by James DeChene
This week kicked off the first round of Joint Finance Committee Hearings. Meeting throughout February, JFC members will hear from each state government agency on what their budget needs are for the next year and what and how the programs they provide are faring. Of note this year is the Governor’s Recommended Budget setting aside 2% of revenues to be used in times of economic downturn. That roughly $90 million is added to $45 million that was set aside last year. This means there is a $135 million pot of money that will be carried forward into next year’s budget, given legislators follow the budget plan. The problem will be if legislators choose to ignore the Governor and invest that money in long-term programs requiring ongoing revenues to sustain them. The State Chamber has been bullish on supporting efforts of budget stabilization and remains committed to that effort.
Also of note this week was a CNBC article on jobs at risk of automation. According to the article, automation will impact 25% of the US working population and many of the jobs that are either entry level, or slightly above, including cashiers, customer service representatives, and even commercial truck drivers. You can read Mike's President's Message for more on that and a link to the article. What this means functionally for policy makers is that focusing on legislative items like raising the minimum wage or creating other barriers to employment will only serve to hasten the demise of these jobs. Kiosks and other self-service centers will be adopted more quickly, leaving behind a displaced workforce lacking the training or skills necessary to move on to their next jobs. Instead, focus should be on providing skills training to targeted industries, so instead of being a cashier, a person can be a technician working to maintain and repair the kiosk.
by James DeChene
This week’s focus in Dover was on two bills directed toward the 500 federal workers living in Delaware currently furloughed. The first bill, which passed both the House and Senate, allows these workers to petition the court to halt eviction and/or loss of insurance policies or automobiles due to non-payment for the duration of the federal shutdown and for a duration of 120 days after. It would also limit the amount loan holders could charge during this time period, capped at 6%, no matter the original loan terms. The second bill, which passed the House, but failed in the Senate, would provide furloughed workers the opportunity to apply for state backed, low interest loans.
Also this week the Governor announced his recommended budget. Of note to Chamber members was the outlining of how a newly created infrastructure fund ($10 million dollars) would be managed, allocating $15 million to colleges and universities toward economic development initiatives; adding $7 million additional funding in the Bond bill to UD, DSU and DelTech, allocated for deferred maintenance; and setting aside $12.5 million to Delaware’s Strategic Fund.
The General Assembly will be in recess throughout February as the Joint Finance Committee will meet to hold budget markup sessions. They will return March 5.
by James DeChene
The bills that passed this week in Dover included an Equal Rights Amendment to Delaware’s constitution. The first leg of the amendment passed last year, in the 149th General Assembly, and the language contained in the amendment bars discrimination on the basis of sex. The House passed a measure allowing alcohol sales at the new 76’ers stadium, and the Senate passed a mini-bond bill providing more funds for capital improvements across the state. Each bill crosses the chamber to be heard next week.
Also of note this week was Governor Carney’s State of the State address. The speech is used to review policies and initiatives this administration has put in place, and also serves as a blueprint for what will be this session’s priorities.
The overview included a review of Chamber supported and implemented measures like the investment at the Port of Wilmington, passing the Angel Investor tax credit, the creation of the Delaware Prosperity Partnership, modernizing the Coastal Zone Act, and establishing Opportunity Zones all across the state to bring new jobs in places like Seaford, Newark, Dover, Milford and Claymont.
New priorities outlined by Governor Carney included continuing to invest in broadband in Kent and Sussex counties, creating a new Transportation Infrastructure Investment fund to bolster economic development projects, and investing $60 million in education targeted a low income and English Language Learners and ensuring that all 3rd graders are proficient in reading at grade level.
More to come as Governor Carney will release his recommended budget next week.
by James DeChene
This week was the opening of the 150th General Assembly. Members new and returning were sworn in on Tuesday, and in the Senate committee assignments were officially released.
Items of note included a bill heard in the House Economic Development committee that would allow the new stadium being built in Wilmington permission to sell alcohol. The bill was released from committee where it awaits a full House vote. The House passed HB1, the Equal Rights Amendment. The bill is the second leg of a constitutional amendment that now heads to the Senate to be heard in Senate Executive Committee next week.
Also announced this week, with absolute positive reception, was the Senate Pro Tempore David McBride saying the Senate had seen their last sunrise on July 1. Historically the House and Senate work through the night on July 30 and into the wee hours of July 1 (last year the session ended at 8:30 AM). Under the new rules if the Senate has not completed all its work, it will recess at 1 AM and will reconvene at 4 PM later that day on July 1. Lather, rinse, repeat until all work is completed. A very welcome change by the staff, lobbyists and general public forced to make a bleary eyed treks home in prior years.
Next week the Governor gives his State of the State address on Thursday.
I also want to share the US Chamber of Commerce State of American Business address from their president Tom Donohue, highlighting how businesses are faring, and what priorities the organization is focusing on. The speech is worth a listen: https://www.uschamber.com/
by James DeChene
Next Tuesday, the day after the State Chamber’s Annual Dinner (see you there), the 150th General Assembly will gavel into session, with roughly 20% new members between the House and Senate. Other changes include a new Senate Secretary (best of luck, Joy), some new staff faces, new seating charts, and new committee assignments and offices for members. Some things, though, remain the same, including the “Delaware Blue” paint scheme that the lobby core will be staring at for the next six months.
For some members, Tuesday will represent the first time they will vote “Yes” or “No,” and if history holds, they will do so a few hundred times over the next two years. The variety of items facing their votes will be numerous, and based on the pre-filed legislation so far, we know of a few specifics. Two new top tax brackets for high earners, an Equal Rights Amendment that when passed will become a Delaware constitutional amendment, and changing the polling hours for school board elections. Another stack of pre-filed bills will be released today, and certainly more will come as session continues.
Items to watch include legislation to legalize recreational marijuana, more changes to Delaware’s minimum wage, proposed changes to Delaware’s LLC regulations, predictive scheduling, and a host of unknown, but important, issues that will face the business community.
As legislation is introduced that impacts your business we and your elected officials need to hear from you. Share with us how new proposed legislation will impact your employees or force other changes to your business; or how it could change your plans for investment, expansion, or your ability to stay in business. These stories are critical to be heard, and we will have measures in place to make it as easy as possible for you to comment without taking time away from focusing on your operations. Your voice matters and the State Chamber works to make it heard.
James DeChene is the Chamber's Senior Vice President of Government Affairs.