Microblog: SAFE monitors and responds to Delaware news and issues as reported by the News Journal, our comments in red. To keep up with Delaware Chatter and other important activity, follow SAFE on Facebook and Twitter.
12/16/15, Bloom billing changed: Surcharge to be separate entry, Jeff Mordock - By way of followup to its earlier review of this matter, the PSC "finalized an order Tuesday allowing Delmarva Power customers to see exactly now much they spend each month to subsidize Bloom Energy, a fuel cell manufacturer that has failed to fulfill its hiring promises in the state" [i.e., has hired fewer employees in Delaware than the projected number]. Delmarva Power will have 45 days to present a plan as to how the order will be implemented, but our understanding is that that the Bloom tariff will be identified as a Qualified Fuel Cell Provider charge (which most customers will associate with Bloom Energy). Bloom Energy "opposed the measure," claiming that such a reporting pattern would unfairly single out Bloom versus other "renewable" energy sources, and its position was supported by a letter from the Delaware State Chamber of Commerce. On the other side, DE Rep. John Kowalko is quoted (speaking at the Dec. 3 meeting of the PSC) as favoring transparency because customers should know what they are paying for. "I don't understand this resistance to being honest." We think the Bloom Energy tariff is clearly different from the other renewable energy charges, both because it's 60% of the total and because it's the only one imposed in the name of job creation (which should not be the responsibility of Delmarva Power customers) versus bona fide (however misguided) environmental concerns. Congratulations to all those who pushed for this result, including not only Representative Kowalko but also DE Senator David Lawson and civic activist John Nichols. 12/13/15, Delaware’s cleanest coal fired power plant in crosshairs, David Stevenson (CRI) – NRG Corporation invested $360M in air pollution control technology a few years ago, and its Indian River Power Plant in Millsboro “is now tied for the cleanest burning coal plant in the country.” Nevertheless, according to this column, “environmental groups want to close it [Indian River].” The plant couldn’t be converted to natural gas, because building a pipeline to Millsboro would be “prohibitively expensive.” But to run it, NRG must buy carbon emissions permits – and the cost of these permits has soared (from $2/ton [of coal?] to $6/ton and may hit $10/ton by 2017) as a result of the way in which DNREC changed the rules in 2013 (reducing the number of permits available so the price would rise). Power for Indian River is sold to the grid, and according to this article Delaware is only one of 2 states in the 13-state region that imposes “a carbon dioxide tax.” [Don’t all the RGGI states have Renewable Portfolio Standards that are similar to Delaware’s?] The DNREC action to increase tax revenue was not approved by the DE legislature by a 3/5 majority, and a legal challenge is pending. “It is past time to end this wasteful tax that is doing essentially nothing for the environment but is adding millions of dollars to electric bills,” and could result in closure of the Indian River plant. It might have been noted that Stevenson is one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, and also that NRG is not a party (as one might expect from this discussion). Top
12/11/15, Progress in Delaware, but more to do on climate change, Gov. Jack Markell [pictured] & Sen. Chris Coons – “As world leaders wrap up historic climate negotiations in Paris this week, many of us eagerly await its results to determine whether the international community is prepared to meet the challenge of climate change head on.” In any case, “the conference serves as a valuable opportunity to reexamine our own efforts to reduce greenhouse gas [carbon] emissions and develop new clean energy sources.” We are all impacted – we all have a responsibility – and as the “lowest-lying state in the US,” with more than 380 miles of exposed shoreline, “Delaware is particularly vulnerable.” So here’s the state of play: DELAWARE: The First State is responding: transforming our power plants to operate more cleanly helped us reduce carbon emissions more than any other state – over $100M in energy efficiency projects to reduce energy consumption in state buildings – increased solar power by over 6,000 % with 1,600 solar energy systems installed on government buildings, businesses, schools and homes – partnerships with the private sector, e.g., Allen Harim Foods (1.57 megawatt solar power array near a poultry processing plant in Harbeson is expected to provide about 11% of energy used by the plant and “save the company 16 percent in energy costs during its first year of operation); Newark’s Bloom Energy (makes solid oxide fuel cells); Baltimore Aircoil in Milford (builds high efficiency cooling systems); Johnson Controls in Middletown (employs hundreds). However, there is “much more” to do, including expanding use of alternative fuels and cleaner energy sources, developing new energy efficient technologies, and “supporting public transportation to cut vehicle emissions.” See the “Climate Framework for Delaware,” which also focuses on “adapting to a changing climate, and avoiding current and future flood risk by building on our investments from dikes in New Castle to beach preservation projects throughout eastern Sussex.” NATIONAL: Congress must increase incentives for companies to develop new technologies and double down on federal investments in R&D “to encourage the creation and commercialization of new materials and processes that are less harmful to the environment.” Also, “federal lawmakers must reinforce” the EPA’s Clean Power Plan, “which aims to reduce dirty emissions from power plants by 30 percent nationwide by providing states flexibility to design local programs, much as we have done with Delaware power plants.” The CPP “also encourages partnerships like the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, through which Delaware and our neighbors [not including NJ and PA] have invested nearly a billion dollars in energy efficiency and market-based clean energy efforts that reduced emissions regionally by more than 40 percent since 2005.” GLOBAL: In Paris, unlike previous international climate gatherings, carbon emission reduction commitments are being offered by developing countries, including “high emitters” like China, India, and Brazil, so that world leaders will “have the opportunity to recognize the full extent of climate change as not only an environmental necessity, but also as an economic and moral imperative.” There is much here that we disagree with. See, e.g., our forthcoming [12/14/15] blog entry on the Paris conference, and SAFE to Congress: Bin the Clean Power Plan, 6/16/14. And on the local scene, a letter to the editor published today – from Kay Keenan, Townsend – observes that Bloom Energy is getting a “$3 million a month windfall from the customers of Delmarva” and expresses the hope that this arrangement will become “an issue in the 2016 election for governor.” If clean energy projects are so smart, one has to wonder why government mandates and subsidies should be needed. Top 12/7/15, Sen. Tom Carper blasts “flawed” highway law, Nicole Gaudiano & Bart Jansen – Delaware’s senior senator was one of two Democratic senators [the other was Elizabeth Warren] to vote against a bill to provide five years of funding for highways, bridges and transit in the amount of $305B. The bill passed and was signed into law by the president last Friday. Carper supports spending the money, but is disappointed that the funding won’t be provided by boosting motor fuel taxes as he had recommended. The funding shortfall is to be covered by claiming $53B in surplus funds from the Fed over the next 10 years, diverting a planned dividend from the Fed to banks ($6.9B), selling oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve ($6.2B), indexing fees payable for Customs and Border Protection for inflation ($5.2B), and allowing the IRS to hire private tax collectors ($2.4B). “To be clear,” Carper is quoted, “pick-pocketing revenues from unrelated programs for years to come in order to pay for today’s potholes and failing bridges is as cowardly as it is illogical.” The other two members from Delaware voted for the bill, although Rep. John Carney stated that he would have preferred to raise the money by levying taxes on corporate funds that are parked overseas to defer US tax. In our view, inadequate attention was given to pruning Federal outlays charged to the highway trust fund. But given a decision to raise more revenue, we would tend to agree with Senator Carper that fuel taxes should have been increased versus the sort of budget gimmicks that were used. Fixing the Highway Trust Fund, 8/3/15. Top
