State Reps React to State of State Address
Jan 21, 2010, 18:30

Delaware Gov. Jack Markell used a broad brush to illustrate his 2010 State of the State Address on Thursday, Jan. 21, 2010, outlining proposals to increase jobs, improve education, and reduce the cost of state government. 


The details will start to emerge later this month when the governor unveils his proposed state budget for the fiscal year beginning this July.


In delivering his State of the State Address ("Restoring Delaware’s Promise and Prosperity") to a joint session of the General Assembly, the governor covered policy objectives ranging from greater spending on infrastructure projects to restructuring the state’s complex system of taxes and fees.


The governor also touched on several recently introduced proposals, including streamlining the regulatory burden on the state’s business community. 


While saying the "devil is in the details," State House Minority Whip Dan Short (R-Seaford) says he was glad the administration seems to be moving in that direction.


Rep. Short, and colleague Byron Short (D-Highland Woods), have been working on a bipartisan effort over the last year to engage Delaware businesses on what the state can do to help them grow and prosper. 


"Right now, the state is the top employer in Delaware," Rep. Dan Short said.  "We've got to do whatever we can to change that reality and increase job creation in the private sector."


State House Minority Leader Richard Cathcart (R-Middletown) said the governor’s calls to make state government more efficient were intriguing, but that he's largely withholding judgment until the finer points of the proposals surface.


However, Rep. Cathcart said two portions of the speech seemed to run counter to the governor’s overall theme of smaller, less costly government.  Rep. Cathcart said he was surprised by the governor’s claim the state could save $75 million over the next five years by cutting the benefits of new state workers. 


"We’re not supposed to be hiring new state employees," he said.  "We're supposed to be cutting the size of the work force, so I fail to understand the logic of that.  Maybe we'll hear more details down the road."


Rep. Dan Short says he views the State of the State Address like the announcements for the Golden Globe nominations.  "Now that we've heard some of the nominated items for this legislative session, we’ll get down to the nitty-gritty to see who gets the awards … in this particular budget."


Among the items included in the governor’s State of the State Address:


  • The governor said he will propose the consolidation of a number of divisions, boards and commissions.

  • The proposed budget, to be unveiled next Thursday (1/28), will contain "dozens of … efficiency proposals" which, the governor says, "will save millions over the next few years."

  • Because of the higher costs associated with caring for aging prisoners in state custody, the governor said the state "must examine who we're holding in our prisons and whether we can provide a less expensive, but safe alternative."

  • The governor proposed trimming the benefits of future state employees – a move he says will save $75 million over the next five years.

  • The governor proposed consolidating the county row offices of Register of Wills and Recorder of Deeds into state government, saving money for local governments.

  • The governor proposed a bipartisan panel to make "revenue neutral" recommendations to restructure how the state generates revenue.

  • The governor proposed creating a "business finder's fee" to encourage Delaware businesses to attract their suppliers, partners and customers to set up shop in Delaware.

  • The governor said he is recommending $10 million in the next Bond Bill for improvements at the Port of Wilmington.  He also said the state should move forward with the Northeast Corridor Rail project and the controversial Route 301 bypass project.

  • Also in the next Bond Bill, the governor said he'd like funding to start a center for high-tech laboratories, health sciences, alternative energy research and development, and other emerging industries to be built on the site of the old Chrysler car plant in Newark.

Bills to Authorize Table Games Closer to Law


Two pieces of legislation needed to make table games a reality at Delaware's racinos are progressing quickly through the legislative process.


By a vote of 18-1, the Senate passed Senate Bill 188, which would enable authorities to arrest and prosecute people who cheat while playing table games.


The second bill, House Bill 310, which would authorize table games at Delaware's licensed gambling venues, passed in the House following a spirited deliberation.  Part of the bill would create an estimated 40 state positions to regulate the new form of gaming.


A total of 11 amendments were offered to HB 310 in the House.  The first amendment, sponsored by Rep. Tom Kovach (R-Brandywine Hundred South), drew the most heated debate.  Rep. Kovach’s House Amendment 1 would have barred Delaware lawmakers, or their families, from getting any of the state jobs created by the legislation.  


Rep. James Johnson (D-Jefferson Farms) led the opposition to the amendment, calling the exclusion "arbitrary."  He said no member of his family should be denied an opportunity because they happened to be related to him.  Rep. Kovach countered, saying the amendment was needed to prevent any appearance of impropriety the hiring of a lawmaker's family member would create.


In the end, House Amendment 1 was soundly defeated along party lines, with Republicans favoring the amendment.  A scaled down amendment, applying only to legislators themselves, was later added to the bill.


Another amendment that proved to be controversial was offered by State Rep. Greg Lavelle (R-Sharpley).  Under Rep. Lavelle’s provision (House Amendment 9), the formula for dividing table games' revenue between the state and the racinos would have expired in three years, forcing the General Assembly to revisit the issue.  HB 310 calls for the state to get 29.4% of the proceeds, with 66.1% going to the table game operators and the remaining 4.5% earmarked to bolster horseracing purses.


House Amendment 9 was defeated, with only Reps. Lavelle, Kovach, Dan Short (R-Seaford), and Deborah Hudson (R-Fairthorne), voting in favor of it.  "I thought this would have had a lot more support," Rep. Lavelle said, adding that he believed it was prudent to re-consider the split after the state had three years of data on which to base any potential re-formulation.


The House also shot down an amendment sponsored by Rep. Hudson (House Amendment 4) that sought to give the state a greater share of the table game proceeds once the racinos had reached specified earnings targets.


Rep. William Oberle (R-Beecher’s Lot) was more successful with his House Amendment 2, which would set aside at least $250,000 of the state's proceeds to treat and educate compulsive gamblers and their families.


Ultimately, HB 310, with House Amendments 2, 5, 6, 7, 8, 10 & 11, was narrowly passed in the House on a vote of 27-5, with six "not voting" and three "absent."  As a three-fifths bill, the measure needed at least 25 votes to pass.


Both HB 310 and SB 188 will move to the opposite chamber of the General Assembly for consideration before the end of the month.  If passed and enacted, as expected, table game operations could start at some venues by late May.


Currently, only Delaware's three horse racing tracks - Dover Downs, Delaware Park and Harrington Raceway – would be authorized to operate table games. 


House Welcomes Chinese Delegation


A Chinese delegation visited the State House of Representatives on Wednesday, Jan. 20.  Among other things, the delegation is looking at the possibility of Chinese companies incorporating in the First State, a move which could potentially generate significant revenue for Delaware.


Action on Bills:


House Bill 311 (Sponsors: Rep. Longhurst, et. al.) – This bill would clarify existing law and empower the state Attorney General's Office to apply, carry out, and enforce the laws and regulations relating to Manufactured Homes and Manufactured Home Communities in the Delaware Code.  The measure would also require that people or organizations showing a repeated pattern of violations be reported to the Delaware Better Business Bureau.

Status:  Pending action in the House Manufactured Housing Committee.


House Bill 313 (Sponsors: Rep. Longhurst, et. al.) – This bill seeks to make several revisions to the existing "alternative dispute resolution methods" (ADR) that are used to deal with disagreements between manufactured homeowners and their landlords.  Among the changes is a provision that clarifies that the parties involved in a dispute must first attempt to resolve their differences via the ADR procedures prior to initiating litigation.  Additionally, the bill states that the parties must make a "good faith" effort to resolve the dispute, at the risk of incurring sanctions.  A further proposed revision would require that all persons necessary to resolution of the dispute be present at the ADR conference.

Status:  Pending action in the House Manufactured Housing Committee.

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