Thursday, January 27, 2011

Budget Release

Governor Jack Markell released his recommended budget for fiscal year 2012 today. Usually, a budget address by the Governor, attended by press and other interested parties, introduces the document. However, bad weather kept the event digital with release of the budget on the Office of Management and Budget website.

The state and the nation go into the third straight year of tough economic times. The recommended budget contains more than $100 million in cuts from state agencies and programs. Layoffs will happen among the "seasonal and casual" workforce. Included in the cuts is $7 million less for school transportation.

On the positive side of things, the state will fund 100 more teaching units as our schools continue to grow. Educator and other state worker salaries will remain frozen, however, no reductions or furloughs are being sought. Full day kindergarten in Christina and Milford will be supported by the state. And the new DCAS testing system will be funded.

Fortunately, rumored large cuts to Medicaid did not materialize although there will be plan changes and some hardship as the program struggles to keep up with swelling ranks.

The Governor's recommended budget now goes for a long look and a lot of work by the Joint Finance Committee. The JFC will work from now until March 15th on the budget while the rest of the legislature is on recess.

The JFC will be under the able leadership of chairs, Representative Dennis P. Williams and Senator Harris McDowell. Although it is fair to say that former senate chair, Nancy Cook will be sorely missed.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

State of the State

Governor Jack Markell gave the State of the State speech today before a joint session of the Delaware House and Senate. The Senate chamber and balcony were packed to hear the speech that sets policy direction for the coming year.

Educators, state workers, and troopers all received praise. This might come as a surprise to the News Journal which has seemed to be hoping for, if not actually attempting to provoke, a fight between the public employee unions and the Governor.

The Governor stated his concerns with escalating health and pension costs and then added: "So the proper course is to work together with our state and public education employees to find the best and fairest ways to achieve near and long-term savings."

"We have begun a dialogue with representatives of the major state and public education union leaderships and leaders from within the General Assembly. I am open to any and all good ideas. But we must secure the necessary savings during this session of the General Assembly , because the cost of delay is just unacceptable."

This section of the speech refers to the fact that representatives from DSEA, AFSCME, and DSTA (troopers) will be meeting with members of the Governor's staff, the Office of Management and Budget, and with a few members of the General Assembly to examine health and pension issues. The model for problem solving is similar to that used several years ago to bring down costs associated with Workers Compensation in Delaware.

While public employees continue to have challenging times, there were indications in the State of the State, that the bad economy will cause hardship for others as well. Medicaid, the source of health care for the poor, seems almost certainly slated for cuts. Additionally, Grant-in-Aid which refers to a whole category of funding for charitable and service organizations may continue to see dwindling funds.

Next Thursday, January 27th, the Governor will release his recommended budget and we will get details around the direction set today.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

They're Off and Running.

The 146th General Assembly of Delaware convened today. As is tradition, many legislators brought family and friends to watch them take the oath of office. Today, everyone kept a watchful eye on weather, keeping ceremonies and receptions brief with a pending snow storm coming up from the south.

The new committee lists are out. The Senate Education Committee is:
David P. Sokola Chair
George H. Bunting Catherine L. Cloutier Bethany A. Hall-Long Margaret Rose Henry Michael S. Katz Liane M. Sorenson
The House Education Committee is:
Teresa Schooley Chair
Darryl Scott Vice Chair
Michael A. Barbieri Donald A. Blakey Stephanie T. Bolden Ruth Briggs King Debra J. Heffernan Earl G. Jaques S. Quinton Johnson Harvey R. Kenton John A. Kowalko Nick T. Manolakos Joseph E. Miro Edward S. Osienski

Welcome to all the new legislators. Let's all keep in mind, it's a marathon, not a sprint. July 1st is a long way away.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Some Opinions Better Not Shared

Delaware's News Journal Opinion Page got it wrong again. Today's spread of love came from a piece called "Calif. governor offers lesson to Delaware, D.C. politicians". What follows is a confusing piece that somehow tries to tie Governor Brown to the News Journal's own anti-union, anti-tax agenda.

The start of the NJ article puts some blame for California's mess on the movement against property taxes. However, in NJ form it quickly moves on to blame Brown's support for collective bargaining, powerful teacher unions, and income taxes. The News Journal implies that Brown will now correct these "mistakes" in his second chance as Governor of California.

Before going any further we should point out that Brown has not renounced unions. This is a NJ fantasy. Brown has been pro-worker rights throughout his career including his recent tenure as California Attorney General.

While waxing philosophical on California's economic woes, the NJ might stop and consider that 48 of 50 states are in bad economic shape right now. It's called a severe recession. States are driven to bankruptcies in recessions because revenues drop due to mass job loss and falling business profits; at the same time the need for services such as unemployment insurance and health care rises because of the same job loss. How can anyone have a serious conversation about the economic condition of any state without first acknowledging that the PRIMARY cause of their problem is the current recession? It is a revenue problem, not a spending problem.

Public employee unions, including those in California have given workers rights and FAIR pay and benefits. The emphasis is on "fair" because in spite of irresponsible reporting, public employees are not over-paid and they have health care and pensions, but those are not "Cadillac" or "extravagant" or any other exaggeration. State workers start at around $17,000 a year. If one is lucky and sticks around for 30 years, then they might make as much a first year junior executive.

Income taxes that ask more of those who have greatly benefited from society do not cause mass migrations of the affluent or businesses as suggested in the NJ opinion. There is absolutely no data that shows the wealthy fleeing any state if they are asked to pay 1% more tax on the top bracket. This is myth and it is harmful myth.

Shame on the NJ for once again slamming working people.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Flowers Is New Treasurer

In an impressive ceremony this morning, Chip Flowers became Delaware's new State Treasurer, and the first African American to be elected to a statewide office in the First State.

Flowers chose the Delaware Museum of Art in Wilmington as the location for friends to witness him taking the oath of office. Special guests of this event included Governor Markell, Lt. Governor Denn, US Senators Carper and Coons, Congressman John Carney, Speaker Bob Gilligan of the Delaware House, Senator Blevins, Senator McDowell, Representatives Swartzkopf, Scott, Johnson, and Jaques.

Senator Carper and Governor Markell who were speakers on the program, were both former Delaware Treasurers.

Treasurer Flowers is a very bright and energetic young man who wants to do a lot with the Treasurer's position. He is an economic progressive who has interesting ideas. Unfortunately, he may face difficulties getting the resources he needs to run programs. Delaware, along with the rest of the nation, will enter the third straight year of budget deficits as revenues remain low. Tomorrow is a lot of work for Flowers, but today should be savored.