by James DeChene
A number of good news items this week helps offset the crummy weather, including Ashland announcing they will be moving their headquarters from Kentucky to Delaware. Also in the news was a group, Capital Ideas, ranking Delaware first in innovation among the 50 states due to the high numbers of innovation patents awarded to Delaware businesses, at a rate of 20 utility patents per 1,000 people. It should come as no surprise that DuPont’s presence in Delaware is a leading reason for our ranking.
Good news this week if you live in Sussex County and you have a computer. Gov. John Carney on Tuesday announced a state initiative to partner with the private sector to bring broadband wireless Internet to underserved areas of rural Kent and Sussex counties.
News of developing the AstraZeneca site on Rt. 202 was welcomed this week. Featuring a mixed use of apartments, shops, restaurants, office space and a hotel, the project has the potential to breathe life back into the corridor, and coupled with the proposed development at 202 and Silverside Road, a lot of new opportunities for businesses to expand or relocate are on the horizon.
Lastly, it was announced that Damian DeStefano will be the new head of the Division of Small Business. You may remember Damian as Governor Markell’s economic development policy advisor. It will be good to work with him again in his new role.
On August 2, ESGR will be having their annual banquet recognizing businesses in the region that go above and beyond in their service to the men and women of the National Guard and Reserve. In addition, the Joint Military Affairs Committee of the Delaware State and New Castle County Chambers, along with the Military Affairs Committee of the Central Delaware Chamber of Commerce, will present the Delaware “Warrior Friendly Business Award” to one large and one small business.
This is a great chance to recognize these companies and to learn more about how to better serve our men and women in uniform. This event is a celebration of the win-win situation businesses are finding when they employ service members and veterans. If you are interested in attending, please call Paulette Mason at 302-561-8415 by Friday, July 27.
For the past three years, we’ve been following the appeal of the Delaware and Maryland PSCs to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to grant a rehearing of how a regional power authority (PJM) calculated the cost allocation to cover the building of a transmission power line across from NJ to the Delmarva Peninsula.
On July 19, FERC announced it would grant the rehearing. In the announcement they note:
"…we grant rehearing. Specifically, we find that it is unjust and unreasonable to apply PJM’s solution-based DFAX cost allocation method to Regional Facilities, Necessary Lower Voltage Facilities, and Lower Voltage Facilities that address stability-related reliability issues, including the Artificial Island Project. To determine the just and reasonable rate to be applied, we are establishing paper hearing procedures."
This is good news for Delaware and Maryland rate payers. To recap, previously PJM allocated over 90% of the project cost to be paid for by Delmarva zone ratepayers, driving the cost of power for those receiving less than 10% of the benefit of the line’s use. The estimated project costs are $279 million according to the latest PJM projection, meaning Delmarva Zone customers will be expected to bear responsibility for $250 million. The economic impact to large industrial users would be immense, and for both large and smaller users, concerns over closures and job losses remain.
The Chamber will continue to monitor this issue, and weigh in as appropriate.
by James DeChene
The Delaware House of Representatives held a late night, with a 3:30 a.m. vote to increase Delaware’s minimum wage by $.50 twice next year, in January and October 2019. House Republicans were able to negotiate the passage of a bill that would create two lower-wage groups—a training wage, and a teen wage, to be paid at most $.50 under the minimum wage once the bill goes into effect on January 1, 2019.
The Delaware State Chamber, along with other business groups, were on hand throughout the last night of session to provide input and feedback on how this legislation was being crafted and handled.
Each year legislation has been introduced to raise the minimum wage, which was last raised in 2015. Each year the legislation is sent to the Senate Labor Committee (as it generally originates in the Senate), where it passes, and goes to the full Senate for a vote. This year, the first minimum wage bill, SB110, followed that process.
At a hearing lasting two hours and full of testimony from nonprofits, the agriculture community, and members of chambers from around the state, all offered testimony on the negative impact increasing the minimum wage would have on their businesses and their employees. Ultimately SB110 would fail in the Senate when it came up for a floor vote.
