom deals.
On a federal level, the US Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs has recently taken this charge to more completely investigate the ties of contractors. In this report, a well-known firm failed to disclose interests in the supporting several pharmaceutical companies and their development of new prescription drugs. With the proper facts established, the consultant’s advice to the FDA should have been thoroughly scrutinized for bias. The new federal bill, a bi-partisan effort recently introduced at the end of March, shows the urgency by which Delaware will benefit from quickly implementing safeguards to additionally protect citizens’ tax dollars spent. And the time is tomorrow and not next year to act, as these inefficiencies which will only continue with each Bond Bill cycle, while capital needs across the state become more dire.