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Happy New Year!

From: Kathleen Rutherford, Executive Director, A Better Delaware

With a new year here, many of us have made plans for how to make 2022 a better year than 2021. At A Better Delaware we have done the same. This year we will be working harder than ever pursuing our mission of advocating for deregulation, responsible spending, and improved government accountability and transparency. We’ve created a list of resolutions for Delaware’s leadership that will help us fulfill our mission.

More Transparency

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 (even after resuming full-time in-person), 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.

Improved Accountability

It seems every week we read new headlines about a Delaware politician engaged in a scandal that puts their own interests above those of the people, often with no consequences.

A better way: Formation of an independent advocate and guardian of legislative ethics in the form of an Office of Legislative Ethics. This commission should be made up of respected members of the community with expertise in law and legislative ethics who volunteer to serve.

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. Whether it was on the Delaware taxpayer’s dime or through federal relief funds, we saw many shortcomings in 2021.

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 repeatedly and expecting a different result. Instead, we must attract businesses by having a better business climate with lower taxes and less regulation.

Develop a Strong Workforce

Delaware is now tied for 33rd overall among states in its unemployment rate, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. This is due in part to Delaware’s ineffective workforce development programing. There are several job training programs that do not connect planning with the training. Therefore, skills provided for professions do not always lead to gainful employment. Lack of information about how to access training is an obstacle for participation. Program evaluation is nonexistent making it impossible to measure performance.

 A better way: Delaware must move from a patchwork of semi-connected programs and services to building out the components of an integrated ecosystem which includes statistical evidence to support investments its workforce system and analysis of workforce training effectiveness, and outcomes. Only then will Delaware improve its standing in business competitiveness and economic growth.

Reform Individual and Corporate Taxes

According to the 2022 State Business Tax Climate Index from the Tax Foundation, Delaware is ranked 50th in the nation for corporate taxes and 44th in the nation for personal income tax. We need to be kinder to our businesses and citizens.

A better way: With $950M surplus in our state’s budget, there should be no tax increases. Rather reduce corporate tax to retain and encourage business development in our state. Lower Delaware’s individual income tax rate and put money back in taxpayers’ pockets. Both tax reductions will encourage economic growth.

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 2022. 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 2022.

 

Oversight within the Delaware Legislature is Overdue

By: Kathleen Rutherford, Executive Director of A Better Delaware

It seems every week we read new headlines about a Delaware politician engaged in a scandal that puts their own interests above those of the people, often with no consequences. The recent failures of either Chamber to take serious action with two legislators, who were both arrested and charged with assault, is a true reflection of the lack of accountability within our state government.

Delaware’s laws surrounding transparency and accountability are notoriously weak. Rankings from the Center for Public Integrity gave Delaware an F for our lack of laws and systems deterring public corruption, placing us 48th among the 50 states. And it shows.

Currently the main authority to combat corruption in the state is the Delaware Public Integrity Commission. This is a seven-member committee (with one current vacancy) that only employs one licensed attorney. The core focus of this group is to ensure that ethics laws are properly administered for the Executive Branch, and financial disclosure laws/expense reporting laws are followed by all three branches. While this group should be capable of monitoring government behavior, their 2020 report indicates that they only conducted two investigations over the entire year. To make matters worse, the committee exempted itself from its oversight, making it extremely difficult to monitor its efficiency. Delaware is said to operate on an “honor system” in regard to public ethics laws, meaning most violations are not looked into unless an outside source informs the committee.

Having a committee that is not actively searching for misconduct is a hinderance to Delawareans since this makes individuals believe that they will not be prosecuted for their misconduct unless they are caught red handed. The solution for this would be to model our system after other states that are better suited to fight corruption. While still having room for improvement, Alaska ranked 1st in the nation in state integrity. This was largely due to easily accessible political finance data, and strict ethics rules that are properly enforced on the executive and legislative branches. The main duty of the Alaska Select Committee on Legislative Ethics is to uphold the Alaska Legislative Ethics Act and maintain trust in the institute of government. This act does a better job of outlining specifically how these ethical breaches should be handled, something that Delaware Title 29 does not do.