Fast forward to later in the year when SB170 was introduced, another bill by the same sponsor, Sen. Marshall, that would raise the minimum wage. The bill was heard, and released, from the Senate Labor Committee. On July 30, SB170 passed the Senate as part of a negotiated deal to provide relief for Delaware casinos, and headed over to the House and was assigned to the House Economic Development Committee.
In years past (at least since 2014), when a minimum wage bill passed the Senate, and headed to the House, the bill was heard, and failed in committee. The same process of having impacted businesses, nonprofits and farms share their stories followed, and ultimately, members of that committee would vote to defeat the bill.
Last night, in a dramatic departure from the usual process, members of the House voted to bring SB170 to the floor for action under a suspension of the rules, a process normally reserved for non-controversial bills. As evidenced this year, with other legislation in the Senate, departure from that process seems to be increasing in its frequency, a trend we hope does not become the norm.
What is most disturbing about what happened on July 1, is that members of the general public, both opponents and supporters of a minimum wage increase, were unable to have their voices heard. Thankfully, a second bill was negotiated to provide alternative wages for training and for teens, but that shouldn’t have been undertaken in the wee hours of the morning.
The Delaware State Chamber, along with the New Castle County Chamber, the Central Delaware Chamber, the Delaware Restaurant Association, the Delaware Food Industry Council, the Delaware Chain Drug Association, the National Federation of Independent Business, and other business groups have all worked together over the years, including this year, to let legislators know the negative impacts of raising the minimum wage, and the numerous studies showing how it negatively impacts the employees they are trying to help.
The Chamber remains disappointed in the passage of SB170 and will continue with others in the business community to maintain the message that these types of bills hurt business and they hurt workers. Legislators will continue to be told that businesses will have to decide how to cut additional costs to pay for this added payroll expense. It is imperative that people working full time for minimum wage are encouraged to add to their education and outfit themselves with skills that meet workforce needs in order to improve their personal or family situation.
For more information regarding Chamber advocacy efforts, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
by James DeChene
The General Assembly ended work at 8:30 a.m. on July 1. Included was Grant in Aid and capital spending. A bill passed at 4 a.m. to raise minimum wage by $.50 the next two years. The bill did not get a house hearing and was a controversial action decried by House Rs. DSCC supported passage of a bill to sustain the funding for the state’s brownfield’s program. Also passed was a bill mandating sexual harassment training. DSCC worked to amend that bill making it better for business. Look for a more in depth recap in the next issue of Delaware Business magazine.
by James DeChene
This week in Dover featured the crush of bills needed to be heard before the end of session early morning July 1. Included were: modifications to the WARN Act (Chamber supported), the failure of the legalization of recreational marijuana (Chamber opposed passage), a bill allowing insurance companies to offer ERISA type plans to smaller employers (Chamber supported), and the supplemental spending bill that contains raises for state employees.
Still out there awaiting June 30 action are the bills related to minimum wage, the Workplace Fraud Act, sexual harassment training, and the bond bill, as well as whatever last minute surprises crop up.
by James DeChene
This week the Senate passed the FY2019 $4.27 billion budget, where it will now come before the House for consideration before June 30. Contained within are raises for state workers, increases to special education funding, and it sets aside $46 million in deferred spending for next year’s operating budget. The Senate also approved a bill Wednesday that will provide 12 weeks of paid leave for state employees. Governor Carney signed the bill late Wednesday night. Also passed was a resolution creating a study group on the impacts of predictive scheduling on the retail, hospitality and food industries. The Chamber and the Retail Council have spots on the taskforce, and the measure must now pass the House to take effect.
Released from House Labor Committee was a measure mandating sexual harassment training in the workplace. The Chamber worked to amend this bill to reflect what the business community already does related to training. That bill now goes to the House floor for a vote.
HB409, related to the WARN Act governing how employers must notify Department of Labor of significant layoffs or plant closings, passed the House. It was released from Senate Labor Committee and now faces a Senate vote. This was another bill the Chamber worked to amend, with feedback from our members.
Four days remain in the 149th General Assembly.
by James DeChene
The Senate introduced the FY19 budget this week and it is now under review by members of the Senate in preparation for a potential vote next week. This introduction is the earliest in, if not history, certainly in recent memory, and is a result of a windfall of projected revenues for this fiscal year and next. As mentioned earlier the budget total is $4.3 million with approximately $46 million set aside for deferred spending in the following year.
