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Proposed bill would create new lawmaker committee to examine state funding for non-profits

From Delaware Live

A Sussex County state representative wants to change the way Delaware allocates money to non-profits.

State Representative Ruth Briggs-King, a member of the Joint Finance Committee that traditionally has handled that mission, has introduced House Bill 93 to create a Grants-In-Aid Committee.

It  would be a joint effort of both the Senate and the House and would allow lawmakers more time to view requests for grants-in-aid and to develop the grants-in-aid appropriations bill, she said.

Ultimately, she said, it would allow deeper understanding of the appropriations while giving a greater level of oversight to the grant-in-aid process to protect taxpayer dollars and prevent potential misuse of the funding.

Briggs King says the bill has broad bipartisan support with three Democrats listed among the sponsors and co-sponsors — Rep. Andria Bennett of Dover, Rep. Sherry Dorsey Walker of Dover and Rep. Madinah Wilson Anton of New Castle. The bill now is assigned to the House Administration Committee.

The JFC spends about a month looking at the governor’s recommended budgets for state operations and grants-in-aid, which often pays non-profits to supply specific state-supported programs, such as childcare, adult care and meal deliveries. It holds hearings with many groups, including state agencies and state colleges and universities.

“There’s just not much time to delve that deeply into it,” Briggs-King said. “Many times there are special interests that the public doesn’t see, a maneuvering if you will to get special things and special funding. I just think it would be better if we had more of a regular committee process where the committee has more of a deliberative process to review.”

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Delaware’s Stimulus Sugar High

While Delawareans have been tightening their purse strings, Delaware’s nearly $5 billion budget continues to bloat, with spending increases, pay increases, and several massive one-time spending projects. The total of these projects is $260.5 million of taxpayer cash, $60.5 million more than the expected “surplus” of $200 million last year, which was simply the exact revenue total generated by Carney’s tax increases in his first year as Governor in 2017.

The federal stimulus “sugar high” allowed the Governor to bring up these massive pet projects once again. While Delaware’s expected revenue shortfall for FY 2021 was avoided, it was only due to $900 million in federal monies from the CARES Act that were drastically out of proportion to the state’s direct COVID-related expenses.

Carney touted Delaware small businesses received 83% of the CARES Act funding that has been spent so far, but this is only due to a tough fight from business leaders and multiple chambers of commerce—after months of pleading for assistance.

It took 69 days, a weak regional effort, and continued pressure from various stakeholders to finally establish Delaware’s Pandemic Resurgence Advisory Committee, and Delaware’s efforts to help its own businesses were next to nonexistent, spare the H.E.L.P. loans that are only available to the hospitality industry.

It’s wasn’t that we couldn’t afford to help our small and family-owned businesses: we had just given $2.5M to a British bank that only a year prior took 500 jobs out of Delaware. Our leaders simply chose not to help.

At the start of the pandemic, Delaware’s senior most politicians admitted their focus was not to help businesses. Other states with more favorable business climates had already recognized the importance of this assistance and taken steps early on to mitigate the problem, but Delaware continued to hold off on state assistance and releasing CARES funds once they were received.

Instead of helping, Delaware General Assembly leadership sent a letter to Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester and Senators Chris Coons and Tom Carper, begging that federal funds be opened up to be used for other purposes than addressing COVID-related expenses, like the state budget. Luckily for Delaware businesses and workers, the package was restricted to COVID-related funding, and could not be spent for traditional budget items.

After months of delay (which exacerbated Delaware businesses’ needs) the state finally released the money meant to help them recover, once they realized their blanket spending requests would not be met.

The state’s current revenue is propped up from two federal stimulus packages that are a false safety net for the economy and generating one-time increased tax revenues, like those from our the highest in the nationreal estate transfer tax, and worst in the nation corporate tax burden. Rick Geisenberger, Delaware’s Finance Secretary is weary of assuming stable revenues as the pandemic still has no end in sight.

More focus should be on preparing for other budget catastrophes, like those seen in 2008 and 2017. Delaware ranks 45th in the nation for short-term financial stability, yet we spend as if the future is guaranteed. The Joint Finance Committee reviews and authorizes the Governor’s budget during the month of February: call the JFC members if you’re concerned about the lack of rainy Day Funds, the unfunded pension liabilities, the ballooning Medicaid costs, and the repeated delays in support for small business.

The Governor’s budget kicks the can

Governor Carney announced his proposed Fiscal Year (FY) 2022 budget of $4.7 billion last week, a 3.5% increase from FY 2021. Although this meets the Delaware Economic and Financial Advisory Council (DEFAC) benchmark and replenishes reserve funds used during the pandemic, it also continues to kick the can down the road on major items.