12/6/15A, Effects of climate change can be felt in Delaware, [Representative] John Carney – This column basically recites the standard talking points for global warming alarmists, with a bit of local flavor. There is a picture of the writer in casual clothes, gazing over the water through a pair of binoculars at what is said to be “a Bald Eagle nest off Prime Hook Beach Road” during “a statewide, multi-day tour to discuss climate change impacts.” Also, it’s said that in Delaware we’re already “feeling the effects of climate change in our state.” Sea level rise (SLR) jeopardizes houses, wildlife, and businesses. Everyone agrees “we have no time to lose.” Entire towns could be lost - SLR of up to 3 feet by 2060 “according to some projections.” And “slowly, but surely, heat waves will increase our electric bills in summer months.” What’s needed? Provide the resources to protect shorelines from erosion – ensure scientists and researchers “have access to the tools to predict and model [SLR] over the next years and decades” – make decisions about how vulnerable communities will be protected. Support national legislation to reduce the use of fossil fuels, such as tax credits for solar and wind power. And recognize that global warming is a global issue, so it’s heartening to see the world’s leaders meeting in Paris “to tackle the issue.” For his part, Carney will “continue to fight for these priorities in Congress.” These claims are exaggerated considerably, in our view, and it’s quite unlikely that increased use of wind and solar power will have a discernible effect on global temperature. SLR is only going on at a rate of about one foot per century, and an important cause – sinking of coastal land in this region – has nothing to do with the burning of fossil fuels. Reference to higher electric bills is ironic, since Delaware power costs have been inflated considerably by current renewable energy policies. 12/6/15B, Changing the school money game; Calls grow to revise school funding method, Matthew Albright – Listen to Tony Allen, chair of the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission, created by the DE legislature to find ways to improve education in Wilmington: “If the state does nothing, you can be assured that the cost of education will rise, to a level we believe is unsustainable.” The goal here is to provide more money to educate Wilmington public school students on the theory that they are inherently more expensive to educate because they come from poor families, etc. And the number one solution is seen as adjusting the formula by which state funds are distributed so as to pay more money for students from low-income families as well as for students who have currently recognized “special needs.” After endless discussion over the past year or so, a vote on the state funding policy is coming up at the January 21 meeting of the State Board of Education. No matter what is decided, says Dan Rich, a UD professor advising the Commission, “we’re going to pay more. And if we don’t do something soon, we’re always going to be paying more until it just become unsustainable.” No one seems to be talking about how to save money being wasted on the current public school system, which suffers from divided responsibility and a bloated administrative hierarchy. Also, the judicial order to close Wilmington high schools and bus black high school students to the suburbs was instrumental in creating the current problem. The legislature (and for that matter residents who pay property taxes to support the various school districts) should not be counted on to provide endless supplies of money to be thrown at the problem. Top
12/4/15, Update: Will Bloom energy surcharge be broken out on Delmarva Power bills? (8/26/15 report) – Regulatory commissions don’t move too fast as a rule, but the Delaware Public Service Commission finally took up this issue after participants in a workshop to resolve it had deadlocked. Apparently reflecting public interest, there was a bigger than usual audience at the Dec. 3 meeting. Delmarva Power, DNREC and the PSC staff maintained that the present disclosure of mandated charges on Delmarva ratepayers is adequate and providing more detail, e.g., breaking out the Bloom Energy surcharge from other “renewable energy” charges (it’s 60% of the total and was approved to “create jobs” versus for environmental reasons) might “confuse ratepayers” by providing them with too much information. It was said that a customer’s charge for the Bloom Surcharge could be readily calculated using information on Delmarva’s website or obtained by calling a toll-free number, so those who cared could find out exactly how much they were paying. Rep. John Kowalko (D), Sen. David Lawson (R), and civic activist John Nichols maintained there was no good reason not to put the information on bills. Accordingly the PSC should order disclosure even though no statutory provision specifically requires it. Other speakers (public advocate’s office and David Stevenson of CRI) straddled the fence. Comments from the audience, which might have gotten into the perceptions of Delmarva ratepayers, were not allowed. At the end, to the surprise of most of the people present, the PSC voted 3-1 (with one member absent) for disclosure of the Bloom surcharge. Further proceedings may be required, however, because it remains to be decided exactly how the disclosure will appear on bills and what deadline Delmarva will be given to comply. Good show everyone! Top 11/28/15A, Charter schools’ growth crimped; Odyssey seeks aid for expansion, Matthew Albright – Odyssey opened in 2009 with 376 elementary school students (K-8), and has 1,104 students in these grades currently. Its students have handily outscored public school students “on a tough new statewide test.” There are plans to expand to K-12. The challenge is lining up funding for physical facilities. At one point the school was split between two different locations. In Feb. 2015, the school was able to issue $34.6M in conduit bonds, which unlike revenue bonds are sold without a government guarantee for the bondholders, and bought 33 acres of the former DuPont office complex at Barley Mill. The office buildings on site will be converted into school buildings, creating a consolidated Odyssey School complex. However, Odyssey may have to postpone its planned expansion to a high school, due to difficulties in borrowing more money for further renovations. A big part of the problem, no surprise, is that charter school skeptics are arguing that there should not be “one cent” for charter schools because they are diverting funds needed for public schools. Also, the DE Department of Education is throwing up warning flags about the school’s finances. “The problems reported include deficits, high debt-to-asset rations, low cash reserves and negative cash flow over the past three years.” Kendall Massett, executive director of the Delaware Charter Schools network, is quoted that charter schools should be helped to expand so long as there is “parent demand.” And the legislature did create a Charter School Performance Fund