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What’s New

From ABD Founder: Founding A Better Delaware

From The Sword in the Stone Blog

by ABD Founder, Chris Kenny

With my decades long involvement in civic issues affecting Delaware and a constantly growing, deep understanding of their viable solutions, the question became how to use that foundation of knowledge to help improve the state’s concerns that have risen to a critical level. That is what has led me to my next chapter: creating A Better Delaware, our pro-growth, pro-business advocacy group.

One year ago I founded A Better Delaware, a non-partisan grassroots organization to advocate for pro-growth, pro-business policies and greater transparency in government. Now more than ever we need a collective effort to promote policies that will grow our economy, spur sustainable investments and create jobs. Our group routinely communicates key issues in Delaware policy, and here are some very startling facts about the Delaware economy:

With these realities harming Delaware’s growth and success, my statement on A Better Delaware’s official launch last year rings true now more than ever:

“I speak with employers and workers every day who share my concern about Delaware’s business climate and our competitiveness with other states. Too many politicians in Dover are out of touch with the realities of starting and operating a business, and what it takes to create good jobs.”

Our non-partisan group offers year-round communication to promote policies benefiting Delaware’s economy, and our grassroots success is evidenced in our group’s engaged online community (click here to visit our Facebook page). Almost 10,000 followers, over 13,000 email subscribers, and over a dozen distinct advocacy campaigns later, A Better Delaware celebrates one year of working with and for the Delaware people.

In addition to the ABD group, this year we have launched A Better Delaware’s PAC. To supplement our group’s efforts, the A Better Delaware PAC was created to apply the necessary pressure to affect political change and educate our state legislators. The ABD PAC will offer significant support for specific candidates who mirror our group’s pro-growth, pro-Delaware policy goals. As this year’s election cycle culminates with important elections at the local, state and federal level, the creation of our political action committee will allow us to make real change when it is needed most.

We will continue to attack the issues at all levels from the grassroots community level to holding our state’s politicians and policymakers accountable. I explained the need for transparency at all leadership levels at ABD’s founding:

“A major reason Delaware is losing ground is because few are holding the politicians accountable. A Better Delaware will make sure taxpayers understand what is at stake and who in Dover is working for them.”

OUR GOVERNMENT OPERATES BEST WHEN THERE IS AN EFFECTIVE SYSTEM OF CHECKS AND BALANCES IN PLACE. OUR GROUP WILL SERVE THAT GOAL.

A Better Delaware and the A Better Delaware PAC were created to provide educational communication informing our community and voters on the issues and policies that will most benefit our state and economy. This project will be an ongoing conversation around policy changes that will benefit our state. As for my personal political aspirations? That’s a topic I’ve been asked about quite a lot recently. My answer? I’ll save that for the next post.

A Better Delaware celebrates one year

A Better Delaware celebrates one year today!

A weakened economy, poor business climate, high tax rates, and questionable practices in state governance all lead to the decision to form an issue advocacy organization that would work for Delaware taxpayers and businesses. One year ago today, A Better Delaware was finally launched to the public to tackle these issues.

“Delaware needed to tackle these issues and since lawmakers and leadership in the state weren’t making the effort, Chris Kenny and Ben duPont did. Thanks to them, every day I get to wake up and work to make my home state a better place.” — Zoe Callaway, Executive Director

When we launched on September 17, 2019, we were ready to fight for you. The response we received after launch let us know that Delaware was ready too, and thankful for our presence and advocacy. You let us know that you too are tired of the over taxation and regulation, the back room deals in Dover, and being left behind by your elected officials.

Facebook recommendations and messages, emails, phone calls, and more started to come in that thanked us for what we were doing and encouraged us to keep on, so we did. We ramped it up with a weekly blog, A Better Discussion webinars, and professional videos addressing key issues in the state. Our public advocacy campaigns, where constituents had an outlet to speak out against bad legislation directly with their legislators, resulted in hundreds of emails sent during the 2020 Legislative Session.

“The Delaware Small Business Chamber is not a political chamber but we advocate for issues that affect the Small Business Community and we think A Better Delaware is helping to make Delaware a more small business friendly state. Congratulations on one year.” — Bob Older, Founder and President of the Delaware Small Business Chamber

That wasn’t enough for us. We came to fight for you, and that meant helping keep Dover business and taxpayer friendly. Last month, ABD formed a PAC to begin electioneering in order to expand our cause.