The current budget proposal continues the trend of prioritizing spending increases, pay increases, and several massive one-time spending projects, instead of addressing long standing issues like a comparatively small Rainy Day Fund, unfunded pension obligations, and a ballooning health care budget.

Delaware’s percentage of its budget in Rainy Day Funds is less than 31 other states, resulting in only 20 days of operation on reserve funding. Delaware’s Rainy Day Fund allocations have been below the 50 state median since 2017. The COVID-19 pandemic and other recent state budget crises in 2017 and 2008 should push us to do more to build up these reserves.

Without the CARES Act federal assistance, which was drastically out of proportion to the state’s direct COVID-related expenses, our Rainy Day Funds would have only lasted us for 6% of the Governor’s State of Emergency that has been in place for over 300 days. When the next revenue crisis comes, Delaware may be forced to go back to bad practices like raising taxes to make up the difference, since our reserves are anemic.

Even more concerning is the state’s $1.9 billion in unfunded pension benefits, which have been largely ignored for years. This total is massive: for perspective, our pension debt is more than a quarter of the state’s annual budget. Our pension crisis is looming, and lawmakers have continued to turn a blind eye as they allocate surpluses to pet projects.

The responsible thing to do with any surplus at this point is put it towards paying down this debt. Last year’s surplus of $200 million would cover 10% of the state’s pension debt, and only 1.7% of the overall state debt of $12 billion.

If the legislature is forced to pay out its obligations at some point and turns to the taxpayer, each Delaware taxpayer would need to contribute $24,000 in order to fix the financial crisis. This is why Truth in Accounting’s audit of Delaware’s financial situation resulted in an F grade, because we are failing our residents and future.

Perhaps the biggest and most visible concern that we continue to kick down the road is Delaware’s unsustainable health care costs. For a long time, Medicaid was approximately 17% of the state’s budget, but in recent years has risen to over 25% of the budget.

For now, over half of Delaware’s Medicaid program comes from the federal government, but that money is expected to shrink in the future, placing the burden on the state. Delaware’s health care budget is already one of the highest per capita in the nation, and cannot sustain any more growth.

Delaware leaders must look to alternatives to our current system, especially since Delaware’s health outcomes are extremely poor compared to other states, despite the massive spending. Taking steps like eliminating the Delaware Health Resources Board, which raises costs and limits access to care, would be a step in the right direction to allow for a better system.

As we move into Delaware’s budget hearings throughout the month of February, it is critical for the Joint Finance Committee (JFC) members to stop kicking the can down the road. With the cushion of federal money and a resulting surplus, now is the time to address our budgetary concerns that could cripple us in the near future.

New Castle County to begin revamping local property tax system

From Delaware Online

New Castle County has agreed to recalculate the property values it uses to set local tax bills, beginning a process that could lead to widespread changes to property taxes in the coming years.

The commitment was made as part of a legal settlement approved by a Delaware Chancery Court judge last week. The settlement seeks to end the county’s involvement for now in a lawsuit aimed at recalculating unconstitutional property tax valuations throughout the state.

As of now, Kent and Sussex counties, which are also defendants in the lawsuit, have not submitted a similar agreement, meaning litigation involving the future recalculation of tax values in those counties will continue.

The New Castle County agreement was prompted by a judge’s ruling last year that the long-term lack of a reassessment of local property values used to calculate tax bills has led to a system where some property owners get artificial tax breaks and some pay more than their fair share based on their property’s actual worth.

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Gov. John Carney’s proposed budget for Delaware: Police body cameras, COVID-19 aid and more

From Delaware Online

Gov. John Carney’s proposed spending plan for next fiscal year includes the first steps toward statewide police body cameras, funding the ongoing COVID-19 response and increases in the minimum wage, as well as small raises for state workers.

The measures are a signal that Delaware officials are keeping their promise to hold law enforcement accountable in response to the Black Lives Matter movement while also bracing for an ongoing fight against the virus at least until the latter half of this year.

The taxpayer-funded spending plan, the first of Carney’s second term, still adheres to the austere fiscal strategy that he had during his first term by limiting extra revenue toward one-time expenses, such as construction projects and grants.

Carney proposed his $4.7 billion budget plan, a 3.5% increase, along with $894.4 million in capital spending and $55.5 million grants-in-aid plans, to lawmakers shortly before noon on Thursday.

