By James DeChene, Armitage DeChene & Associates
The General Assembly gaveled out of session early on July 1, 2020 in what was the earliest ending in recent memory due to what has been an almost indescribable year to date. With little to no drama on the money bills (Budget, Grants in Aid, and Bond) as they were passed on June 29th, the General Assembly was left to close out a few bills on consent agendas.
The Senate said goodbye to retiring Senator Harris McDowell, and the House bid farewell to retiring Representative Quinn Johnson. This means that for next session there will be two new co-chairs for the Joint Finance Committee and both the Senate and House Energy Committees will have new chairs as well.
As the General Assembly came back to session in January, members seemed poised to pass a series of legislation that included increasing Delaware’s minimum wage, expanding worker’s rights, and increasing the role and presence of private and public employee unions. Those bills largely went nowhere, and with the COVID-19 pandemic altering how the legislature would work, those bills were placed on hold until next year.
The same can be said for legislation the business community supported as well. Efforts to invest in clean water infrastructure, building a new high school in the City of Wilmington, modifying the state’s offerings of Association Health Plans and creating new workforce training platforms (more on that later) all took a pause as well.
That said, a number of bills important to the business community were introduced, and some were acted on in the final weeks of this session. They included:
In the midst of three months of uncertainty, countless Zoom meetings with Governor Carney, members and staff from his Administration, the chambers of commerce community, stakeholder groups and others, there were a number of positives that were announced, and work completed ahead of schedule.
The State Chamber has long been an advocate for rural broadband development and adoption. Last year’s announcement of BlooSurf, a project to bring broadband to western Sussex and Kent counties was met with fierce approval. Originally slated to be completed in 18-24 months, the project was able to be completed in just over 12 by using federal CARES Act funds to speed up the building process. In July 2020, 15 towers are set to be completed. Efforts to promote residential adoption of broadband will roll out soon after in preparation for what could be another school year of distance learning. Now children in these communities will be able to be active participants. Similar broadband adoption efforts are taking place in Wilmington with the similar goal of making sure all children have access to distance learning efforts.
For the last year, the State Chamber has pushed for the creation of a workforce training program similar to what has worked with ZipCode Wilmington. A compressed, 40-hour week training schedule focusing on in-demand career paths that will help transition low-skill workers into better paying jobs. While the legislation creating this program was not worked on this year, we continue to work with Governor Carney and his Administration on creative ways to implement such a program, especially in light of the potential permanent job losses related to COVID-19.
Between now and January 2021, when the 151st General Assembly convenes, much will have happened:
There remains a great deal of uncertainty as we enter the second half of 2020. What does remain certain, however, is the Delaware State Chamber of Commerce’s dedication to advocacy on behalf of its members – the business community.
Look for more opportunities in the coming months to hear from experts on the latest trends as the COVID-19 pandemic, and recovery, continue to evolve. Also look for innovative networking opportunities and other creative ways to get your business noticed. For more information, check www.DSCC.com.
By James DeChene, Armitage DeChene & Associates
By Verity Watson, Ruggerio Willson & Associates
The Delaware Economic and Financial Advisory Council (DEFAC) held their May meeting with one more in June before the General Assembly passes the state’s Fiscal Year 2021 budget. While projections and estimates seem to change by the minute, there are a few things to be watching over the summer and into the fall related to economic recovery and what the impact to state expenditures will be in 2021.
As businesses adapt to large swaths of employees working from home, in many cases working more productively, significant changes to the dedicated physical space businesses require could be on the horizon. Downstream impacts, such as Wilmington’s wage tax, will require creative measures to insure solvency.
Corporate income tax and personal income tax filings are both predicted to take a significant hit next year. Personal income tax is the top revenue stream to the state, and while so far high wage workers have not suffered significant job losses, it will be interesting to see what the current 40% layoffs in hospitality workers translates into when federal unemployment ends in July.
All told, there remains much uncertainty—whether there will be a resurgence of COVID-19 in the fall and what that economic impact will look like, how changes made during this time related to how employees work will impact real estate, office environments, the work-from-home movement, and how all of these issues, and others, will further impact Delaware’s budget process.
By James DeChene, Armitage DeChene & Associates and Verity Watson, Ruggerio Willson and Associates
The spread of and reaction to COVID-19 has the world changing minute by minute, and the business community has come together in these uncertain times to focus not only on keeping their doors open and their employees paid but also continuing to be a helpful presence in their communities.
It’s not an understatement to say we are currently navigating in uncharted waters. In an effort to provide some stability for employers during these times, the State Chamber of Commerce, along with other chambers across the state, industry associations and other business-focused groups are committed to finding ways for employers to keep their lights on and continue to operate.