in 2013, but times are tough and “only $2.5 million has been appropriated to the fund for the past two years.” For the current school year, moreover, the maximum grant for any individual school is $250K. 11/28/15B, Where did it go? Police departments sizes millions from citizens, but what happens to the money is a mystery, Jessica Masulli Reyes – Asset forfeitures by law enforcement officers have grown in Delaware, just as elsewhere around the country. The potential for abuse is apparent, e.g., burden of proof is reversed and it may be tough to recover seized assets even if no criminal charges are filed. Often the outcome is a settlement where the authorities keep part of the property. Examples of property seized include vehicles, electronic devices and cash. The definition may extend to any property seized in close proximity to illegal drugs. But police also seize property found in connection with routine traffic stops, etc. In an Institute of Justice survey, DE was the only state unwilling “to release how much money it seizes and how it is spent.” However, the Department of Justice did disclose overall numbers showing that SLEAF (Special Law Enforcement Assistance Fund, administered by a committee of 8 prosecutors and law enforcement representatives) “has collected $476,651 since July and has distributed $475,847 to police departments.” In the previous fiscal year, “SLEAF collected $1.01 million and disbursed $867,000.” The media sought to obtain more detailed information by filing FOIA requests, but the requests were denied on grounds that SLEAF “is not considered a public entity and is not subject to FOIA.” The lack of disclosure was criticized by Samuel Friedman of CRI, and also by John Flaherty who lobbies for the Delaware Coalition for Open Government. Flaherty further suggested that disbursements should be through the normal budget process instead of being at SLEAF’s discretion. An associated editorial – Civil Forfeiture Law a path to mistrust – goes further and advocates that Delaware follow Montana’s example and allow asset forfeitures only after a conviction on criminal charges. The reason cited is to eliminate police practices “that, no matter the intention, foster distrust, suspicion and disrespect from the citizenry.” Sounds right to us. We would add that while a claim of privilege might make sense, the claim that SLEAF isn’t a public entity seems absurd. Top
11/27/15, What role should the US play? Something to think about, Dave Brady (former DE state representative) – This column begins by decrying the “large numbers of citizens who are bereft of knowledge of our history and culture and beyond that many don’t care abut structures and operations of our once great country” because “self-improvement and a feeling of self-worth demands some effort.” Goes on to say “our United States has assumed the role of mommy and daddy to the whole world,” first creating a mess in the Middle East that we’re unable to resolve and now proposing to accept refugees from the areas that we helped to destabilize. QUERY: “do we have the resources to sustain the tasks in our country and in the world that we have undertaken?” ANSWER: No! Congress serves interests of “the benefactors and lobbyists with whom they constantly deal,” not American citizens in general. And with about $20T in debt, or $200T if all the unfunded liabilities are factored in, it’s obvious that our economy can’t produce “the hefty debt payments to forever continue our wastrel ways.” It’s time to “call on our leaders to think about our future as a nation and do the right thing to try to reverse our course. Old Rome and its extended entanglements come to mind. What do you think?” Mr. Brady served in the DE legislature from 1982 to 2002, and filed in the Democratic primary in 2012 against Senator Harris McDowell (D-Wilmington). Ex-Rep. Brady files for 1st District State Senate seat, Frank Gerace, wdel.com, 7/9/12. This column eerily parallels SAFE’s 11/23/15 blog entry, Admission of Syrian refugees. Top 11/26/15, Markell praises power line decision, Jonathan Starkey, 11/26/15 – Based on a decision of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, Delmarva customers will reportedly not bear most of the $100M cost of a new power line from NJ nuclear power plants to Delmarva peninsula. A study supposedly showed that “just 10 percent of the project’s benefits would go [to] Delmarva’s customers in Delaware and Eastern Maryland.” DE Governor Jack Markell had previously objected to a proposal to put 90% of the costs on Delmarva customers. The actual cost allocation to be used remains to be worked out. Perhaps this result is appropriate, but it strikes us that the governor has seemed considerably less concerned about energy costs like the Bloom Energy surcharge being imposed on Delaware consumers as a result of state policies. Top
11/19/15, Carney: Halt intake of military-age male Syrian refugees; Congressman wants vetting process to be made airtight, John Offredo – Follow-up to “Markell defies calls to refuse refugees; Republicans want governor to change stance on Syria,” 11/17/15A. Positions of all three DE members of Congress on the president’s plan for admitting Syrian refugees is now spelled out: (A) Representative John Carney: Suspend the intake of military-age single men fleeing from war-torn Syria, which based on the 1,800 refugees already accepted makes up 2% of the mix, go ahead with existing procedures for everyone else. He characterizes this approach as one that is “thoughtful” and “doesn’t betray our values.” (B) Senator Chris Coons: The United States “can accept refugees while keeping our country safe.” (C) Senator Tom Carper: Current vetting procedures are lengthy and thorough. “If I happen to be a bad guy wanting to come over here and create mischief, I sure wouldn’t come as a refugee. I wouldn’t cool my jets for a year and a half trying to get through that process,” e.g., would presumably sneak in illegally or come in legally and overstay my visa. A serious reappraisal of refugee intake programs is called for, and these reactions are simply cosmetic. See SAFE’s next blog entry, which will be posted on November 23. Top
11/18/15A, Panel: Realigning will need tax change; Reassessing property taxes part of proposal, Matthew Albright – It was previously reported that a plan for reorganizing the Wilmington schools had been proposed, under which Red Clay would take over versus the current split between Red Clay, Christiana and Colonial. Ousting districts eyed by advisers; Plan would move city students to Red Clay to streamline, 1/27/15. Ten months later, the former Wilmington Education Advisory Board has morphed into or been replaced by a Wilmington Education Improvement Commission. Otherwise, progress appears to be slow. The WEIC has issued a draft report; public comments are requested. The change re Colonial has been dropped, and Colonial doesn’t operate any schools in Wilmington anyway although it does take 178 Wilmington students in its suburban schools. And a transfer of responsibility from Christiana to Red Clay is going slowly, because Red Clay wants more money – the projected funding gap is supposedly $6M per year. The ideas that have been put on the table: (1) State would supply some unspecified amount to Red Clay for transition expenses, (2) Red Clay would be given “temporary authority to bump up property taxes” with the “small increases” to be imposed “without getting input from voters,” and (3) Longer term, as “the commission does not believe Red Clay taxpayers should bear an undue tax burden because of the move,” there should be a reassessment of property taxes (which would supposedly raise more revenue without the unpleasant task of justifying higher tax rates) and/or supplementary property tax revenues could be collected throughout the state or county. No mention is made of possible cost reduction opportunities, nor is it explained why Red Clay should need $6M per year more than Christiana did to educate the same students.
