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Delaware’s damning debt

A huge benefit to working for the state: a pension. But what if your pension is unfunded—and has been for years? Not only should state employees be concerned about their future retirement, but lawmakers and taxpayers should pay attention to what may be a looming fiscal crisis.

Delaware’s $1.9 billion in unfunded pension benefits 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. Instead of addressing it, lawmakers continue to eye pet projects and kick the can down the road. Their willing ignorance to the issue is not sustainable or beneficial for the state.

Delaware’s fiscal condition is ranked 44th in the nation, in part due to its unfunded pension deficit, and is why Truth in Accounting’s audit of Delaware’s financial situation resulted in an F grade.

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. Each Delaware taxpayer would need to contribute $24,000 in order to offset the debt.

Federal data shows that public pension debt nationally is increasing much faster than the growth of the economy, and state and local government pensions have failed to fully fund the new benefits earned by employees each year, let alone address current debts.

Part of the issue stems from repeated pushing for increased benefits in terms of health care and pensions in addition to increased wages and salaries. Additionally, governors and legislators often lack the courage to set aside the amount of money their analysts told them the state would need to add into the pension funds. Delaware is no exception here.

Delaware will eventually be obligated to pay its pensions, but may not have the money to pay for them when that day comes. That would hurt other budget items if money needs to be shifted to cover pensions, or will hurt taxpayers if they are asked to pay more.

In an interview, Warren Buffett explained the effect this issue might have on individuals and companies looking to establish themselves in a state with underfunded pensions:

“I say to myself, ‘Why do I wanna build a plant there that has to sit there for 30 or 40 years?’ Because I’ll be here for the life of the pension plan, and they will come after corporations, they’ll come after individuals…[T]hey’re gonna have to raise a lotta money.”

Chicago, which also has a pension problem, handled it just how we hope to avoid in Delaware. Mayor Rahm Emanuel initiated numerous taxes, from a large property tax hike in 2014 to a 911 communication tax. These taxes resulted in the average Chicagoan paying around $1,700 more in taxes each year.

People vote with their feet, and Delaware is already teetering on shifting into an exodus with a poor education system, a bad business climate, one of the highest income taxes in the nation, and more taxes on the table. If our lawmakers continue to ignore this issue, we could be facing a real problem.

With a current surplus from massive federal stimulus, and more money potentially on the way, Delaware could address its current unfunded debts without forcing future generations to foot the bill. This would leave the state prepared to manage new pensioners and forge a better path for the state’s budget.

One Program is A Quarter of Delaware’s Budget!

Delaware’s budget has some glaring issues that lawmakers continue to ignore: unfunded pension benefits, an anemic Rainy Day Fund, and the ballooning cost of Medicaid. In light of COVID-19 and the recent spike in healthcare demand it created, Medicaid may be the issue lawmakers need to tackle first.

Delaware’s Medicaid problem started before COVID: according to the Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, the cost of healthcare has been rising at a pace 5.2% per year. This is concerning as it is higher than the 1.4% inflation increase over recent years. Delaware’s spending on healthcare for Fiscal Year 2021 has been estimated at nearly 40% of the state’s budget.

This is a dramatic increase from the historic 17% that Medicaid used to claim of Delaware’s budget. Currently, 59% of Delaware’s Medicaid program comes from the federal government, which is scheduled to decline slightly in the near future.

Since its start in 1965, Medicaid funding has been a joint state and federal effort. The federal government creates the ground rules for state participation in the program in exchange for large subsidies to the states. Before the Affordable Care Act (ACA), states received a “match rate” based on states’ per capita income, where higher-income states had a 50% match rate, and lower-income states received higher percentages. Each state then funds the difference with general state revenues and taxes on health care providers.

The ACA’s Medicaid expansion covered newly eligible adults with 100% federal funding from 2014 through 2016, but was reduced to 95% in 2017, 94% in 2018, 93% in 2019, and 90% thereafter. The ACA essentially duped states into expanding their Medicaid programs: the initial “free money” prompted 30 states, including Delaware, to take the deal.

This has wrecked state budgets.

The Associated Press says that California expected 800,000 new enrollees after the state’s 2013 Medicaid expansion, but wound up with 2.3 million. Enrollment crushed estimates in New Mexico by 44%, Oregon by 73%, and Washington state by more than 100%. The additional enrollees equal additional costs.

Rhode Island has one-quarter of its population on Medicaid, and the program consumes roughly 30% of all state spending. To fix this growing problem, Rhode Island has levied a 3.5% tax on insurance policies sold through the state’s ObamaCare exchange. Delaware’s Medicaid burden is even higher at almost 50%: so what will that mean for taxes here?

States increased their FY 2015 spending by the biggest margin in more than 20 years, due to huge leaps in Medicaid spending under the first full year of the ACA. The national cost of the $500 billion program is expected to rise to $890 billion by 2024.