A Better Delaware has done a lot to advocate for you, but we could not have done it without you. Your support and willingness to share ABD and our message has really resonated and has allowed us to do everything that we have so far.

“For our inaugural year, we are very fortunate to have our Executive Director Zoe Callaway as the heart and soul of ABD working tirelessly everyday researching, writing, posting, calling and discussing the mission critical issues for all Delawareans.” — Chris Kenny, Founder and Co-Chairman

Almost 10,000 followers, over 13,000 email subscribers, and over a dozen distinct advocacy campaigns later, A Better Delaware celebrates one year of working with and for you.

What does the next year hold? We hope you’ll stick with us to find out! For now, we continue to work to improve the following statistics:

Delaware deserves better. Together, let’s make A Better Delaware.

Stop the Reverse Revolving Door

Texas limits two groups of people from running for public office: felons and the mentally incapacitated. In 2017, the state considered making an interesting addition to that list when a bill arose that would prevent lobbyists from being able to run for public office.

At first glance, it may seem excessive to group lobbyists with felons and people with mental handicaps, but the measure had great intentions and some precedent.

The precedent here comes from major concern with the “revolving door” of politics at state and federal levels. The revolving door is when legislators move into lobbying or similar state-related positions after retiring from office. Critics of this practice cite major concerns surrounding government accountability and trust in government.

Those at the end of their time in office who are eyeing a lobbying role are more likely to be influenced by the company or interests that the will shortly advocate for, leaving the public at a serious disadvantage. Once in these lucrative, private sector positions, former lawmakers have inside connections and relationships with those they will now stand in front of, on behalf of special interests.

Federal actions to prevent the revolving door have not been successful, and neither have similar measures in Delaware. When state senate leader Patty Blevins (D—Elsmere) lost her re-election in 2016, her new position with the Division of Public Health seemed to be in violation of state rules against revolving door type activities, included in the ethics portion of the Delaware Code.

So, when a lobbyist decides to run for office, these concerns remain. This process is known as the “reverse revolving door,” and is still a breach of trust in government and weakens government accountability.

A South Dakota lobbyist-turned-Congressman came under fire for adding language in a bill that helped his former employer. The same can be expected at the state level, and may be easier to prevent.

Delaware can either be more susceptible to this problem, or can do better to prevent it. In a state where everyone knows everyone, interests are bound to get tied up, but we do not have to blatantly allow for special interests to enter the legislative process and pass bills in favor of their friends or former employers. Delaware does however have the framework in a forgotten set of ethics guidelines that could be applied to and enforced with the reverse revolving door.

We already struggle with transparency and accountability in this state. We must do better.

Delaware should move to end the revolving door of politics and be an example to the nation. Until then, the people should consider the implications of electing former lobbyists to office and the impact this will have on the future of lawmaking in the First State.

New emergency order requires masks in homes, private gatherings

From Delaware Live

When Gov. John Carney rounded up all the modifications of his State of Emergency Order and put them into one new document, it added a sentence:

“A private residence where there is an indoor gathering of more than 10 people who do not reside at that property shall be considered an indoor space open to the public for purposes of this Order.”

That is new, confirmed Carney spokesman Jon Starkey, “though we have had some restrictions on private gatherings for a while.”

The new rule comes as Labor Day weekend is heading into full swing, with the last parties and cookouts of summer.

The new verbiage showed up Thursday, when Carney issued a press release saying that he had signed the 27th modification to his State of Emergency, combining all active COVID-19 restrictions into a single order, creating an Omnibus Executive Order.

The modification also formalized reopening bar service in Delaware beach communities and required that businesses more strictly enforce face covering requirements among their employees.

The new addition — in the section about face coverings — essentially requires homeowners and guests to follow the same protocols that restaurants and other public places do: wearing masks unless eating, but making sure the face coverings are on if you are moving around.

Read more

Delaware Black Chamber of Commerce set to launch soon

From Delaware Business Times

MIDDLETOWN — To amplify the voices of and opportunities for success for Black business owners, a Middletown consultant is leading efforts to form a Delaware chapter of the National Black Chamber of Commerce.

Khan Consulting President and CEO Ayanna Khan started the groundwork for the Delaware Black Chamber of Commerce (DEBCC) this summer, but envisions a future organization that not only advocates for Black business owners, but also grants them a door to funding opportunities and workforce development.