His virtual presentation comes a little more than two weeks after lawmakers convened for the 2021 legislative session.

The 62-person General Assembly will have to approve a spending plan for the fiscal year that starts July 1.

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Flight of alcohol bills aim to support, expand industry

From Delaware Business Times

DOVER — State lawmakers are weighing a flight of bills aimed at liquor stores and craft breweries while another continues a lifeline that many taprooms and restaurants have relied upon to stay in business amid the pandemic.

Both liquor stores and craft breweries in Delaware are capped by the number of licenses they can hold, but two bills would raise those ceilings to allow for more growth in the alcohol industry. House Bill 23 would raise the number of liquor stores one individual or business can have in the state from two to three, while House Bill 45 would raise the cap for breweries and brewpubs to three to five.
Rep. Bryan Shupe (R-Milford), one of the sponsors of HB45, argued that capping the alcohol industry was an anti-business measure that hampers one of Delaware’s best sectors. Shupe has been a part of recent efforts to eliminate the cap entirely, but in the last two years bills have either died in committee or never made it to the Senate floor.

“It was very divisive back then, particularly on the distribution side,” Shupe told the Delaware Business Times. “Breweries and brewpubs are a small business, and as a small business owner myself, I hate to see anyone limit a small business. They already face a lot of challenges in terms of attracting an audience and working through the regulations even before they even start talking about expansion.”

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Minimum Wage: It’s not ‘Now or Never’

draft of a bill to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2026—which would amount to a 61.6% increase—has been drafted and circulated for co-sponsorship. In light of a potential federal $15 minimum wage looming ahead, let’s look at the impact this would have.

A minimum wage increase of only $1 an hour can cost small businesses tens of thousands of dollars in additional payroll costs each year. This bill would force businesses let employees go if and when the minimum wage rises in their state, and prevent them from hiring new workers and expanding their business.

More than 163,000 Delaware workers have filed for unemployment assistance in the wake of the pandemic, with no sign of things returning to normal anytime soon. The minimum wage increase at this time would only drive more unemployment as Delaware businesses would be forced to lay off workers.

Less workers means less money circulated in the economy, less tax revenue, and less overall growth. Increased unemployment also contributes to domestic violence, mental health issues, obesity, and more. This should not only be seen as an economic issue, but a health concern as well.

Feel good policy isn’t always good. In this case, it hurts the very people it claims to help: low-wage and low-skill workers, disabled workers, former inmates, and more. These workers rely on low-skill and low-wage jobs that will now go to more experienced and attractive candidates as businesses will be looking to get what they are paying for in an employee.

Anyone who has studied basic economics can explain the price floor mechanism that is minimum wage, and how it directly results in increased unemployment and inflation. Prices will rise and goods will become too expensive for most, and the new “livable wage” will no longer be livable. In 5 years, will we be confronted with another government mandated market shift that will warp buying power and job security?

It doesn’t stop there. Small business cannot afford the same minimum wage increase that major corporations like McDonald’s and Amazon have already enacted internally. As big companies shift multi-billion dollar revenues around to account for the higher wages, small businesses are left scrambling.

The Delaware restaurant industry has had a particularly tough time during the pandemic, and would be crushed by a mandate like a minimum wage increase for at least a few years. It took the First State six years to recover from the 2008 recession. Despite the numbers being far worse than twelve years ago, the new minimum wage would start in just one year. Our small businesses and low-skill and low-income workers would have no chance.

It is interesting that the same people who want to stop the growth of these mega corporations also support a measure that would directly benefit them and hurt their competition. Rather than address the causes of these high living costs, proponents of $15 minimum wage want businesses to bear the cost of the problem.

Make no mistake, the very people pushing for $15 understand the consequences this mandate presents. When signing California’s $15 minimum wage into law, California Governor Jerry Brown said that “Economically, minimum wages may not make sense. But morally, socially, and politically they make every sense.”

The unintended consequences of raising the minimum wage have already been seen in New York, San Francisco, and Illinois. In San Francisco and New York, the restaurant industry has been hit especially hard by the measure, with many businesses raising prices (and losing customers), cutting hours, reducing staff, and some even filing for bankruptcy. When New York City’s minimum wage was raised to $15 per hour, there was an overall decline in restaurant workers, despite total employment increasing by more than 163,000 workers.

Owners tried raising menu prices and adding an extra surcharge to customers’ bills, but restaurants were no longer profitable. Many industries will face the same problem and their businesses will reduce worker hours or the number of workers, scale-back production, turn to automation, or shut down. Businesses want to pay their workers more, but government-mandated increases in wages hurt employment and the overall economy.

