Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Delaware politicians, as usual, fail to lead

I find it less than amusing to see the juxtaposition of an article on rising child poverty in Delaware with another on a $20.2 million uptick in projected revenues in today's News Journal.

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.


Nancy Willing said...

Way to get right to work parsing the news spin coming out of Dover.

I will be sharing this today.

Anonymous said...

Kids dont vote. F'em.

Anonymous said...

The other point behind the gay marriage and gun registration bills -- they don't impact the state budget. We can be progressive if we can do it for free.
We are not going to solve any problems if we persist in our belief that the state budget exists primarily to benefit state employees and members of the General Assembly.

kavips said...

True. Free is cheap as it goes. If one puts politics in a little box and buries it in their back yard, one can then see things in clear economic terms... We have too much money at the top end, and too little at the bottom end...

Balanced is always better than unbalanced.

Delaware Watch said...

What a wonderful post, Steve. It's shocking to think that child poverty is that high in our state. And I think you are correct that medical coverage for children is the way to go for helping them. When my son recently spent time in the hospital, it, in my mind, was a close call if I really needed to take him there. One of the factors in my decision was that we had good coverage and so we could afford to err on the side of caution. It turns out, that unbeknownst to me, he very much needed to go to the hospital. I shudder to think what families face who have no coverage in seemingly close call cases. The possible outcomes are horrifying to consider, actually.

tom said...

Not necessarily true. Given a sufficiently clean living environment, proper nutrition and a reasonable level of physical activity, most children tend to be extremely healthy. Most recover from the common childhood diseases w/o inoculations or other intervention.

While I realize that Steve just chose health care coverage as a an example for its hot-button emotional appeal, in probably at least 4 out of 5 cases the approximately $3775/year would be better spent improving some other aspect of a poor child's life.

There are also a large number of things that the state could do to improve the lives of children living in poverty at no cost or even a savings to the taxpayers. Two that come to mind are: eliminate welfare regulations that create an incentive toward single-parent multi-child households; and stop putting their parent(s) in jail by repealing drug laws, because they very disproportionately target inner-city minorities.

mynym said...

....and stop putting their parent(s) in jail by repealing drug laws, because they very disproportionately target inner-city minorities.

Excellent point.

Delaware Watch said...

Tom, I don’t think viral and bacterial infections, birth defects, genetic propensities to certain illnesses, accidental injuries, environmentally induced illnesses, etc can be greatly alleviated by your clean living and healthy eating prescriptions.

tom said...

Dana, did you read and comprehend the words "most" and "common" as used in what i said above? If so, your comment is patently absurd.

Birth defects and genetic propensities to certain illnesses are the ultimate pre-existing conditions. We can disregard them as rare conditions belonging to the complement of the set described by "most children" and therefore not applicable to my statement--unless you intend to assert that they occur in a majority of children.

Environmentally induced illnesses would seem to be largely ruled out by the phrase "sufficiently clean living environment".

That leaves viral and bacterial infections, accidental injuries, and all of the other health risks you didn't explicitly mention.

I am well aware of these risks, but to casually dismiss my clean living and healthy eating prescriptions as you do above is to say that you believe that at least once every year, every child will have an accident or contract a disease that w/o medical intervention will inevitably lead to death or permanent disability. Anything less means that I am correct in my comment above.

I realize that it's futile asking you to do research or even math, but nevertheless, i'll invite you to prove me wrong using actuarial statistics rather than sophistry.