Just like many other areas, more money doesn’t mean better outcomes. Around 55% of doctors in major metropolitan areas refuse to take new Medicaid patients and Medicaid enrollees who do find a way to see a doctor typically experience outcomes worse than those under private insurance: more in-hospital deaths, more complications from surgery, worse post treatment survival rates, and longer hospital stays than similar patients with private insurance. Often the only place a Medicaid enrollee currently can get healthcare is in an emergency room or hospital, both of which are very expensive to the system.

The answer that will seem the most logical to Delaware lawmakers will be to increase taxes, but this is an unsustainable model. As the cost grows, so will taxes—for as long as it continues to expand, which may be indefinite without reform.

A better answer to this problem is to repeal Delaware’s outdated and harmful Certificate-of-Need laws, also known as the Delaware Health Resource Board. This entity drives up costs and limits access to care. Without this in place, Delaware could save $270 per capita in healthcare costs and could add 5 more hospitals to serve its residents. With cheaper and more accessible healthcare, there may be another option available for some Medicaid enrollees, and some of Delaware’s budget that could instead go towards other necessary programs, or even result in lower taxes on residents who are already seeing increased taxes with a poor taxpayer return on investment.

The time is now to address our ballooning Medicaid issue.

The best budget fix? Less spending.

It’s no surprise that Delaware lawmakers continue to promote new taxes and tax increases to cover their bloated spending. This has become the new norm and is likely to continue as healthcare spending balloons, new programs are established, and administrative costs climb.

Delaware spends more per capita than it’s neighboring states Pennsylvania, Maryland, and even New York. In fact, Delaware’s state and local government expenditures are higher than 43 other states, but why?

Our health care funding is out of control but has yet to proven to be worth it, with poor health outcomes and limited access to care. Our growing education budget has not improved the landscape for our students either.

No wonder our taxpayer return on investment (ROI) is 44th in the nation: Delawareans just aren’t getting any bang for their buck.

Despite this, we keep taxing and spending. The spend-then-tax structure that has been utilized through recent sessions has been to the detriment of many Delawareans, who cannot afford to pay more taxes, especially during the pandemic.

This spend-then-tax structure also impacts the businesses that provide jobs to Delaware citizens. Since the 2007 recession, state lawmakers have raised every Delaware business tax, many of them multiple times. These tax increases have been passed on to the people in higher prices and lower gains in wages. And it’s about to happen again.

At some point, taxpayers can’t afford to dole out their hard-earned money to cover an irresponsible spending structure. Instead of looking for new and pervasive ways to fund the budget, lawmakers should consider re-evaluating certain costs, programs, and regulations in order to reduce our spending.

This system isn’t just a burden, it’s unsustainable.

Delaware lawmakers could look to Illinois, who is looking to finally address their budget crisis. The state is considering adopting pension reform, right-sizing its union contracts and focusing education spending on classrooms instead of on administrative bloat.

If Illinois had implemented this plan just four years ago, the spending reforms would have saved a total of $12.6 billion, the bill backlog would be $4 billion lower, and could have enabled cutting the income tax. Illinois lawmakers could issue the tax cut as early as fiscal year 2024, or use surpluses to add to the state’s rainy day fund.

Delaware too could benefit from these exact measures.

There have been measures proposed in recent years to address this that continue to stall. The bipartisan Governmental Accountability Act would require agency evaluations for budget proposals and would promote more efficiency state spending. The constitutional amendment to codify our current budget stabilization measures would ensure that future Governors are also mindful of state spending by not allocating one hundred percent of the budget.

Implementing these measures that have already been drafted and proposed would help set up the First State for a better future, just as Illinois is attempting to do.

We can never escape this game of playing catch-up with our current model. Taxpayers will continue to carry the burden of the state as spending grows and unfunded debts climb. This is far from the path we should take to ensure a better future for our residents, families, and businesses.

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.

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

Will Delawareans be welcomed in the 2021 Legislative Session?

Delawareans take a lot of pride in our little state, and so do we at A Better Delaware. That is why we are working to improve the state for every Delawarean, and for our future. The 2021 Legislative Sessions begins on Tuesday, January 12, and we will continue to advocate for you and your businesses throughout Session.

Currently, our representatives and leaders are not working to truly improve Delaware, and Delawareans are tired of seeing their state suffer because of it. Now is the time to critically think about the decisions that have been made in Dover, who is making them, and why. The 2021 Legislative Session could be the one to solidify the poor national standings A Better Delaware frequently reports on. It may push us further down the path of mediocrity, or could be the one that makes a decisive change that puts the First State back on top.

One such issue is that Delaware state government tends to minimize or even diminish the role of the citizen in decision-making, to the detriment of its constituency. Without transparency and accountability to influence better decisions, our officials are free to pass legislation to their own benefit, instead of that of its people.

