Jack Markell took the oath of office for the second time in two days in a ceremony outside Legislative Hall that marked the start of his new administration as Governor of Delaware.
The governor's inaugural took place Jan. 21, 2009, but he had actually taken his oath of office in the early morning hours of the previous day – an act necessitated by the requirements of the state constitution and Gov. Markell's plans to attend the inauguration of President-elect Barack Obama in Washington D.C.
In his address to the hundreds of people in attendance, Gov. Markell noted the challenges facing the state, not the least of which is a staggering budget deficit. By some estimates, the current and upcoming budgets contain a total of more than $600 million in red ink – shortfalls that will need to be addressed before the start of the new fiscal year July 1.
"The state is in the position of millions of American families today whose bills continue to climb but whose income has fallen," Gov. Markell said. "How do families cope? They start … by eliminating unneeded expenses – turning the thermostat down, postponing big purchases, [and] cancelling vacations.
"We will do what families do: trim every ounce of fat from our budget. Beginning this very afternoon, we will launch a statewide performance audit to uncover and eliminate unnecessary expenditures throughout this government," the governor said.
The new governor also promised to be more open than his predecessor. "I pledge that my administration will be more transparent and accountable than any that have come before," he said.
Gov. Markell also said his administration will be taking action on a variety of other fronts, including improving public education and giving all Delawareans access to affordable healthcare.
The governor added that he plans to use anticipated federal stimulus money to create new jobs in the First State by investing in a new "green energy" infrastructure.
Camp for Juvenile Burn Victims Could Open This Summer
Legislation pending in the State House of Representatives aims to help kids who have been seriously injured in fires cope with their situations.
House Minority Whip Dan Short (R-Seaford) and Senator George Bunting, Jr. (D-Bethany Beach) are co-sponsoring a bill that should result in the creation of Delaware’s first "Burn Camp".
Rep. Short, who is a long-time member of the Seaford Volunteer Fire Department, said the idea for starting the camp originated with two friends who have a child that was injured in a fire. He said the camp will help juvenile burn victims get the physical and emotional help they need to recover from their traumas.
"The camps have worked well in other states, but the closest camp of this kind that’s available to Delawareans is more than a four-hour drive away," Rep. Short said.
Big strides were made last year to change that with the enactment of two measures in the General Assembly. The first formed a task force to investigate the camp’s feasibility, while the second followed up on that group's recommendations by urging the Delaware State Fire Commission to establish it.
House Bill 44 would move the concept to the next step by authorizing the commission to incorporate a nonprofit corporation for the purpose of operating the camp and accepting contributions.
"With state finances the way they are, we thought it would be a lot easier to go to the private sector to finance this," Rep. Short said. "We’ve already got thousands of dollars in pending donations, but we don't have an entity to receive that money. This legislation will establish a non-profit corporation for that purpose."
It's anticipated the camp will operate similarly to Camp Barnes, a residential summer camp for disadvantaged youths operated by Delaware State Police for more than 50 years. In fact, the Delaware Burn Camp will use Camp Barnes' facilities in southeast Sussex County.
Expenses are expected to range between $500 and $750 per child. Organizers say the goal is to have 20 to 25 children at the first week-long camp that will take place this August.
"Everything is in place, we just need to fund it," Rep. Short said. "The firefighters in this state, and a lot of other folks, have expressed a willingness to do that."
Bob Ricker, vice chairman of the State Fire Prevention Commission, said his group is excited to be involved.
"This is a tremendously positive endeavor to help Delaware's children who have been tragically burned. The legislature has assembled a motivated group of health care and fire service professionals who are committed to making Delaware’s first Burn Camp a reality."
Bill Hopes to Increase Auto Sales
State Rep. Bill Oberle (R-Beecher's Lot) is calling for Delawareans who buy a car to receive a personal income tax deduction equal to the amount they pay for the vehicle document fee.
People purchasing a car in Delaware pay a document fee of 3.75 percent on the purchase price of the vehicle. A car costing $20,000 would require a $750 document fee.
"Some might question if a tax deduction to purchase an automobile is the right thing to do at the right time," Rep. Oberle said. "All facets of our economy are stressed to the max. Anything we can do to induce people to make those purchases, particularly when we have an auto manufacturer here in Delaware, is going to benefit the state in the long term."
Under House Bill 48, the amount of the deduction would be doubled if the car were manufactured in Delaware.
Currently, only two cars – the Saturn Sky and the Pontiac Solstice – are produced in the First State. Both models roll off the assembly line at General Motors' Boxwood Road Plant south of Wilmington.
Rep. Oberle said the bill is a common sense approach that should help stimulate the economy, including car dealers.
The bill is currently pending action in the House Revenue & Finance Committee.
Action on Bills *
House Bill 52 – (Sponsors: Rep. Hocker & Sen. Bunting) – This bill would amend Millville’s town charter to remove or "de-annex" a portion of the property on which Lord Baltimore Elementary School is situated. The change would allow the Town of Ocean View, in which most of the school is located, to annex the land and thus have jurisdiction over the entire property.
Status: Passed by the House. Pending action in the Senate.
House Concurrent Resolution 2 – (Sponsors: Reps. J. Johnson & Kowalko, et. al.) – This Concurrent Resolution urges Congress and President Obama to enact the National Health Insurance Act (HR676), which would establish a new national health insurance program by creating a single-payer health care system. Supporters of the bill say the new system will save hundreds-of-billions of dollars by eliminating duplication, reducing paperwork and benefiting from economies of scale in the purchase of medication. They add that it would ensure that all Americans would have access to cost-effective health care services, regardless of employment, income, or health care status.
Critics note that similar systems in Canada and Britain have resulted in long waiting periods, outdated facilities and equipment, and reduced quality-of-care.
They add such systems drive up demand on health care services, forcing government officials to control costs through explicit and implicit rationing.
Status: Pending action in the House Economic Development, Banking, Insurance and Commerce Committee.