by James DeChene
In Matthew Albright’s recent op-ed for the News Journal, which was well written and with which I largely agree, he made the argument that it’s time for Delaware to answer the question of how much government it is willing to have its citizens pay for. Albright’s article echoes a sentiment I’ve made with elected officials—there needs to be an audit of what government should be, what services it wants to provide, and then, how to pay for them.
Delaware has done an excellent job of outsourcing its tax and revenue liability onto entities outside the state. From the $1.1 billion it collects from the Corporate Franchise Tax, $400 million in escheat, and about $100 million combined from the Corporate Income Tax and Bank Franchise Tax, that represents an easy-to-calculate roughly 40% of the state’s annual budget. That number doesn’t take into account tourism, other items visitors cross the border for – tax free shopping and low(ish)-taxed cigarettes – or tolls on I-95 and RT1, which pushes our percentage even higher.
As Albright outlines in his article, Delaware is one of the top five per capita spenders on government, based on studies from the Brookings Institution and the Kaiser Family Fund. This fact, in spite of Delaware having one of the lowest tax liabilities in the country, has allowed state spending to rise without its citizens feeling the pain. Or so the story goes. The business community, however, has seen its share of costs mount each year, from double digit increases in health care costs, increases in the costs of doing business from additional regulatory burdens imposed by the state, as well as increases in other operating costs such as utilities.
The answer to the question of whether an increase in taxes is necessary to cover increases in state government is, in our view, going after the solution the wrong way. Focusing first on what Delaware’s government should look like, and on making government more efficient, should be the answer. Simply saying more money is needed, without combined efforts to eliminate duplicate or wasteful spending is a recipe for the continued trend of businesses relocating, and residents moving across state lines.