11/18/15B, Judge: UD to face most of Data Center’s claims, Jessica Masulli Reyes – This is an update on the 7/18/15 story, “UD fights Data Centers’ lawsuit.” One of the five claims in TDC’s complaint has been dismissed, no word as to what it was about, and Superior Court Judge Eric Davis denied TDC’s request for a jury trial on grounds that this right was forfeited under the TDC/UD lease. However, he declined to enforce a liability limitation provision of the lease at this time.
11/18/15C, More red light tickets, crashes, Karl Baker – Wilmington city officials insist that red light cameras make intersections safer, and that’s why they are used. However Wilmington earned $2.5M (42K tickets, $110 each) in fiscal year 2014, four times what was earned after expenses in the previous year on a 44% increase in tickets. Moreover, as reported in this story: (1) the number of traffic crashes at red light camera intersections rose from 190 to 200 in fiscal year 2014; (2) there are 34 cameras at 31 intersections, and twice as many intersections are monitored as were monitored in 2001 when program was established; (3) more than 40% of red light tickets in 2014 were for rolling red light stops, a nonlethal practice. Defense of this program is hypocritical; of course the objective is revenue. It would also be interesting to know how the yellow light timing is set, because speeding it up makes red light cameras more dangerous and also produces more revenue. Top 11/17/15A, Markell defies calls to refuse refugees; Republicans want governor to change stance on Syria, Jon Offredo – In September, Governor Jack Markell said he would work with officials in DC to ensure refugees fleeing Syria would be welcome here. That hasn’t changed as a result of the Islamic terrorist attacks in Paris on November 13, “despite calls for reversal from state GOP leaders and the actions of several other governors who have called for a border closure and pledged they would reject refugees” due to security concerns. “It is a shame the Republicans nationally who would close our borders do not share Reagan’s commitment to America being a welcoming country to those seeking safety from fear and persecution.” Also chiming in was Senator Chris Coons, who supports receiving refugees who have been “properly and thoroughly vetted.” He states that these refugees are “are fleeing from ISIS and the very same terrorists that have targeted the West. We are a tolerant nation, and we must not turn against our values by slamming the door in” their face. Republicans speaking out locally on this issue include Charlie Copeland (state GOP chairman) and state Sen. Colin Bonini. According to Bonini, the state should hold off “until we have a much greater comfort level with the security background checks.” Leaders from Delaware’s Islamic community are quoted as backing Markell’s stance, albeit saying “proper vetting” is “necessary.” According to the story, the US “has accepted 1,854 Syrian refugees through September” and the administration “has indicated that it plans to increase that number to 100,000 by 2017.” Markell’s press secretary is quoted that “the federal refugee review system has the highest level of security checks, and includes biometric and background checks as well as in-person overseas interviews by federal officials.” There is a lengthy recitation of the government payments and supports for the immigrants: cash assistance ranging from $200 to $600 per month, Medicaid, food stamps, employment assistance, English as a second language, literacy and counseling.
11/17/15B, What would Obama’s critics do? Eugene Robinson – The writer seems to acknowledge that the president’s approach to fighting the Islamic State “has not worked, at least to this point,” and also that the president’s press conference in Turkey at the G-20 conference was a poor performance, e.g., he “sounded defensive” and “is usually more skillful at conveying empathy.” But Robinson still manages to defend the president by bashing his critics for “playing games” and failing to offer “viable alternatives.” Thus, the Republican presidential candidates “talk a tough game,” but the only “honest alternative” is Lindsey Graham’s proposal that “the United States lead a coalition of up to 100,000 troops to eliminate the Islamic State and pacify Syria.” And while “that’s a plan worth debating,” would it really “make the world a safer place?”