“There is definitely a disconnect in the business community when it comes to helping Black business owners,” Khan told Delaware Business Times. “This will be the state’s first chapter, and it’s time to start one. We need to pull together to make sure these businesses are not left behind.”

A survey conducted by the Global Strategy Group showed that only 12% of Black and Latino businesses who applied for aid from the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) received the full loan amount requested. About 26% of businesses surveyed received only a fraction of what was requested.

In Delaware, 14 out of the total 2,073 PPP loan recipients identified as businesses or nonprofits run by a person of color. Of the 14, five recipients identified as a Black-owned business or organization. Overall, 138 applicants identified as white and 1,921 applicants did not identify their race.

That inequality spoke volumes to Khan, especially since her firm helped nonprofits bring in millions through grants and fundraising.

“Seeing that Black business owners locked out of the PPP across the country because they didn’t fit the eligibility or the requirements, that really spoke to me,” Khan added. “Here I am, able to bring in millions for my clients and there’s a chance that businesses like mine wouldn’t see anywhere near the amount. No matter where you are in the state, it’s access to capital that’s the main struggle for Black businesses.”

Read more

As Maryland enters stage 3 of COVID-19 reopening, movie theaters, live venues can open

From The News Journal

Movie theaters and entertainment venues can begin reopening later this week as Maryland moves into the third stage of coronavirus reopening, Gov. Larry Hogan said Tuesday.

All businesses in Maryland will be able to open in stage three, Hogan said. That includes movie theaters and live venues that have been shuttered since early in the pandemic.

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan

Entertainment facilities will be allowed to operate at 50 percent capacity or up to 100 people at indoor venues or 250 people at outdoor venues, Hogan said. Retail stores and houses of worship can now move from operating at 50 percent capacity to 75 percent capacity, he said.

“I want to remind the people of Maryland that moving into stage 3 does not mean that this crisis is behind us,” Hogan said, “and remind them that we must remain vigilant so that we can keep Maryland open for business.”

Maryland’s 24 jurisdictions can choose to apply more restrictive rules.

Hogan on Tuesday also announced that Maryland will be one of the first states in the country to provide some COVID-19 tracing services through a collaboration with Apple and Google.

Read more

Sixty-acre sports complex set to open near Georgetown

From The News Journal

Georgetown’s long-awaited Sandhill Fields sports complex is set to open Sept. 9.

The almost 60-acre property at 20330 Sand Hill Road features eight regulation Bermuda grass soccer/lacrosse fields and six regulation pickleball courts.

A 3.1-mile regulation cross-country course is part of Sandhill Fields’ 3.5-mile wooded walking trail, half of which is an above-ground boardwalk.

“You have to see it,” said Lewes’ Joe Schell, who first envisioned the complex and donated the land. “It’s something else.”

About half of the walking trail at Sandhill Fields consists of a raised boardwalk.

There are picnic pavilions, restrooms and ample parking. Two playgrounds are still being built. An area at the center is reserved for food trucks.

The “first-class multisport center,” as described by Sandhill Fields’ website, is open to the public for free use. Sports clubs who wish to use the fields for practice, games and tournaments will be charged a fee.

It cost around $6.5 million, part of which was funded by a loan from the Sussex County Council. Any profit will go toward maintenance or future expansion.

Schell said a few organizations have already booked the fields for this fall. He is looking forward to busy spring and summer seasons next year.

Read more

As donations run dry, closure looms for some Delaware nonprofits. What about their clients?

From The News Journal

Sixty-seven percent of surveyed nonprofits said they need financial support to pay for the cost of personal protection equipment required by state order, and 52% of nonprofits who received Personal Paycheck Protection loans from the Small Business Administration will need more to retain employees, according to a survey of over 100 Delaware nonprofits by the Delaware COVID-19 Emergency Response Initiative.

Meals on Wheels volunteer Bob Casey, right, delivers a meal to a recipient Thursday, August 27, 2020, in Dover.

But much of this funding will be gone by the fall.

The survey found that despite assistance from the philanthropic community and funds from the federal government, nearly a third of responding nonprofits have less than 10 weeks of available cash on hand.

Take Modern Maturity, which doubled its production when the pandemic began and went from delivering 1,500 meals a day to almost 3,000 for several weeks. Now, the center is back to 1,500 meals but has added services like phone check-ins to make sure the seniors are receiving care.

Employees also keep an eye on clients like Hutson. Recently, she told the carrier that her fan was broken during one of Delaware’s particularly hot weeks and the center provided her with one – free of charge – and set it up.