Some of these recommendations have already been implemented as of mid-March. Currently the waiting period to file for unemployment benefits has been reduced to seven days. Workers are now allowed to supplement their income with part-time employment while still collecting benefits. Tipped employees are not being classified as minimum wage as long as they claim their tips, increasing them to a higher unemployment benefit rate. Alcohol regulations have been relaxed to increase sales at local restaurants. Zero percent loans have been made available for businesses forced to close under the State of Emergency order.
As we continue to see fallout from this crisis, there a few more areas where targeted government action could have very positive impacts for struggling businesses. These include:
These unique circumstances demand unique solutions. Other recommendations being floated include the state utilizing its top bond rating to borrow funds necessary to fully fund the unemployment insurance trust fund, to provide employers with rent relief, and to cover payroll taxes paid by employers. As mentioned earlier, access to capital remains a critical component for businesses looking to reopen, to remain open, and stay solvent during these difficult times. The ability for the state to provide this safety net is a much-needed service toward its maintenance of a strong bonding rating was designed to achieve.
As we look forward to the eventual reconvening of the General Assembly, the business community’s message is clear—a plea for action only on critical legislation. Budget, Bond, and Grants-in-Aid bills are a priority, as are any bills providing relief to employers, employees, and at-risk citizens. During these uncertain times legislative focus should remain on how we will recover as a community.
The impact of the COVID-19 crisis has the potential to dwarf the economic impact of the Great Recession. In 2008-2009, extraordinary measures were undertaken by the Markell Administration and the General Assembly to keep Delaware going, and just a few short years ago we faced a $350 million budget deficit that also took extraordinary measures to overcome. With the help and planning of the Carney Administration and the General Assembly, Delaware can position itself to come out of this crisis better positioned for the future.
Good news this week from Milford and Smyrna as the Delaware State News highlighted a number of development projects stemming from the Downtown Development Program. The five-year-old program was designed spur economic development in targeted downtowns throughout Delaware in need of revitalization. Of particular note the article stated, “The 12 projects announced Thursday, with nine taking place in Wilmington, received $5.5 million in rebates leveraging $103 million in total investment.”
Also this week, the National Lieutenant Governors Association was in town, hosted by Lt. Governor Bethany Hall Long. The meeting featured a number of topics that related to Delaware—how states have successfully leveraged FEMA in disaster relief, innovative ways to address the ongoing opioid crisis, how states are working with private employers and associations to address the jobs needs across the country (it’s estimated there are 7.3 million jobs currently available—more than the available unemployed workforce), and how criminal justice reform is helping bring ex-offenders into the workforce and stemming recidivism.
In the coming weeks the Council of State Governments and the National Council of State Legislatures will be meeting, and I hope to get feedback from local attendees on any trending policy initiatives that could Delaware could see next year. Stay tuned.
by James DeChene
This week in Dover saw the General Assembly continuing their work prior to the June 30th recess. Items of note included confirmation that the minimum wage bill will not be worked on again until January, and the same for the legalization of marijuana. The State Chamber will continue to advocate on behalf of the business community educating members of the General Assembly of the pitfalls of these bills, and will be looking to our members to help share their stories.
The House passed the budget bill this week, along with an approximate $61 million one-time spending bill to be administered by the Office of Management and Budget. Once bond and grants in aid bills are finalized, that will dictate how much will be used in the set aside for reserves (a reminder that the State Chamber has called for $125 million to be set aside). A bill that would allow school districts to provide students with bus passes, allowing them to get to school and potentially to after school jobs, passed the Senate where it now heads to the House. A bill that would increase the penalties for failure to file their proof of unemployment insurance each quarter from $17.25 to a minimum of $100 with a cap of $450.
Next week is the final week of session, ending June 30/July 1. Items to be considered, along with finalizing the budget, will be bond bill, grants in aid, and perhaps the workplace fraud act legislation that the Chamber and others have been working on for about a year now. More to come.
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
A few things to consider this week as the News Journal reports that our state GDP isn’t matching the national average:
Those items, taken collectively point to some positive economic development in the state. While we are certainly still behind where we once were, we need to make sure we take the time to appreciate the gains we are making, and continue to find new and innovative solutions to bringing quality jobs into Delaware.
The growth of Delaware’s gross domestic product has lagged behind the rest of the country, the federal government claims. However, some Delaware officials dispute the charge noting that employment is up in the First State.
Delaware’s GDP grew at a rate of 1.2 percent in 2014, a full point behind the national economy which improved at a rate of 2.2 percent, according to recently released statistics by the U.S. Department of Commerce Bureau of Economic Activity. In addition, Delaware trailed its Mid-Atlantic neighbors, which reported a 1.7 percent growth last year.
(The rest of the article can be found here.)