Also this week, an amended version of HB409 passed the House with State Chamber support. Making minor changes to how companies with over 100 employees alert the Department of Labor of pending significant layoffs or plant closures. The Chamber worked with the Department on modifying a number of provisions contained in the bill to protect small businesses.
A bill mandating sexual harassment training stalled in the House Labor Committee this week. The State Chamber has been working for the last 3 months to make changes to the legislation to take into consideration what the business community in Delaware already does for training. That bill continues to be worked on, and is expected back in committee next week.
With 7 days left of session, there remain a number of bills pending important to the business community—minimum wage, legalization of recreational marijuana and biometric privacy to name a few. Stay tuned for more details as they happen.
by Mark DiMaio
The Chamber’s annual End-of-Session Legislative Brunch was held on June 7 at Dover Downs. The brunch marked the last official event for retiring Chamber President, Rich Heffron.
Attendees heard from Kurt Foreman, President & CEO of the Delaware Prosperity Partnership. Kurt discussed Delaware’s current economic situation as being “a glass half full.” Delaware has experienced moderate employment growth, with the construction sector leading the way and other employment sectors showing modest growth. Housing starts are the strongest they’ve been in several years and Delaware’s housing affordability is more positive than the US market overall. Mr. Foreman shared the Delaware Prosperity Partnership’s four main areas of focus:
James DeChene, the Chamber’s Sr. Vice President of Government Affairs, spoke about the “Tale of Two Budgets.” Last year Delaware faced a $400 million-dollar budget shortfall followed by a nearly $400 million-dollar budget surplus this year. The fundamental question here is how we can make the budget process easier, and more efficient and accurate. Boom and bust cycles may be natural, but helping to smooth the highs and lows will help put Delaware on more stable, certain financial footing. The Chamber strongly supports a bipartisan plan put forward by the Governor and State Treasurer to create a true “rainy day” fund to be used in lean budget times and added to in good economic times. This proposed plan requires a constitutional amendment, and requires passing changes to our tax structure and limits on spending. The constitutional amendment needs to be passed this year, as it takes two consecutive legislative sessions to become a part of Delaware Constitution.
Attendees also heard from Senate Pro Tempore David McBride and Speaker of the House Pete Schwartzkopf. Senator McBride highlighted the state’s budget and the fact that it would be completed well before the end of June. However, he wasn’t sure that the Senate would pass the minimum wage bill this year. He gave credit to the State Chamber for its role in the passage of the Coastal Zone Modernization Act last session. Representative Schwartzkopf spoke on the passage of legislation to bring $580 million dollars of private investment to the Port of Wilmington. He also pointed to the state budget’s restoration of the senior drug program, funding for special education and salary increases for teachers.
This year’s Small Business Guardian awards were presented to Senator Brian Pettyjohn and Representative Harvey Kenton.
by James DeChene
With the General Assembly back this week a few bills of interest to the business community were worked in both committees, and on the House and Senate floors.
SB204 related to storm water management is a bill the business community and DNREC have been working on together. It provides a way for redevelopment to operate by establishing interim standards and criteria in order to permit redevelopment projects to move forward while revised regulations are being drafted. The interim standards set forth in this Act would effectively "sunset" upon the adoption of regulations governing redevelopment.
SB80, related to the electric industry, allows for investments in infrastructure to be included as an increase without having to go through a PSC rate case. The benefit is to help lengthen the time between filing rate cases, which are costly, whose cost then gets passed along to the rate payer. The bill was a joint effort between large energy users and the energy industry.
SB113, a bill related to the SEU, would provide businesses the opportunity to put a voluntary assessment on energy and/or capital improvements for the life of the unit. The potential benefit to a business is the ability to take a longer term loan that may not be granted under normal borrowing practices. The bill passed the Senate, and now heads to the House to be assigned to committee.
With 10 legislative days left, there are many bills of interest remaining including the budget, bond bill, sexual harassment training, marijuana legalization and apprenticeship training requirements on certain public works projects—all in all a jam packed agenda. More to come.
James DeChene is the Chamber's Senior Vice President of Government Affairs.