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.
by James DeChene
In case you missed it, the News Journal, WDDE, and DE State News all had articles on a proposal by Governor Carney and Treasurer Simpler to create a budget smoothing process. Efforts would help avoid budget boom and bust cycles like last year where nonprofits and other agencies saw funding cuts. It helps the business community by providing certainty and avoiding knee jerk funding needs resulting in higher taxes and fees.
Here is a roundup of recent coverage on this issue:
by James DeChene
The General Assembly, while out for a three week break, had the Bond Bill Committee hearings start this week. Of note was State Chamber Tax Committee Chair Jim Selsor providing comments during the Division of Revenue presentation, urging the committee to invest in a technology upgrade at the department. The current system for collecting and refunding tax returns is creeping up, much like me, on 40 years, but unlike me, can undergo a much needed refresh to become much more efficient and cost effective to manage.
This week, the Taskforce charged with evaluating whether consolidating school districts across Delaware would result in major savings, released its report. Contained within were the findings that while consolidation would not result in savings, there are other ways school districts can work together to find savings.
Another report was released on budget "smoothing," and its importance in providing stability for budget writers in the coming years. A multi-part process requiring the passage of a Delaware Constitutional amendment, along with legislation to create a usable rainy day fund and a bill to make adjustments to PIT rates, all have to pass in order for this effort to work. Chamber members Mike Houghton and Scott Malfitano were participants in this bipartisan effort and the plan has the support of both Governor Carney and Treasurer Simpler. More to come on these efforts as they develop into action.
The General Assembly is currently on Easter Break, and when it returns, it will address several issues important to the business community. Below are a few issues to keep an eye on.
In regards to the budget:
by James DeChene
This week’s legislative work was cut short a day to due weather. Bills that were to be heard in committee will be heard in the coming weeks. Of note, on Tuesday the Senate defeated SB10, which, as amended, would have raised the minimum wage by $1.00 over two years. It is expected that after work is completed providing casinos tax relief, the minimum wage bill will be reintroduced and voted on. Stay tuned.
In other news, DEFAC met earlier in the week and added $101 million in additional revenues for FY2018 and projected 2019. It is rumored that in the next meetings that number could grow even larger. This means a new round of budget fights this year—only this time on how to spend this windfall.
It is worth noting, however, that the two primary increases came from personal income tax (PIT), and fewer claims on abandoned property. The abandoned property money is already earmarked for returns, no matter the pace, and is not what you base a budget around. As PIT has increased from the federal GOP tax plan, corporate taxes (CIT) have declined. One bright side is that Delaware may be due a onetime windfall as companies bring back money parked overseas to take advantage of the lowered US corporate tax rate. The IRS is still working to publish guidelines on how this tax money will reach the states. More to come.
by Mark DiMaio
Last year we asked Chamber members to participate in a survey for input about obstacles to their business growth. We received nearly 100 individual responses to our question about specific suggestions on what Delaware should do to improve its economy. Listed below are four areas that respondents mentioned most often, along with ways the Chamber is working to advance Delaware’s economic health.
Improve schools and infrastructure
Balance the state budget with new revenue sources and cut government spending
Encourage entrepreneurship and a diverse economy - strong business climate to attract new business
Streamline land use and permitting process – less regulation overall
by Mark DiMaio
In 2017, we invited Chamber members to participate in a survey to gauge their view of Delaware's economic health, and provide input on policy priorities. Listed below are the top four, along with ways the Chamber is addressing them.
1. Economic Development
The Chamber is dedicated to promoting an economic climate that strengthens the competitiveness of Delaware businesses and benefits citizens of the state.
2. Cost of Health Care
The Chamber recognizes the growing problem surrounding health care costs.
3. Government Spending
We will continue to advocate for structural changes to Delaware’s budget. Delaware needs fiscal policies that foster business growth and advance the state’s long-term economic future.
4. Education Reform (K-12)
Improving education outcomes is a key factor in developing a skilled workforce and attracting new business to Delaware.
by James DeChene
The December labor report was recently released and shows that in 2016 Delaware had a net increase of 350 new jobs over the course of the year, and 2017 is looking to be the same, though there may even be a slight net loss for the year. The January report will reflect what truly happened in 2017, but odds are it won’t be pretty. Surrounding states have seen higher growth than Delaware: Maryland at 2%, Pennsylvania and New Jersey at over 1% - while we are shrinking, they are growing.
This week, members of the Joint Finance Committee started their budget process. Over the next five weeks, members will review agency budgets and various funding requests, including Grant in Aid, and will work to craft a spending plan using the Governor’s recommended budget as a starting point. While forecasted revenues show a 6% increase over last year’s, next year’s growth number is back under 2%. The challenge will be for legislators to be spendthrifts during a time of increased revenues, and planning for the out-years where spending obligations will continue to outgrow revenue. Not an easy task in an election year. More info to come as it develops.