The people of Delaware need an independent advocate and guardian of legislative ethics in the form of an Office of Legislative Ethics. This commission should be made up of respected members of the community with expertise in law and legislative ethics who volunteer to serve.

The OLE should be funded sufficiently to support a staff capable of performing rigorous investigations, and unlike current law, anyone should be able to file a complaint anonymously to protect and encourage whistleblowers.

The public also deserves more insight into the personal finances and business interests of individual legislators to assess potential conflicts of interest. The forms currently used provide little meaningful information and are not readily accessible to the public. That needs to change.

We also need to reform our freedom of information law to broaden public access to important records and keep public officials honest and accountable. First and foremost, we need to close the loophole in the public records law that is designed to keep legislators’ official correspondence secret. Executive branch and municipal officials are subject to our open records laws, but members of the legislature conveniently exempt themselves.

Our state government is also rife with conflicts of interest. Many legislators moonlight with organizations that receive funding from the state or get hired by those organizations after having played roles in securing funding for them.

Any legislator who works for an organization that receives a significant amount of their funding from the state should not be allowed to sit on the budget writing committees or those that author the Bond Bill or Grants-in-Aid bill. We should also have a cooling off period that prohibits these organizations from hiring legislators until after they have been out of office for two years.

Finally, the pandemic showed that we can provide more visibility into the inner workings of state government through online streaming. Every committee hearing and floor activity should be video streamed and archived so members of the public can see with their own eyes what goes on in the statehouse.

Transparency and accountability must be key tenets of state government to deter corruption and generate more confidence in our political system. Delaware does not live up to the high bar we must set for our public officials – not even close. These proposals would be an excellent step forward in reminding politicians that they work for us.

Delaware’s Workforce Development Plan Needs More Work

From: Kathleen Rutherford, Executive Director, A Better Delaware

Of the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) signed by President Biden on March 11, Delaware received $925 million to invest in one-time projects. One of the three largest projects in Delaware is a $50 million dollar investment in workforce development with a focus on job training.

While investing in jobs training seems like a noble and smart one, it leaves many questions unanswered. The primary issue with Delaware’s workforce development plan is that there is no information about how the money will be spent. Governor Carney stated of the allocations that “we’re focused on investments that will build on the strengths of Delaware’s world-class workforce and support Delaware families and businesses who were most affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. These workforce development programs will help Delawareans develop the skills they need to succeed in a 21st century economy.”

The goals Carney provides of “building on strengths” and “developing skills” are ones that cannot be measured, and we don’t know what time frame it should be measured over, as neither program has a specified end date.

The jobs training program will be broken into two primary components – the expansion of the Pathways Program and Forward Delaware. The Pathways Program focuses exclusively on students and is receiving one-third of this allotment – an investment in Delaware’s future that does not help the approximately 26,000 unemployed adults who are struggling to pay their bills right now.

Pathways began in 2015 serving about 20,000 high school students and with this funding will grow to serving 32,000 middle through high school students. An additional $8.3 million will be added to the program through the state budget.

Forward Delaware was founded in August 2020 and is managed by the Delaware Prosperity Partnership. It provides 20-week certification courses (directed toward those who became unemployed due to the pandemic) in the fields of healthcare, construction/trades, hospitality/food service, logistics and transportation, and computers/IT. In its first year, about 3,000 Delawareans took advantage of its offerings but only 1,476 – less than 50 percent – completed a training course. The initial investment in the program was more than $15 million. The certifications that can be acquired through Forward Delaware will make workers eligible for higher-paying, more specialized professions, but it’s a large investment few individuals have used and the Prosperity Partnership openly admits it has not tracked hiring details, and simply reports that “the fact that Forward Delaware exists is a good thing.

A lack of alignment between workforce development and the training itself are one of the five major pitfalls of workforce development success – and the above statement proves it’s at least one of the reasons this initiative in Delaware is likely to fail.