11/17/15C, Obama shows complacency over terror, Marc Thiessen – A series of comments by the president about the supposedly declining threat of Islamic terrorism have been contradicted by events. The latest was on November 12, when he told ABC News that the Islamic State was not “gaining strength” and “we have contained them.” The Paris attacks took place on the evening of November 13, killing at least 132 people and wounding more than 350 more. Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes now says the president meant that the Islamic State had been contained “geographically,” but that doesn’t explain away the remark. “The fact is, Obama continues to stubbornly insist that the terrorist threat is overblown.” Will it take a major terrorist attack in Washington DC, which may well be coming, to change his mind? And under his leadership, the US has waged “perhaps the most tepid military campaign in this nation’s history (75 per cent of US air sorties do not drop any bombs),” while the Islamic State has grown in power and influence. Top
11/5/15, Carper seeks two-year non-defense spending bills, Nicole Gaudiano –According to the reporter, Senator Tom Carper is proposing a two-year budgeting scheme based on the following rationale: “Congress has passed all its annual spending bills on time only once in the last two decades. So why not extend the deadline?” To this end, Senator Carper is teaming up with Senator Mike Enzi (R-WY) on proposed legislation. Annual budgets would be continued for defense, but would be done only every other year for non-defense areas – staggered so that the “less-controversial” spending bills would be prepared in election years. According to Carper, “a longer budget cycle does allow for greater long-term strategic planning for both the legislature and federal agencies.” Carper also offered to co-sponsor a two-year budgeting proposal by Senator Johnny Isakson (R-GA) that would devote non-election years to completing spending bills and election years to oversight of federal proposals. Rep. David Price (D-NC) testified against the proposals, predicting that they would weaken congressional oversight of the executive branch, allow party leaders to make more spending decisions, and increase the use of supplemental spending bills. According to Price, the upshot would be to make the appropriations process “less systematic, less flexible, and less potent.” SAFE has suggested consideration of 2-year budgeting in the past, not because there isn’t time to get all the appropriation bills done every year (as suggested by the reporter) but because the appropriation process has become an activity trap with no time left over for reflection and planning. Time to get serious about budgeting, 1/20/14. The Isakson bill sounds in line with our suggestion that budgets “be prepared on a two-year basis for each session of Congress. Thus the 114th Congress (scheduled to meet starting January 3, 2015), would do a budget covering fiscal years 2016 & 2017 that would hopefully be approved and ready to go into effect by October 1, 2015.” In the second year of each Congress (election years), time would be available to review and assess spending levels for specific programs and activities, e.g., prepare hit lists of targeted spending cuts for the next budget cycle. Top 10/31/15, Bloom Energy short on jobs, salaries, Jeff Mordock – So far, Bloom’s job creation in Delaware as a result of locating a fuel cell production facility at UD’s Star Campus is lagging expectations. Thus, Bloom was supposed to have hired 300 employees by 9/30/15; the actual result was 224 employees. Unless they reach 900 employees by 9/30/17, there could be some clawback of the total of $16.5M in state grants that were promised for job creation. However, Bloom employees are receiving higher pay on average than was anticipated earlier – nearly $68K v. $40K forecast, which according to Bernice Whaley, state DEDO director (vice Alan Levin) is a good sign. “We are encouraged by these wages and Bloom’s strong order book in recent month.” As for the slow growth in Bloom’s business thus far, the company reportedly attributed it to “delays in obtaining regulatory approval from local governments before installing its products.” Bloom Chief Commercial Officer William Kurtz adds, however, that “we are developing a much better understanding of local regulations and requirements in these new regions [DE or East Coast states in general?]." The surcharge for fuel cells being levied on Delmarva Power customers is considerably larger than the state grants, e.g., some $35.7M for Bloom in 2015 alone according to this report, and will continue for 20+ years. Furthermore, there won’t be any adjustments if Bloom’s jobs count is lower than projected. Top 10/29/15A, GOP likes debate “energy;” Kent, Sussex young Republicans applaud the action, Molly Murray – Recap of a debate-watching party at the Milford Grotto Pizza. (Picture of a portion of the room shows about 20 people sitting around tables, no estimate of total crowd size reported). Audience laughed at Carly Fiorina and Ted Cruz for their make a joke of it answers to first question – “what is your greatest weakness” in 30 seconds. One of the attendees (Mark Houlihan, who was attending with his wife Amy) said the debate was “very energetic” and that he likes Ben Carson (as do “many in Delaware”). Story reports that Delawareans have contributed $110K to the campaign committees of Republican candidates, including $26K for Carson and $24K for Cruz. Hillary Clinton’s campaign committee has reportedly raised $46K. Mark Revel, Chair of Sussex young Republicans, thought Rubio did really well in the debate. Cruz attack on CNBC moderators for asking loaded questions is noted, and also a Donald Trump shot about “not a very nice question the way you asked it” plus a Trump shot directed at John Kasich. Back to Houlihan, he commented to the effect “that there were so many candidates and so much give and take it was sometimes hard to gather any substance." However, another attendee said he liked what Rand Paul had to say. “He usually tells it like it is.”
10/29/15B, Centrist warning on “populist” risks; Third Way Democrats oppose a “Socialist” drift, Nicole Gaudiano - This story (which ran in the Delaware Business section) appears below a 2013 picture of KR Sridhar, CEO of Bloom Energy, and Gov. Jack Markell, apparently talking at some event at the site of Bloom’s fuel cell facility in Newark. No connection is established between the picture and the story. “Centrist Democrats” are said to be warning fellow Democrats not to move too far to the left and offering an alternative. To this end, a group that calls itself “Third Way” has just unveiled a report with “more than 70 ‘fully paid for’ policy ideas they said would create new skills, jobs and wealth for the middle class.” Governor Markell and Senator Tom Carper (a Third Way honorary co-chair) praised the report. In Markell’s words, “it offers an ambitious and politically effective economic alternative for the Democratic Party to pursue in the 21st Century.” Carper added that here was a way to “help solve the riddle of middle-class wage stagnation.” The Third Way school rejects some of Sen. Bernie Sanders’ ideas, which could “divert money away from job-creating public investments, such as cancer research, bridge repair and school construction” into more entitlement spending. Excessive stress on a “fairness and inequality” theme is reportedly seen as “a political loser, pointing to Democrats’ losses among middle-class voters in the last three election cycles.” Accordingly, “it’s time for Democrats to be Democrats, not Socialists.” A Sanders strategist, Tad Devine, is quoted as disagreeing, suggesting that the Third Way proposal to offer “a modern, pro-growth economic message” is “out of date for a 2016 electorate.” The Hillary Clinton camp did not respond to a request for comment. However, during the first Democratic presidential candidate debate, Clinton described herself as “a progressive that likes to get things done.” The Third Way name is linked to former President Bill Clinton’s governing philosophy, and a co-founder named Mark Bennett is quoted that the Third Way report is aimed at longer term concerns about a primary process that could push eventual nominees too far to the left. “We don’t think it’s happened to Secretary Clinton but it’s always a danger and that’s part of the warning.” It’s not clear to us that Ms. Clinton’s positions are all that different from those of Senator Sanders, but she is cagier about expressing them. In the debate, both of them seemed enthusiastic about raising taxes on high earners, the wealthy, and big business - which may not be the best way to achieve faster economic growth. Top