Read more

Delawareans have a choice: taxed to death or death to burdensome taxes

Only two things in life are certain: death and taxes. For Delawareans, this isn’t just an old adage, but real life.

Without caution from the people, this will not stop. Only the limited balance in the Delaware senate is currently keeping things in check—but only a little. Delaware’s tax increases over the last two General Assemblies (2016-2018, 2018-2020) were the 6th highest in the nation.

Delaware’s has the highest per capita revenue from corporate license fees and the fifth-highest per capita corporate income tax revenue. Corporate license fees accounted for 12.8 percent of Delaware’s state and local general revenue in 2017 (for comparison, the national average was 0.2 percent), but we risk losing this source of funding if we force businesses to incorporate out of state.

You’ll hear many people tout Delaware’s status as a “tax-free” state, but that simply is not the case. Yes, Delaware does not have the sales tax, but we more than make up for that. Take for example the reason why we are able to avoid having a sales tax: the gross receipts tax.

Delaware is one of only seven states with a gross receipts tax. These invisible sales taxes raise prices as these taxes are shifted onto consumers, and tend to impact lower incomes the most. Moving away from these economically damaging taxes can thus be a part of states’ plans for economic recovery.

As if that wasn’t enough, the state’s individual income tax burden is on the top half of the nation, with one of the highest individual income taxes. This has been an ongoing issue, but the impact of this tax will be felt harder as we continue operating under a COVID emergency order that has wrecked our economy.

Since 2016, Governor Carney approved large tax increases but he did not work alone. The taxes started as bills heard and voted on in Dover that were approved for his final vote.

These bills raised corporate franchise taxes, realty transfer taxes, alcohol taxes, and cigarette taxes. Delaware now has the highest real estate transfer tax in the nation and some of this highest excise taxes among all fifty states.

These tax increases were estimated to raise more than $200 million annually, the exact amount the state claimed was a “surplus” less than one year ago.Over-taxing residents is not a surplus or a celebration to commemorate with additional spending.

Have these measures even been worth it?

No. Delawareans get very little bang for their buck. Our taxpayer return on investment (ROI) is near the bottom nationally, despite having some of the highest taxes per capita. We spend more on education and health care than most other states, yet continue to see outcomes that put us in the bottom of national ranks.

Our representatives are not representing our best interests when they continuously raise taxes, taking money away from hard working Delawareans. The results speak for themselves, and what they’re saying is that it is time to change what we’ve been doing.

In November, Delawareans have a choice: taxed to death or death to burdensome taxes.

Say No to Delaware’s Status Quo

Delaware: banks, beaches, Biden. We’re the First State and the Diamond State—a small wonder. We are known by and for many things, but home means something different to everyone.

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.

Delaware is 34th nationally in the Best States to Live In report from WalletHub. A lot of things factor into that position.

Delaware’s quality of life ranked low at 47th nationally, based on indicators like the average commute time, access to public transportation, and more. The same report had Delaware’s economy at 38th, based on the unemployment rate, general tax-friendliness, entrepreneurial activity, and more.

Delaware has room for improvement on all of these indicators.

Improving these issues, either through legislative or regulatory change, would have a massive impact on the state. Not only would it be better for Delawareans to see these changes, but these measures would help to attract businesses into the state as well. Right now, Delaware plays a costly game of corporate welfare at the taxpayer’s expense, despite that being at the bottom of the listof what businesses look for when selected a location.

We consistently rank poorly nationally for unemployment, and are currently 36th for July 2020. There’s no amount of money that can be given to a corporation to hide our shortcomings in these important areas.

Even if a business does select Delaware, are we attracting workers?

Delaware ranks 29th overall for its affordability, and is even lower for its cost of living and housing affordability. That’s quite unattractive for prospective residents. We have one of the highest income taxes and Delaware’s real estate transfer tax being one of the highest in the nation. Even if we attract businesses and worker to the state, the extra thousands involved in buying a home may make the workers second-guess their decision.

It’s issues like this that need to be fixed in order to make our home a great place to be. Education, quality of the job market, a trained workforce and so much more are the key to improving Delaware.

Currently, our representatives and leaders are not working to truly improve Delaware. Every action seems like a band aid for a bullet wound, and Delawareans are tired of seeing their state crumble 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 these national standings and push us further down the path of our status quo, or could be the one that makes a decisive change that could put the First State back on top.