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 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 Mark DiMaio
The future is now for expanding the state’s manufacturing sector. While manufacturing jobs in Delaware continue to increase at a modest pace, building blocks have been put into place to spring Delaware forward. Delaware manufacturing will need to combine organic growth with the long-term development of heavier industries in abandoned and underutilized locations. The modernized Coastal Zone Act should propel new investment in Delaware’s manufacturing sector.
In order for Delaware manufacturing to flourish, a strong and skilled workforce in essential. Many Delaware manufacturers are working with Delaware Technical Community College’s workforce training department to develop future employees to handle the rigors of 21st century advanced manufacturing. This advanced training is needed to develop skilled employees to replace older workers who are retiring. In addition to instruction in subjects such as computer programming and robotics, training also focuses on developing better ‘soft’ skills, such as leadership, teamwork and problem-solving, in order to compete in the modern workplace.
The Delaware State Chamber of Commerce and the Delaware Manufacturing Association invite you to learn more the about the future of Delaware Manufacturing at the Spring Legislative Brunch & Manufacturing Conference.
The General Assembly returns next Tuesday with a full plate. Work will commence stemming from taskforces that met over the summer and fall, which include school district redistricting and changes in funding models, and the legalization of recreational marijuana. Thrown into the mix will be legislation to raise money to invest in clean water infrastructure, incentivize angel investors to provide capital to small startups in Delaware, and the fight on minimum wage legislation will no doubt continue. These bills, and ones to come, will be the focus of the Chamber this legislative session, along with continuing to implement legislation passed last year—namely the Delaware Prosperity Partnership and the regulations surrounding modernizing the Coastal Zone Act.
In addition, the Chamber will be involved in ongoing budget discussions as the Administration and General Assembly continue to search for ways to address Delaware’s long term economic growth and sustainability. What will be interesting to see this year, is how the Federal tax plan will impact Delaware. Much of what was contained at the Federal level was proposed at the end of last year’s session to help fill a $350 million budget gap, including increasing the standard deduction, reducing itemized deductions, and modifying personal income tax bracket levels. If the projections the state Department of Finance provided last year hold true, that could mean big money for Delaware coffers, and reduce the chances for last minute budget battles this year.
All this, and more, to come. Stay tuned.
by James DeChene
The General Assembly finished out, for the first time, in what is called “extraordinary session” early Monday morning by passing a budget, a revenue package to pay for it, grants-in-aid, and the bond bill.
Some of the highlights from the last few days in Dover include:
Also of note was the passage of a number of State Chamber priorities, which provides good news for our members. They include:
An important item to note: None of these increases are structural changes or work to address Delaware’s long term revenue and spending issues. Many of the same issues the General Assembly faced this year remain, with the added complication of next year being an election year. It remains to be seen the impact this year will have on future budgets, but the expectation at this point is that next year will be another painful year.
by James DeChene
The General Assembly entered its last week of the 2017 session with over 130 bills on the ready list, and with more bills being prepped and ready to go. Included in the mix are:
In addition to all of these bills, a budget has yet to be finalized as of this writing, and it remains unclear as to whether there will be a budget in place in time to avoid some sort of continuing resolution to keep the government operational through July. More info to come next week in the aftermath of the end of session.
by James DeChene
This week saw the passage of two Chamber legislative priorities in the House—modernizing the Coastal Zone Act and enabling language to create a public-private partnership to replace DEDO’s current structure. Both measures now move to the Senate for consideration, and votes, next week. Many thanks to those of you who wrote letters supporting HB190 (Coastal Zone). If you haven’t yet written to your Senator, you can do so here: www.dscc.com/takeaction.
Also this week, a series of tax bills were released from the House Revenue and Finance Committee. These bills raise the Personal Income Tax levels; remove itemized deductions (replaced with a higher standard deduction); gradually raise the age someone has to reach before they are eligible for the $12,500 exclusion of income for pensions and other retirement income; raise the excise tax on beer, wine and spirits; increase the tax on tobacco products; and increase the LLC tax. These bills will become part of the discussion on how to balance a roughly $350 million budget shortfall, and discussions continue on what expenditure offsets will be made to balance a 50-50 split to cover the gap.
Next week is the last week of session for 2017. Hope remains that a budget deal can be reached prior to June 30th to stave off coming up with a plan to continue budget negotiations into July.
by James DeChene
Wrapping up the week, with seven legislative days left, the General Assembly still has much to do if they plan to adjourn on June 30th. The most important of those tasks remains hammering out a budget deal that can pass. Negotiations continue, but each side remains committed to issues difficult for the other to support. These items include removing prevailing wage from state contracted construction works projects for a period of three years, and raising the Personal Income Tax Rate, which would also include a new top rate of 6.96% for those with incomes above $150,000. Leadership meetings continue, and JFC still has a lot of work ahead of it.
The final DEFAC numbers for this budget session come out on Monday June 20th. Barring significant increases to the Corporate Income or Corporate Franchise taxes, or a surprise escheat settlement, or some other unexpected windfall, revenues are expected to remain flat, meaning our budget gap will remain somewhere in the neighborhood of between $350-400 million.
HB190, the bill to modernize the Coastal Zone Act is expected to see a House vote on Tuesday, and our hope is HB226, the bill to reorganize DEDO into a P3 will also see a House vote next week. SB10, the bill to increase Delaware’s minimum wage was taken off the Senate agenda and not voted on this week. SS1 for SB76 was heard in the Senate Labor Committee, which would require recognized apprenticeship training programs for companies performing state construction work.
Much more to come next week. Stay tuned.
By James DeChene
This week JFC met and voted to cut about $33 million from state spending, including eliminating the State Board of Education. Future meetings, and the process, have been put on hold until legislators pass a series of revenue packages equal to approximately $190 million. To date, the House has passed a measure to raise the Corporate Franchise Tax by $115 million, where it now faces action in the Senate. As has been discussed a, 50-50 split between new revenues and spending cuts concatenate to form the mechanism to balance the budget.
Next week the General Assembly returns for June, with 13 legislative days left until the end of session on June 30. There are a number of hearings next week important to the business community, including HB190, which would update the Coastal Zone Act, a State Chamber of Commerce legislative priority. Also in committee will be a bill related to escheat that provides a number of technical corrections to SB13, an escheat bill passed earlier in the year.
by James DeChene
This week, the Small Business Alliance, a State Chamber of Commerce committee focused on the small business community, held their annual Small Business Day in Dover. More than 50 business leaders heard from veteran lobbyist Bobby Byrd, of The Byrd Group, as he gave attendees a primer on how best to convert their message to legislators by effectively lobbying. After, attendees participated in the House Small Business Caucus meeting, which has an excursus on the impacts of the pending budget issues (including education funding, tax increases and the need for expenditure cuts), followed by individual meetings with legislators, a tour of Legislative Hall, and watching the House and Senate conduct their respective business during session.
There was much thoughtful discussion surrounding issues facing the business community, including the impacts of legalizing recreational marijuana, apprenticeship requirements on state procurements, budget issues and modernizing the Coastal Zone Act.
Also this week, the first revenue package to address Delaware's $382 million budget shortfall passed the House. HB 175 would raise $116 million from increases to the corporate franchise tax, and other associated fees. Bills related to apprenticeship mandates and escheat were tabled in committee, to be worked after the upcoming two-week Joint Finance Committee break.
James DeChene is the Chamber's Senior Vice President of Government Affairs.