10/22/15, Bloom rival, state in suit settlement; Other fuel-cell makers now eligible for same deal, Jessica Masulli Reyes – A lawsuit filed in 2012 was finally settled over 3 years later, on the basis that out-of-state fuel cell manufacturers (including plaintiff Fuel Cell Energy, Inc., a CT corporation) will be allowed to participate in Delaware’s renewable energy program. So far as we know, the ruling is of no practical consequence as there aren’t more fuel cell generating deals like this one being contemplated, but Fuel Cell and its primary attorney (DC-based Cause of Action) still hailed the outcome as a win. Also, the state will be required to pay $45K in attorney fees on Fuel Cell’s behalf. The other claim in the lawsuit, an “equal protection” complaint of civic activist John Nichols because the Bloom Energy fuel cell surcharge on his Delmarva Power bill was not being paid by Delawareans who purchase their power from other suppliers, was previously dismissed for lack of standing. COA apparently decided against an appeal of that decision. Bloom competitor to continue its case, 4/18/14. In our view, the equal protection claim had merit and its dismissal on grounds of lack of standing carried the principle of judicial “deference” to government programs to an unsupportable extreme. Top
10/18/15, State reinstates disputed stormwater, erosion rules, Jeff Montgomery – In taking this action, DNREC reportedly acknowledged that it was “‘in effect reinstating’ regulations that had been declared unlawful by Superior Court Judge T. Henley Graves in an opinion issued on October 7.” DNREC Secretary David Small was quoted that “we obviously [?] respect the court’s opinion, but without any guidance on how we should review plans, we are compelled to adopt emergency regulations to restore certainty to the process.” One of the factors cited for this treatment was that DNREC was exercising federally mandated oversight in this area. A massive technical guidance document was made an integral part of the emergency regulations in view of a court finding that this guidance needed to be part of the rules, whereas previously it had not been so incorporated. An appeal of the Superior Court decision is pending with the DE Supreme Court, including a request of a stay of the Superior Court order, and plans are being made to re-adopt the rules and added technical guidance details. An advisory committee will be formed, with a public hearing planned on the replacement (augmented) regulations. So has the problem been appropriately resolved for the time being? Attorney Richard L. Abbott, who represented the challengers of the rule, didn’t think so; he predicted that “calls for Secretary David Small’s removal from office, resignation or impeachment may soon be heard. His blatant disregard for the law and intentional violations of the powers of the judicial branch of Delaware state government are truly astounding and unprecedented.” As for the situation until DNREC’s request for a stay is acted on, Mr. Abbott saw no emergency. “Since the old, pre-existing regulations were revived by operation of law pursuant to the court decision and order, which were in effect for over 20 years, it is clear there cannot be any legitimate imminent peril – all is well and the public is protected.” Queries: (1) Who gave Secretary Small the legal advice that he could issue the emergency regulations? (2) Will the judge order Small to show cause why he should not be found in contempt of court? Remember what happened in the Kim Davis case to an elected county clerk in Kentucky who refused to issue same sex marriage licenses on grounds of her religious beliefs. (3) Will Mr. Abbott get in trouble with the State Bar for his remarks to the media? Top 10/4/15, DE politicians offer thoughts on issues of the day – Here are some points from opinion columns in today’s News Journal: (A) Governor Jack Markell, Manufacturing a new era: Del. keeps its “can do” attitude despite losses – Losses mentioned all predate his election, namely closing of the GM and Chrysler plants, no mention of more recent plant closings (steel mill in Claymont, Edgemoor TiO2 plant). Companies these days have more choices than ever about where to locate and are using more automation in their operations. That means trained workers with enhanced skill sets, greater knowledge of science and math, are a selling point. So the state has begun to invest in workforce training at record levels, and this has helped “to attract advanced manufacturing businesses in recent years.” Examples: Uzin Utz industrial flooring operation in Dover; and AB Packaging. In part due to these efforts, “Delaware’s job growth since the depths of the recession outpaces the country’s and all of our neighboring states.” Actually, Delaware’s jobs recovery has been lackluster. See 9/28/15 (item B) column by John Stapleford on Delaware’s budget crunch. (B) Manufacturing has potential to transform; Time to remove the stigma over this type of career, Senator Chris Coons – Many of the traditional manufacturing jobs are gone for good, like employment at the former Chrysler plant in Newark. However, “manufacturing is still an important part of our state’s economy” with “more than 25,000 jobs in Delaware,” and we can build on this base by getting hip about the new manufacturing – cleaner, higher tech, and requiring “higher-level skills than ever before, from hard math and engineering skills to the ability to think critically and work as part of a team.” Delaware is responding with Pathways to Prosperity, a program spearheaded by the governor “that connects Delaware Tech, local high schools and manufacturing companies to help schools train students with the skills and knowledge companies are looking for in new employees.” And in Washington, Senator Coons has worked on legislative measures designed to (a) “help cities and states modernize their job training programs,” and (b) designate and provide funding to 25 “Manufacturing Universities” across the country. There may be a few other things the government could do to improve the business climate, such as eliminating needless regulations and lowering business taxes. Why is the answer always more government rather than less if we really believe in free enterprise?(C) How to fund, take right steps to fix America’s highways, Senator Tom Carper – According to the writer, “our roads, highways, bridges and transit systems are in terrible shape in many parts of the US, and they’re getting worse.” The primary reason: “our nation’s Highway Trust Fund, which helps pay for transportation systems, has been broken since 2008.” A recently passed Senate bill (DRIVE Act) would dig this hole deeper by “co-opting nearly $50 billion in unrelated funds over 10 years to help pay for a meager three years’ worth of transportation projects.” To really solve the problem, the federal excise taxes on gasoline and diesel fuel should be increased and then indexed for inflation so they will keep rising automatically. After all, people use the roads so they should pay for them. Also, “the US has, by far, the lowest combined state and federal taxes on gas and diesel fuels of any developed nation.” And don’t forget that motorists pay more for auto repairs if roads are in bad shape, witness a recent study (by TRIP, a transportation research group) showing that the increased repair expenses for the average driver are $516 per year (what’s the total repair expenses for said driver?). We agree with Senator Carper in part. The DRIVE Act was ill conceived, and should be ignored in the House. And if an increase in dedicated tax revenues is necessary, it should come from an increase in motor fuel taxes. That being said, attention should first be given to better controlling federal expenditures. To this end, it’s time to (a) repeal the “prevailing wage” legislation, and (b) limit HTF outlays to building and/or repairing highways and bridges versus rapid transit, bike paths, and goodness knows what else. Fixing the Highway Trust Fund, 8/3/15.