The transparency issue with Delaware state government has been clear each time a bill is held until the last minute, or rules are suspended to bring forward a bill that was not on the agenda. Information is frequently withheld from constituents and stakeholders.

Transparency and the resulting ability to hold elected officials accountable have long been major issues in Delaware government with implications that span policy, spending, and public faith in government, but access should be easier than ever with virtual meetings and digital communication.

Evidence shows that government secrecy can lead to a lack of accountability and abuse of power, and when a local government isn’t forthcoming, it weakens the trust between the officials and their constituents.

Weakened public trust in government can lead to citizens and businesses becoming more risk-averse and delaying investment, innovation and employment decisions that impact economic growth and development. Establishing and focusing on transparency is an investment in economic recovery the future of the state.

Delawareans were teased with the promise change one year ago, when Delaware General Assembly leaders Sen. McBride and Rep. Schwartzkopf announced a new rule which made June 10, 2020 the last day that House or Senate committees could consider bills that originate in their respective chambers. In May, Rep. Schwartzkopf doubled-down on the promise, by asserting the General Assembly would “concentrate on the money bills,” and that anything beyond would need to be refiled in the start of this upcoming legislative session.

Legislators quickly went back on their word when session resumed virtually.

The purpose of the rule was to encourage public involvement and prevent bills from being rushed through at the end of session.

“The public isn’t fully aware of what we’re doing,’ President Pro Tempore, Senator David McBride said. ‘It’s not that we’re trying to do it without their knowledge. It’s just that things come up.”

Why, in the digital age, won’t our legislators communicate to the public upcoming bills that impact the state’s residents and businesses? What is the reluctance for legislators to hold themselves accountable, or continue to keep the state in the dark?

Voters need to speak out against legislation that is detrimental to their families, communities, businesses, or finances, but must be aware of upcoming bills to do so. In order to do better, our lawmakers must act better. As we approach the 151st General Assembly, it is important to advocate for change by advocating for transparency and accountability in our state government.

Stay up to date on important issues and how to take a stand during this Session by keeping up with our social media, emails, blog, and VoterVoice platform.

Happy New Year!

As the new year approaches, many of us are thinking of ways we can change for the better and making resolutions for 2021. We want to know: is Delaware government and leadership doing the same? If the past any indication, it is unlikely to expect any self-reflection with budgeting, policy, or many other items. Here at A Better Delaware, we decided to make a 2021 resolution list for them:

Improved Transparency and Accountability

Delaware state government tends to minimize or even diminish the role of the citizen in decision-making, to the detriment of its constituency. Without transparency and accountability to influence better decisions, our officials are free to pass legislation to their own benefit, instead of that of its people.

A better way: allow for maximum transparency by livestreaming the session, allow public access to session, file bills publicly with ample time for public and official review, and no longer pass important pieces of legislation overnight on the final day of session.

End Corporate Welfare

Delaware’s game of corporate welfare is “a hell of an expensive lesson picking winners and losers,” and Delawareans are clearly the losers. Bloom, Fisker, and Solenis are just a few examples of expensive failures when it comes to big money for companies on the Delaware taxpayer’s dime.

A better way: Delaware lawmakers and leadership should reconsider their past failings and learn from their mistakes when approaching economic development via corporate incentives. After all, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. Instead, we must attract businesses by having a better business climate with lower taxes and less regulation.

Be kinder to business

According to the 2021 State Business Tax Climate Index from the Tax Foundation, Delaware is ranked 50th in the nation for corporate taxes. Unfortunately, Delaware is no longer the business haven it once was. Factor in the sub-par help offered to struggling small businesses statewide during COVID and proposed measures like minimum wage and other employer mandates set to come up in the 2021 Legislative Session, and one could assume the goal is to force our businesses out of business.  In 2021, lawmakers must do better.

A better way: now is not the time to add any additional burden to small and local businesses that are still trying to stay afloat or recover from the pandemic. Instead, we should find ways to support them and boost employment.

Sunset the Health Resource Board (Certificate-of-Need)

Delaware is one of 35 states with Certificate-of-Need (CON) laws, in the form of its Health Resource Board. Despite a federal recommendation of repeal in 1986, the First State has kept this entity that raises health care costs and limits access to care. Without this Board, Delawareans could save $270 on average, have more local health care services, and be healthier overall.

A better way: It’s time for the legislature to sunset the Health Resource Board/CON. Delaware’s health indicators are mostly troubling, and COVID-19 has highlighted many shortcomings and demand for health care, which have been held back by the CON laws for the past 30 years.

Reform Taxes and Spending

With a projected $500M surplus, there should be no tax increases after the upcoming property tax reassessment. Our state budget (General Fund, Grant in Aid, and Bond) should not establish new spending, especially due to this revenue mostly being one-time funding. The last $200M “surplus” was the exact amount of additional revenue brought in by new tax increases implemented in 2017, and is responsible for some of the new surplus as well.