A Workforce Innovation and Opportunity analysis has evaluated Delaware’s workforce development programs and noted one of its top weaknesses as providing skills and training for professions that may not lead to self-sufficiency.

According to the Education Commission of the States, Delaware does not have a policy or process in place to identify high-demand occupations. Without any data to support which industries need skilled workers, Forward Delaware may be missing out on training workers for areas employers need the most – and those that may produce the best outcomes for trainees.

Several other states have dedicated workforce training programs that put Delaware to shame. South Carolina’s Department of Employment and Workforce utilizes several different programs that give individuals the choice to find a specific program that works well for them. With so many different options, there are ample opportunities to get individuals back into the labor force once they have been properly trained. On the other side of the spectrum, there is Georgia QuickStart. This company has a single training program that can provide customized job training, which makes it easier to implement on a state-wide level. The program receives 44 percent of its funding from the state and has managed to create over one million jobs since its founding in 1967

In a more recent report, Delaware was ranked seventh out of eight states  in the mid-Atlantic region in the 2021 Regional Workforce Development Rankings – showing it’s one of the worst at providing a strong workforce development ecosystem. With a new failing job training program, it doesn’t seem like Delaware’s on track to move up the ladder.

Delaware must move from a patchwork of semi-connected programs and services to building out the components of an integrated ecosystem which includes statistical evidence to support investments its workforce system and analysis of workforce training effectiveness, and outcomes. Only then will Delaware improve its standing in business competitiveness and economic growth.

 

 

 

 

 

Is the Diamond State Port a Sinking Ship?

From: Kathleen Rutherford, Executive Director, A Better Delaware

The Port of Wilmington on paper should be a profitable industry that brings Delawarean’s many maritime jobs. It is a top importer of fresh fruits and is in a favorable geographic position to allow truckers easy access to the nations interstate system. Despite this, the state-run Diamond State Port Corp was operating in the area with a $10 million loss annually. Their solution was to lease the port in 2018 to Gulftainer, a port operator based out of the United Arab Emirates. This decision was celebrated at first, but it is currently unclear if the $600 million deal  will turn profitable.

According to Gulftainer, it has continually lost money over the past three years.  Yet according to the American Journal of Transportation, Wilmington Port’s revenue increased by 50 percent year over year, including with the pandemic. This lack of cash by Gulftainer  is even more troubling when observing that they received $7 million from the federal government’s PPP program as well as a line of credit through their mortgage worth up to $350 million. Why has our state investment been delayed compared to other ports,  when food shipments seem to have held up well and financial resources abundant?

Additionally during the peak of the pandemic the State allowed for the company to postpone investing an additional $250,000,000 into the construction of a new container terminal. State permits for the facility had been approved albeit through questionable legislation which gave Gulftainer an advantage against other competitors. Senator Thomas Carper used his congressional influence to insert terms into the America’s water Infrastructure Act of 2020 (which he co-sponsored) that were specifically favorable to the company. These provisions include allowing Gulftainer to dispose of dredged material at federal dredge disposal sites for almost no cost and changing the environmental rules surrounding the Edgemore former chemical site by allowing for development permits to be issued for the port without the environmental studies that are typically required.

Delaware Secretary of State Jeffery Bullock with the help of our legislators made an amendment to Gulftainers original lease agreement. This amendment has effectively lowered the annual fee that Gulftainer pays to Delaware in exchange for the erasure of debt that Delaware owed to the company. The debt was revealed to be $13,400,000, but they failed to disclose the interest rate that Delaware was paying on the loan. Without this information, it is impossible to tell if this was a move made in the taxpayers favor or a money saving maneuver for the state.

There was also an attempt to gain access to emails sent between Gulftainer officials and the executive director of the Diamond State Port Corp that were denied. Refusing to make this information public knowledge may be indictive of either wrongdoing or an even an unfavorable economic forecast of the company’s future.

The Port of Wilmington has the potential to become one of Delaware’s greatest assets. It remains to be seen if Gulftainer will be able to turn the port profitable, with its current lack of financial management. It is clear however that offering Gulftainer favorable treatment and failing to publicly disclose all its dealings are troubling business practices by our State that should be questioned. Continued lack of accountability and transparency within our state government will erode public trust and discourage economic growth in Delaware.