(D) Government’s accountability, awareness deficit, Michael Fleming (a Wilmington resident and business executive) – The writer refers to several recent instances in which public officials made statements that reflected arrogance and hostility to other opinions. One of these was “the Senate Finance Committee chairman’s dismissive response ['free advice is worth the same amount you are paying for it”] to a detailed new report by the nonpartisan Business Roundtable outlining significant new challenges to the state budget.” Too bad, because it’s healthy to see the Business Roundtable showing interest in state policy issues beyond those “directly impacting their particular industries.” And government managers and their agencies can learn things from the private sector if they are willing to listen. To have real impact, the BR will probably need to go beyond “issuing reports” to finding ways to “get the attention of those in power” so that the current culture (good enough for government work) can be changed. That will require “engagement and leadership.” Previous columns by Mr. Fleming have left us with the impression that he may be interested in running for office, and this one seems to confirm it. Hmm, wonder if the GOP will try to “draft him” as a candidate in 2016. Top
9/30/15, Committee is just insider whitewash, Dave Graham (Independent Party candidate for AG in 2014, etc.) – Re the Delaware Expenditure Review Committee created by Governor Markell’s executive order 52: Clearly “a serious bottom-up review of state budget outflow is needed,” but the DERC won’t provide it. Only one female member (Ann Visalli, OMB director) - several lawyers, former elected officials and/or members of DEFAC - no small business owners, healthcare insurance executives, licensed CPAs, or “Delaware State Merit Employees.” Disclosed focus is Medicaid, a federally mandated program. “Don’t be surprised if further cuts to state employee benefits show up as the marquee headliners in the final recommendations.” A DERC should have been appointed in 2009, not now with only four months allotted for its review, and don’t expect results “without the injection of fresh ideas and analysis from truly independent outsiders who would bring the experience, know-how and analytical skills required to perform a no-holds-barred complete review.” Agreed, but where would those “truly independent outsiders” come from in a small, interconnected state like Delaware? Top
9/28/15, Delaware budget crunch – More fodder in the opinion section this morning: (A) Getting a real handle on spending (editorial) – According to the early forecasts for the 2017 fiscal year, “the gap between expected revenues and expected expenses will be huge.” So it’s a good thing that “Gov. Markell has appointed a panel to review state spending,” and that there will be no sitting legislators on the panel because 2016 is an election year, which “has a way of diverting attention and loyalty.” Maybe we missed it, but has been there been any news coverage of the spending panel? (B) Premature for a Delaware economic growth victory lap, Dr. John Stapleford of CRI – Takes issue with recent assessment of Bernice Whaley of DEDO that Delaware economy is on the mend. Manufacturing employment on the skids, lower unemployment rate is mainly because working age adults are dropping out of the work force, shrinking average compensation. Although growth in high tech industries is a positive, “it provides few opportunities for the almost two-thirds of working age Delaware residents who have less than an associates degree.” (C) Raising some taxes could help budget for years to come – Mike Matthews, past president of Delaware Americans for Democratic Action – The budget deal in June was bad news: closing gap with one-time windfall funds from a legal settlement. Next budget “should have mixed cuts with increased revenue,” and the tax increases should be higher rates on high earners plus “slightly raised” corporate fees for “a small group of the largest corporations in Delaware.” As for spending cuts, the items mentioned are cutting charter school performance fund ($1M), requiring Sussex County residents to pay for state police service ($1.2M), and reducing the size of the prison system “by getting people treatment instead of incarceration.” For good measure, enact a “living wage” for people who are having trouble making ends meet, “which would also help to stimulate the economy.” Top
9/27/15A, Business and “flesh-and-blood” crooks – Not for the first time, this News Journal editorial advocates prosecuting erring corporate executives for criminal behavior – in this case the use of “defeat devices” to enable certain models of VW diesel cars to pass emission tests for nitrous oxide (NOX) while still getting superior gas mileage on the road (when the NOX elimination system would be turned down). Never mind that the VW CEO resigned, and the company “saw its sales drop and faces huge fines.” It’s time for “the federal government [to] stop allowing big companies to merely pay fines (no matter how big) so their bosses can get away with criminal behavior. After all, the fines are passed along to stockholders and customers. Jail is a good place for criminals, whether they are thugs with a gun on the street or thugs in fancy suits in the boardroom.” Just think, “it is estimated that as many as 58,000 Americans die each year from nitrogen dioxides released into the atmosphere.” And while they are at it, DOJ should a harder look at GM executives re the failure to recall cars for an ignition-switch defect that is believed to have resulted in more than 100 people dying in crashes related to the problem. The regulators deserve some share of the blame in that they set NOX emission standards that could not be practically attained without compromising vehicle mileage and increasing carbon emissions (also claimed to be a big problem); furthermore, they apparently failed to check to see if the purported NOX reductions were being achieved in practice. The connection between VW’s conduct and the NOX fatality statistics is tenuous. The fines, business losses and legal liabilities that are sure to follow will not soon be forgotten. As for throwing crooks in jail, consider how seldom this happens to politicians and government employees whose conduct may be equally reprehensible. The reason that street thugs must be locked up is because they otherwise don’t have anything to lose, not because jail is an effective deterrent. 9/27/15B, General Assembly should get to work on Delaware budget, Paul Morrill Jr. (executive director of Committee of 100) – Says General Assembly should agree in January to base the budget to be developed on the December revenue estimates of DEFAC rather than hoping against hope that the estimates will increase by June. If there is an increase, put it in the “budget smoothing account” rather than using it to boost budgeted outlays. (And if there is a decrease before a balance in the BSA can be built up, what then?) A study completed last spring by a DEFAC subcommittee made specific recommendations on adjusting “the revenue portfolio,” and the final report “was supported by members of both parties.” The report was “neutral on whether or not we need more revenues, but rather focused on how we can have greater stability and be more competitive with other states.” Enough said, enact all of the recommendations. Then if “we determine that additional revenues are needed,” follow the report and broaden the tax base vs. raising rates. As for the expenditure side, the answer is to “make sure we have goals and objectives for all our spending programs, have performance measurements in place, and budget according to the expected results.” Start the process now, no need to wait until next year (allowing time for another study or waiting until after the election). Ultimately, “the budget will include some combination of spending restraint and additional revenues. Don’t allow the Taxophobes or the Spendophiles to defeat compromise. The Governor just appointed a committee to study the expenditure side, so this commentary seems out of date. Also, setting goals and objectives for spending programs, etc. won’t work; experience has shown that the secret to cutting spending is headcount reduction.