A better way: replenish the Budget Smoothing Fund and increase the Rainy Day Fund to prepare for the next statewide hardship. Additionally, it is imperative to pay down the massive pension deficit Delaware has. We can use this reassessment and new revenue to reduce our real estate transfer tax, which is currently the highest in the nation.

This may be a relatively short list in comparison to the many issues we at A Better Delaware see in the First State, but we will continue to tackle every issue that falls under our platform in 2021. We hope you’ll join us.

Our resolution is simple: continue to do what we can to fight for Delaware taxpayers and businesses and make Delaware a better place to live, work, and start or own a business. Happy New Year! We look forward to advocating for and with you in 2021.

Why is the state so out of touch from what its own residents are going through?

There is little public attendance or media coverage of public budget hearings that deal with billions of taxpayer dollars. Public involvement is severely missed in this process. Delawareans are simply presented the Governor’s proposed budget in January, after many hearings and proposals are done and considered.

The Governor holds a significant amount of power in the process, which results in a near-complete state budget before the Joint Finance Committee hearings even begin in February. Due to the lack of attendance at the initial budget request hearings, February would essentially be the public’s first say in the process (through their elected officials on the JFC). However, the JFC does not have as much say as you might imagine, with pre-allocated funds for schools, government agencies and more.

In a bid to enhance the transparency of this process and to hold not only the Governor, but the agencies presenting budgets accountable, A Better Delaware has summarized what was delivered in the recent budget request “public hearings,” below.

Strikingly, there was clear disregard and complete lack of sensitivity to what many Delaware businesses, households, and residents have been through during COVID-19. While businesses were forced to reduce their operations or even close down—costing revenues, jobs, and even life’s work—Delaware agencies are presenting budget requests with 4%+, 9%+, and 18%+ increases over FY 2021 budgets.

Why is the state so out of touch from what its own residents are going through?

The Department of Agriculture submitted a budget request that was the same as FY 2021, stating:

 “This request is fiscally responsible while allowing our Department to fulfill its mission of serving our agricultural community and providing a wide array of consumer protection services for Delawareans.”

Unfortunately, other agencies operated as if the coronavirus was a hallucination, and moved forward with ever-increasing budget requests, despite a state revenue forecast that could change any day.

The Department of Justice requested a 3.49% increase to hire dozens of new attorneys and staff. How much funding and how many attorneys are going towards the numerous out-of-state affirmative litigation cases that Delaware has joined in on recently? Meanwhile, workers in Delaware across various industries have lost their jobs due to COVID.

Delaware State University requested a 9.76% increase, much of which can be attributed to “campus improvements.” With DSU’s president now working for Biden and bringing in multimillion dollar donations, the request should be updated to show some fiscal responsibility and remove the burden of this massive budget increase from the state’s taxpayers.

Perhaps the most alarming is the unabashed 18.75% increase requested by DELDOT. Despite continuing with full funding during the pandemic, the agency has presented the largest budget increase in the state, totaling an additional $62.1M in taxpayer dollars. DELDOT was able to keep their full budget, receive federal CARES Act funding, and is now asking for a budget increase on top of that. Meanwhile, our restaurants, hotels, retailers, and more are losing capacity, revenues, staff, and even shutting down—with limited assistance offered to prevent this.

Delaware taxpayers turning a blind eye to the budget formation process has unwittingly enabled state leaders to abandon the concept of fiscal responsibility when it comes their money.

Minnesota and New Mexico have been examining better government spending through a partnership with the Pew-MacArthur Results First Initiative, where policymakers look at the effectiveness and return on investment of programs to determine where to allocate taxpayers dollars. For example, Minnesota agencies were asked to provide evidence of desired outcomes along with their budget request for each program. This was not present in many Delaware agency presentations.

It’s time for Delaware lawmakers and our Governor to actually address the ever-growing budget by instituting a policy of data-based spending. Agencies can use existing funds more efficiently, invest in programs that improve life for the state’s residents, provide more economic opportunity, and show that they can operate by normal budgeting standards that businesses and individuals already do. There have been efforts to fix this here before, but they have failed.

The Government Accountability Act, a bipartisan bill that never made it to a vote, would have made the annual budget process part of a “performance management system of strategic planning, performance metrics and performance budgeting,” that would make State government more efficient, reduce costs, and eliminate waste in the process and operations executed by the state.

Another bill that never made it to a committee hearing would have implemented a mandatory window to wait before voting on any budget bill, in order to allow for adequate evaluation and discussion before being pushed through. While not bipartisan, this bill would have forced lawmakers to actually read the budget before voting to pass it.

The time to do better and be better is now.