There are several quite unintentional (I hope) ironies here.
First, the child poverty numbers:
About 20 percent of Delaware children lived in poverty between 2010 and 2012, the study shows.
That’s better than the 21.5 percent nationally, but still a sharp increase from 2009, when the figure was 13 percent.Combine this with the number of unemployed or under-employed adults:
About 26 percent of parents aren’t fully employed. That’s better than the 28.9 percent nationally, but it is still worse than in previous years. In 2006-2008, the number was closer to 20 percent.Then lay in the dramatic increase in single-parent families:
The study also found a large and increasing number of Delaware children, almost 38 percent, are growing up in single-parent homes. That’s significantly higher than the national average of 33.8 percent, which is close to where the state was in 2005-2007.It is important to point out here that, in particular, the dramatic increases in child poverty have occurred in a state that has nearly complete one-party rule. Pretty much the Democrats possessed the power to pass any measures necessary to combat rising child poverty if that were a major priority for our lawmakers.
But it apparently isn't.
That's why the second article, the one on finding $20.2 million more of our tax dollars coming in, is so instructive.
Recognizing that even $20.2 million is not a hell of a lot of money in a $3.7 BILLION budget, it still ain't chicken feed, and it could very well have an impact if not pissed away.
Let's see how the WNJ reports legislators and other concerned folks as wanting to spend it:
State employee unions will press for an across-the-board pay raise (and, in the interest of full disclosure, as a DSU employee I would receive such a pay raise), arguing that for the fifth straight year Governor Markell has not proposed such a pay raise for them. Even a 1% pay raise, by the way, would eat the entire $20.2 million.
Some people will want either the farmland preservation or Transportation Trust Fund cuts in Markell's budget restored. That would come with an equally large price tag.
Chief Justice Steele wants $3.5 million for improved court house security.
DSEA head Frederika Jenner wants to use to money to "back-fill" losses in education revenue from the expiration of Race to the Top funds, or the evaporation of certain monies under sequestration.
Nobody appears to want the money to deal with child poverty, which is really quite strange when you think about it, because Delaware's ruling Democratic Party claims to be, ah, ... progressive!?
It was politically easy to deal with marriage equality and gun control earlier in the session. While divisive, those issues were high-profile, high pay-off (in political terms), and served as great vehicles for both conservative and liberal fundraising.
But neither of them required the Democratic majority nor the Markell administration to actually DO anything about child poverty in Delaware.
So let's see what we could do, with just a modicum of political courage.
There are apparently about 42,000 Delaware children in poverty today.
About half of these children have no health insurance. Medicaid premiums for kids run about $3,739 per year. To find and cover the 21,000 kids not on Medicaid would cost the State $77.7 million. So even using the $20.2 million toward that end would leave us with a $57.5 million shortfall.
Where would we ever find another $57.5 million for children's health care in the Delaware budget?
It is easier than you think.
We could start by reducing the Delaware Strategic Fund (known as Al Levine's welfare project for multi-billion-dollar corporations) from $29 million to $9 million, and means-testing the pay-outs so that we are not giving incentives to companies whose revenues dwarf our state tax receipts.
That brings the child Medicaid deficit down to $37.5 million.
Then we could pare back the ridiculous budget increases given to the Office of the Secretary of Safety and Homeland Security over the past two years, yielding another $5 million and bringing that child Medicaid deficit down to $32.5 million.
Then let's bring the budget increases given to the University of Delaware (4%) and Delaware Tech (7.8%) down to the 2.8% granted to DSU, which would save us another about another $5 million, bringing the child Medicaid deficit down to $27.5 million.
Then we take a look at where the Markell administration hid the $25.5 million they supposedly trimmed from the Executive budget by hiding them in other lines:
Note that really big rise in the "other Elective" category.
If you total these budgets you will discover that in 2014 the actual spending for State offices noted above goes up by about $20 million. Let's take that back and reduce the child Medicaid deficit to $5.5 million.
We close that final gap by shaving 5% off the Capital Improvement Projects for public and education.
That's it: and we pay for full health insurance for all Delaware children in poverty.
No, it's not perfect, and it will require a lot of government agencies to accept an even higher level of fiscal restraint. But stop telling me that child poverty in Delaware is rising and that we cannot do anything about it, when we've actually got the money and choose to spend it on other things.
Two final notes: this is a single thought exercise. A lot of my libertarian cohorts won't appreciate the use of Medicaid as the vehicle here, and a lot of other friends could name other priorities for dealing with child poverty, like nutrition programs. But you have to look at real examples to understand how much bloat and how many pieces of pork are actually hidden in a $3.7 Billion budget.
And I am equally sure that other folks could make even better cases of where to cut. How much would the legalization (plus taxation) of marijuana and the release of non-violent drug offenders from our prisons save?
How much could we save in public education if Rodel et al had ever ponied up EVEN HALF of the money they promised to raise from corporate sources way back when?
But the point of this post is pretty simple: setting actual fiscal priorities given that we will ALWAYS have limited resources. We can do a little of everything, or we can settle on some significant goals and achieve them.
It's pretty clear where this Governor and this General Assembly (like the last ones of both iterations) is headed with this newfound money.
We're going to diddle it away while 42,000 children in poverty don't get health insurance.
Remember that the next time some of our progressive friends are lecturing about budget priorities.