 

 

 

 

 

Time to Say Goodbye

Delaware is now on its 29th modification  of its State of Emergency related to COVID-19 which was first declared on March 12, 2020. This State of Emergency can only be declared or terminated by Governor Carney.

During the past 450 days of the COVID lockdown, our state has been in a gubernatorial stranglehold of power and Delaware has been put in a situation where the free market does not rule, and individuals are prevented from making personal choices.

Despite months and months of lockdown, dozens of studies now reveal that these mandates were an ineffective pandemic response and did not correlate with a lower COVID mortality rate, but did correlate with a higher unemployment rate.

According to Wallet Hub, Delaware is ranked 50th in economic recovery since the start of the pandemic. Unemployment claims are up 1356% compared to this same week in 2019 – approximately four times the increase of the next largest jump in unemployment claims, leaving employers struggling to find workers to fill jobs.

While the jobs are plentiful, many parents are still prevented from getting back to work because their children are home from school. Not all of Delaware’s schools are open for full-time, in-person learning yet. Only seven states have a higher percentage of online or hybrid students.

Students have been kept home despite their unlikelihood to contract or spread the virus. For the entirety of the 2020-2021 school year, only 1,773 of Delaware’s 139,000 school children (less than 1.3 percent of total students) tested positive for the virus, and the rate of infected students was actually lower at private schools which held classes in person at a higher rate than public schools.

This time out of the classroom has set students back months, if not an entire year in their educations. Teachers have seen plummeting attendance and unparalleled failure rates throughout this year’s remote and hybrid learning. The state is simply throwing money at this issue, hoping students will manage to catch up. Approximately $124 million have gone to school districts and charter schools for an “accelerated learning program” – a vague plan for schools to create new ways to get their students back on track.

Delaware’s economic prospects continue to look bleak, even as COVID rates decrease at a steady rate. Infection rates are the lowest they have been in a year and the state appears to be on track to reaching its 70 percent vaccination goal by Independence Day.

This leads one to wonder why a State of Emergency is necessary at this point.  New Jersey, New York, and Maryland have eliminated almost all restrictions and Pennsylvania lifted all restrictions on Memorial Day. Governor Carney has refused to commit to any benchmarks or dates at which he will eliminate restrictions or mask mandates, leaving the duration of his State of Emergency a mystery.

Delaware Republican Rep. Richard Collins of Millsboro  has pushed to limit Governor Carney’s emergency powers, starting with House Bill 49, a proposal that would limit his orders to 30 days without approval by the General Assembly. After the failure of HB 49, lawmakers may have been left questioning what power they have held over the past year, and they’re not alone.

For this year’s sessions, in at least half all states, Republicans and some Democrats have proposed limiting their governor’s emergency powers in some way, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

In Pennsylvania, voters were able to vote on their governor’s emergency powers and became first in the nation to curb their governor’s State of Emergency authority. On May 18, 2021, more than 2 million residents voted in the referendum which will now end a governor’s emergency disaster declaration after 21 days and to give lawmakers the sole authority to extend it or end it at any time with a simple majority vote. Even before the referendum, Pennsylvania’s governor had less power than Delaware’s – the legislature had the ability to end an emergency declaration with a two-thirds vote.

While legislative dealings in Delaware have continued, government transparency has been extremely limited as citizens were essentially shut out of participating in the legislative process. For more than 450 days, Legislative Hall remained closed to visitors and even now, after its reopening, only 25 visitors are permitted in each chamber and must register online in advance. Constituents are limited to sitting in the gallery and still may not meet with their representatives inside the building.

Gov. Carney’s overextended executive powers will have long lasting negative effects on Delaware’s economy. Now is the time to say goodbye to Governor Carney’s state of emergency orders and for our legislators and the citizens of Delaware to demand our freedoms be restored.  Let COVID-19 be a learning lesson of how quickly our freedoms can be taken when so much authority lies in the hands of a single individual.