by James DeChene
This week was the first in the four-week sprint to June 30. Highlights this week included: HB110, the legalization of marijuana bill was released out of House Revenue and Finance committee. DSCC remains opposed to the bill for reasons such as restrictions in how employers can create employment policies surrounding marijuana use, the current difficulty for employers finding qualified applicants that can pass a drug screen (which we think will be exacerbated by legalization) and the lack of a spot test for impairment.
SB105, the bill that would raise Delaware’s minimum wage to $11 in January 2020 and then by a dollar each year until it hits $15 in 2024 (with an imbedded escalator to raise with cost of living), was tabled in committee this week, HOWEVER, it will be heard in Senate Labor Committee next Wednesday, June 12. This will be one of the Key Votes (along with HB110) that DSCC will be using when making the decision on whether to support candidates.
Also this week was the State Chamber’s End-of-Session Brunch. Attendees heard from Tim Holly, chair of the DSCC Employer Advocacy Committee, on HB110, from Gary Stockbridge, DSCC Chairman, Chair of the Delaware Workforce Development Board (DWDB) and President of Delmarva Power, on what the DWDB is up to and how members can help in workforce training. We then heard from Solomon Adote from the Delaware Department on Technology & Information on the Cyber Security Council and the work they are doing to develop best practices on how to combat cybersecurity threats.
Rounding out the morning were remarks from House Speaker Pete Schwartzkopf on what to expect in June, including legislation on clean water, medical and recreational marijuana, education investments and how the state budget is shaping up. Senate President David McBride offered his perspective including acknowledging efforts by the General Assembly and the State Chamber to help provide economic development opportunities in Delaware. He also discussed what the Senate will be working on, including minimum wage in committee, education and transportation infrastructure investment
by James DeChene
This week was the first of the Memorial Day break, and the first of the Joint Finance Committee working on marking up the FY20 budget. Good news for budget writers came in the form of DEFAC numbers on Monday, adding close to $80 million to the forecast. Split almost evenly between the current year ($40.7 million) and next year ($38 million), this meeting continued the trend of meetings since September where an average of $40 million to the current year was brought in. This month the largest increase came from personal income tax filings. The total increases for FY19 total $200 million and nets out to an additional $160 to spend, or as the Chamber advocates, to set a large portion aside for when the economy takes a downturn.
That message was the focus of a letter sent to the members of Joint Finance this week from Chamber president Mike Quaranta that setting aside these dollars is good stewardship of public dollars. As a large part of Delaware’s revenue stream does not move with the economy, it’s important to save now while the money is coming in.
More good news in that Delaware’s unemployment rate is the lowest since 1988, and we haven’t suffered the national numbers where the unemployment numbers are down, but so is workforce participation. A good win-win for Delaware.
And lastly, the best news of all this week, is the three-day weekend. Memorial Day, BBQs and vacation aside, is the time when we should reflect on those who gave their lives for the lifestyle we currently enjoy. The freedoms we have today certainly weren’t free to achieve, and the thousands of men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice deserve recognition in how they helped shape this great country of ours.
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 Delaware Economic and Financial Advisory Council (DEFAC) issued its December forecast on Wednesday afternoon. The December forecast is what Governor Carney will use when finalizing his recommended budget, to be released on January 4th. For the first time, his budget will utilize portions of the budget smoothing process, a legislative proposal that failed last year, but was issued in part via Executive Order. The order places a limit on spending growth and sets aside a portion of the surplus into a Budget Reserve Account.
DEFAC reported spendable cash (98% of projected revenues) is up from the last forecast issued in September by $66.6 million. It also projects an increase of revenue of 1.7% for FY19 and 2.1% in FY20. It’s worth noting that the FY18 revenue growth rate was 9.5%. While there shouldn’t be a big budget showdown next year, there also won’t be a big windfall to be had under these predictions. One remaining unknown cost driver will be depend on how a court case is decided regarding how Delaware funds its schools, and how much more will need to be appropriated. More to come on that.
The Delaware Department of Labor released a statement with details about the minimum wage increase:
Minimum wage will be increasing for most individuals in Delaware twice in 2019. On January 1, it will be $8.75 and then on October 1, it will be $9.25. But, for the first time in Delaware history, we will now have a multi-tiered minimum wage. The General Assembly adopted a "Youth Rate" and a "Training Rate" that is $8.25. The youth rate applies to workers ages 14 through 17.
The training rate applies to adult workers during their first ninety days on a new job. These new categories are $.50 less than the regular minimum wage rate. Effectively, that means workers under 18 and new employees with less than 90 days on the job won't see an increase on January 1st. Their first increase ($8.75) will come when they become eligible for the regular rate or on October 1, 2019, with the next general increase, whichever comes first.
The labor law poster sets out all the rates. It is required to be displayed in all workplaces in a place accessible to employees and where they regularly pass. The poster is available on the Department of Labor’s website and can be downloaded in English here and Spanish here.
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
The JFC completed work on a $4.3 billion budget this week, leaving roughly $61 million in additional spending between now and June 30th. Restoration of Grant in Aid funding from last year’s cuts are expected (about $8 million), but there will still be a hefty amount left to distribute, which may be sent to the Capital Improvement Committee for an increase in one-time infrastructure spending this year.
Next week, the General Assembly is back in session, and starting the countdown of 13 legislative days left until June 30. They will have their hands full with pending gun legislation, finalizing spending, and working on the remaining bills relevant to the business community including making changes to the WARN Act, Sexual Harassment Training, Minimum Wage, and Biometric Data Privacy. The Chamber hopes the General Assembly will introduce and pass the first leg of a constitutional amendment related to budget smoothing. We will keep you informed on all these issues, and others as they come up.
by James DeChene
Last week Governor Carney and Treasurer Simpler released a bipartisan plan to help address Delaware’s economic boom and bust cycles. Last year’s $400 million budget shortfall highlighted the volatility in our state’s revenues, and this year’s $400 million increase in revenues, while a boon, is an $800 million swing in just one year. For a state with a $4 billion budget, that kind of shift is incredibly significant.
Enter in the budget smoothing idea. Making changes to smooth out these peaks and valleys in our revenue stream has been a Chamber priority since 2015 when DEFAC released its revenue report. This report highlighted how volatile Delaware’s revenues are and provided a blueprint on how to prepare Delaware for the future, putting it on a path toward sustainability. The state has undertaken some of that blueprint by making changes to Delaware’s escheat program and by changing how companies calculate their corporate income tax to a single sales factor. The next part of the process needs to happen now! A constitutional amendment, the first leg of which needs to be passed this year, would help create a true rainy day fund to be used in times of need, and added to in good times. In fact, the Joint Finance Committee itself voted this week to defer $46 million of this year’s revenue to future spending—exactly the way the budget smoothing process would be utilized.
The benefits to budget smoothing are good for businesses, who won’t be subject to knee jerk reactions to raise money fast to balance a budget through tax and fee increases. It also helps Delaware’s nonprofits who receive Grant-in-Aid funding better plan year to year instead of facing last minute cuts in the down years and hoping for their replacement in the up years.
With revenues projected to be close to $500 million this year above last year’s budget, the time is ripe to make improvements to Delaware’s future. There’s no negative impact to funding, or to this year’s budget, and the case is strong to act now to plan for an uncertain future.
James DeChene is the Chamber's Senior Vice President of Government Affairs.