Today's WNJ highlights what most people already knew: there aren't enough votes in the Democratically controlled General Assembly to pass a ten-cent-per-gallon gas tax increase in order to raise $500 million and borrow another $500 million for a massive infrastructure improvement plan.
Blame it on an election year if you want to, but the reality is that with about 27% of all Delawareans living in poverty, and probably another 30-35% on the edge of teetering into home loss or bankruptcy producing debt with some major unexpected illness or expense, the idea that "it's just a dime" or "it's just $5 per car each week" is simply not salable.
What is truly ironic is that Governor Markell spends 98% of his time governing like the corporate, laisse faire capitalist that he is, and then can't quite figure out why his more liberal/progressive-sounding budget ideas meet opposition. With the exception of a handful of legislators, the Democrats who run the General Assembly belong to the same party as their leader: the wing of the Delaware GOP that favors marriage equality.
Last year they were able to paper over this fact--the idea that most of Delaware's voters are Mike Castle Demopublicans and Republicrats--with a heavy emphasis on socially liberal legislation, a strategy that--while beneficial to Delaware's LGBT community--amounted to fiddling while Rome burned.
So now we're facing scare talk from a Governor who never made serious efforts to fix the Transportation Fund in his first five years in office . . .
Part of me believes that this is just the opening shot in a two-year campaign to raise the money for infrastructure. Everybody in Delaware knows that you can't usually get significant legislation passed in an election year, so you introduce it the first time in an even-numbered year and pass it in one of those safer, odd-numbered years . . .
All of which ignores the opportunity to change the way we do government in Delaware.
You see, in Delaware we don't like, first of all, to prioritize our priorities.
Included in Governor Markell's massive, pie-in-the-sky, union and corporate driven agenda are quite a few smaller items that have considerable merit.
For example (and some of these are only broken out in the print version of the WNJ article):
$100 million for stormwater and run-off projects;
$75 million for cleaning up toxic waterways
$7.3 million for the Christina River Bridge
$1.9 million for Rt 141 improvements
$1.1 million for Tybout's Corner widening
That's $185.3 million in improvements. You'll notice that (a) I left out the improvements that are in there for little or no other reason than to spread some of the largesse to Kent and Sussex County; and that (b) in the first round I accepted the full amount for the run-off and pollution clean-up projects. I also, quite intentionally, left out the $9.9 million for "improving" Plantations Road in Lewes, which has nothing to recommend it except the potential for spreading the Route 1 bottleneck into Rehoboth further into the countryside without addressing any of the real, underlying design issues. The last thing that the State needs to do is create a second commercial corridor into the resort area.
Now, let's take a sharper pencil to these for a minute. Let's assume that we fund the stormwater and run-off projects to the 80% level by some making some tough decisions about priorities, and that all of this work on the list be spread over a four year period (2015-2019).
That gives us $150.3 million, which I'm going to call an even $150 million by canceling all contractor lunches and reducing the number of photo-ops for the Governor and associated politicians to one per week.
Let's see, at $150 million over four years, that's $37.5 million per year, and that's assuming that this all new funding (which it isn't).
Where would we find $37.5 million this year in the Governor's budget without raising taxes?
Pretty simple, actually. We're going to take $12 million out of the bloated budget for Public Safety and Homeland Security, which is less than a 10% cut in a budget that has enjoyed significant growth over the past five years. We're going to take $5 million out of the Delaware Department of Education budget, including cuts from personnel, "educator accountability," state testing computers, and the charter school performance fund. We're going to take $5 million out of the University of Delaware's appropriation--when you've got one of the largest endowments and highest paid presidents of any public university in the country, you'll never miss it. That's $22 million right there.
Add to that the $18 million Governor Markell expects to get from raising the incorporation fee, and--guess what!--we're there. [If you wonder why I'm OK with that increase, it's pretty simple: corporations are creations of the government, and given our current secret corporate court thing, they're paying us for the privilege of being able to sue each other behind closed doors. To qualify for a service like that I'm all for letting them pay everything the traffic will bear--at least until we can end secret courts.]
So let's see what we've done here, at least notionally.
1. We've funded 80% of the stormwater and pollution projects.
2. We've funded three major transportation projects.
3. We haven't raised new taxes on Delaware citizens (except as corporate officers).
4. We've cut some fat from the budget. (In a future post I'll expand on exactly where you can find the necessary money from these organizations and why it won't hurt anybody.)
Of course there's one problem: none of my plan could ever be enacted by the current General Assembly.
The State Police lobby, the UD lobby, and the corporate education reform lobby all have their hooks so tightly into various key legislators that you can't even talk about the reforms in spending that I've just told you about.
And the only way you will ever get to hear about real alternatives to the Delaware Way crap that keeps rolling down the path is to do something different, and elect somebody new.
If you live in the 22nd State Representative District you can do something about it personally, by remembering to vote for me in November.
If not, and you still want to help make conversations--truly new conversations about how to fix our State's problems--then you can go over to the right side of this page and make even a very small contribution.
$5 is not too little to help me make a difference; anything under $601 is not too much.
You help send me to Dover and I'll give you a new voice.