Delaware may not have a choice in the matter if the federal mandate passes. However, if that does not happen and the bill comes forward for a vote this session, Delaware lawmakers can either look at the evidence and decide to help Delaware workers and businesses, or vote based on rhetoric and make matters worse. shouldn’t join just to feel good. Increasing the minimum wage in the midst of a pandemic that crippled the workforce and businesses alike is not in the best interest of anyone but their own re-election.

30% Tax Increase Means Trouble for Small Businesses

The 2021 Legislative Session is under way, and your legislators wasted no time bringing forth bills to hurt Delaware workers and businesses. One would have expected that, in light of the pandemic and the turmoil it caused for the economy and business climate, Delaware lawmakers would have avoided these types of bills. You’d be mistaken.

Despite the projected $500M surplus this year, House Bill 64 would establish new tax brackets of $125,000 at 7.1% $250,000 at 7.85% and above $500,000 at 8.6%.

Currently, all income above $60,000 is taxed at a rate of 6.6%. This tax increase will serve as yet another stream of revenue for an ever-increasing budget, despite a lack of need. The main purpose of the income tax is to raise revenues for the government, but with a major surplus and lack of results from previous funding increases, we question the motives behind the bill.

Additionally, Delaware already has unfavorable rankings when it comes to taxation. We have the 18th highest income tax burden. Delaware has the 7th worst taxpayer ROI and 7th highest taxes per capita—even higher than neighboring New York and New Jersey. Yet, here comes another tax increase.

Increases in the income tax are connected to individuals having less discretionary income (spending money) and less of an incentive to work, since take-home pay will decrease. Delawareans have already faced layoff and business closures, yet lawmakers are set to tighten their purse strings for them.

Interestingly, the lack of incentive to work can actually reduce the revenue brought in from the tax.

Perhaps this is why seven US states don’t impose state income tax: Alaska, Florida, Nevada, South Dakota, Texas, Washington, and Wyoming. Not having to pay a state income tax is believed to help individuals of all income classes, who would are able to keep their hard-earned money and save for retirement, vacations, school tuition and more.

The impact doesn’t stop there.

This legislation goes beyond individuals. Many small business In Delaware are filed as S-corps and pass-through LLC’s, and therefore file business taxes under the individual income tax umbrella. This means HB 64 bill will not only “tax the rich,” but tax our small businesses that have already been struggling to keep employees and stay open throughout the pandemic.

Delaware was already ranked one of the top ten worst states to start a business, largely due to having one of the worst business environments in the nation and 7th highest business costs. The impact of the pandemic has only worsened the situation in the First State.

Higher tax rates can increase the chance that businesses fail, which is already a major concern in the current economic climate. Our lawmakers should hold off on anything that makes this worse. Increased rates can also hurt entrepreneurship, forcing individuals to seek secure, good-paying jobs. Higher taxes on business means it is less likely people will move their businesses here, as well as some state businesses leaving or reducing capital expenditures and halting growth plans.

We ask that you contact your legislators via this form to speak out against a 30% increase in the income tax: https://www.votervoice.net/ABetterDE/campaigns/68445/respond

Democratic lawmakers propose higher tax rates in Delaware

From Delaware Online

DOVER, Del. (AP) — Democratic lawmakers in Delaware are proposing several new tax brackets that would result in higher-income individuals paying more to the state’s coffers.

The current top tax rate in Delaware is 6.6% for taxable income exceeding $60,000.

A bill introduced Wednesday would apply the 6.6% rate to income between $60,000 and $125,000 and create a new rate of 7.1% for taxable income in excess of $125,000, up to $250,000.

Those with income between $250,000 and $500,000 would pay 7.85%, and a top rate of 8.6% would be established for Delawareans with taxable income of more than $500,000.

Co-sponsors of the measure include the state Senate president and several progressive Democrats who were elected in November.

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Delaware could exempt unemployment benefits from state taxes. How it would work

From Delaware Online

Delaware is considering exempting unemployment benefits that were paid in 2020 from state income taxes.

The proposal would be done through a bill that state lawmakers introduced on Monday with the support of Gov. John Carney.

The bill would also waive the 13-week waiting period before the state could “trigger on” to pay extended unemployment benefits in periods of high unemployment.

The proposal comes after more than 160,000 people filed for unemployment last year as a result of businesses shutting down temporarily or permanently due to Carney’s state of emergency orders to slow the spread of COVID-19.

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