9/27/15C, Top Bloom officer’s winding path to fuel cell plants, Jeff Montgomery – This is an extensive story on a new Bloom Energy executive, Chief Operating Officer Susan Brennan. Ms. Brennan has previous experience in the automotive industry, most recently a 5-year stint as manufacturing VP at Nissan’s Smyrna, TN plant; she is currently splitting her time between Delaware and California. The story also reprises information about the Bloom Energy venture in Delaware, which is characterized as “a high-stakes Delaware economic development gamble” (being carried out with the money of Delmarva Power customers). Top
9/23/15. Do Delaware’s secrets pose a risk? John Flaherty, Delaware Coalition for Open Government – Cites an August 2015 report by the GAO, in response to a “bipartisan group of US senators, including Tom Carper.” Its title: Immigrant Investor Program, Additional Actions Needed to Better Assess Fraud Risks and Report Economic Benefits. It’s all about “a lesser-known US government program called EB5,” which “fast tracks green cards to foreign nationals who invest in commercial enterprises here in the US through licensed regional centers.” Said regional centers are not government agencies, but rather private businesses. An EB5 enterprise could be the construction of, say, a hotel, factory or retail distribution center. The EB5 program is only one of many ways that offshore financing can enter the US, and there are some disturbing issues: money laundering, questionable source of offshore financing, project fraud and national security risks. And there are a slew of government agencies that protect us from fraud and national security threats, e.g., DHS, Immigration Service, Office of the Inspector General, FBI, and Financial Crimes Enforcement Network. The GAO report does not examine lots of things, including “fraud risks at the state level, facilitated by our LLC laws, that do not reflect the current international political environment.” And listen up folks, DCOG would like to see the Delaware LLC laws changed to require LLC members and investors to be registered at “our State Department.” As matter stand, “only in the case of suspected criminal activity can measures be taken by law enforcement and the courts to uncover an LLC’s members, investors and funding sources.” Full transparency would be ideal, but at a minimum it should be required for “industries, which have the potential to jeopardize cybersecurity, disrupt vital homeland infrastructure, or manufacture hazardous materials.” Examples: biological, chemical and nuclear research/manufacturing, cybersecurity design/installation, data centers, fiber option manufacturing/installation, independent and regional electrical grid vendors, power plants, refinery operations, transmission lines/pipeline vendors, etc. “Headinthesand governance is no way to serve Delaware citizens, nor our national interests.” This attempt to establish a connection between the GAO report and DE LLC law seems pretty far fetched. The key word is data centers, which ties into a previous column by the writer demanding to know who is backing the proposed data center in Middletown. Say no to tax money for secretive data project, John Flaherty (Delaware Coalition of Open Government), 7/8/15. Top
9/22/15, Group protests speaker at UD; Members of Black Lives Matter movement stage silent protest against Pavlich, Saranac Hale Spencer - Picture of a protestor signing a big banner lying on the ground, other protestors standing in the background. “Tanya Jankowski signs her name on a banner declaring #BlackLivesMatter on the University of Delaware campus, where a Fox News pundit was set to speak on Monday.” About 80 students – silent protest holding the banner – before the speech by Pavlich who had allegedly called Black Lives Matter (BLM) a “violent hate group.” The “quiet protest” started coming together after a UD group called Students for the Second Amendment (SSA) announced that it was bringing Pavlich to the campus. Pavlich is reported to have “ended up delivering her speech” to “a crowd made up of equal parts [BLM] protestors and gun enthusiasts.” Pavlich received a $2,500 speaking fee and the rent of the hall was $1,500. UD covered the bill because it had approved the request submitted by SSA, which has about 140 members, according to its president, Tyler Yzaguirre (TY). Pavlich was reportedly invited because she is a Second Amendment advocate and live-action shooter. TY is quoted that BLM was entitled to their first amendment rights, but the protest had resulted in increasing the police presence at the event from two university officers to 16 plus a personal bodyguard for Pavlich. Ayanna Gill of BLM said the purpose of the protest was to ensure that their views were reflected on campus. Jose-Luis Riera, UD’s dean of students was reportedly pleased to have one group of students bringing in a speaker they agree with and another group respectfully expressing their opposition. Viewing the crowd gathered in front of Mitchell Hall before the speech started, Riera said, “This is what should be happening on campus.” Here are the rather different impressions of a gun rights enthusiast of our acquaintance who attended the event: “In addition to having my legal pocket knife [cutting edge less than 3 inches] confiscated, I was forced to remove my belt and walk through a metal detector to enter the event last night. I also attended the Coons/Carney debates at the same Mitchell Hall and no such security measure was present. They did have a couple of U of D police in attendance, but that was it - no Capital Police that I can recall. What point was the U of D trying to make last night? Why didn't they screen the Black Lives Matter protesters outside the Hall? Why was it only the attendees who wanted to hear Pavlich's speech that were treated in this demeaning manner? For that matter, why didn't the U of D have checkpoints on the Mall? Why not Main Street? For the record, the BLM protesters who did seek entry to the event had to go through the same procedures, but no one who stayed outside was checked. Their bullhorn messages were incoherent. *** Katie didn't take any questions. I wish she had. This was my biggest disappointment. Her speech was well crafted and full of interesting stats.” Top
9/18/15, Coons: Iran deal a model for region; Diplomacy must be the focus for any security efforts, Nicole Gaudiano – Picture: Senator Coons at UD on 9/1, where he announced his support for the Iranian Nuclear Deal (IND). Speaking at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace yesterday, Coons reiterated his position, charactering the IND as “leadership through partnership” that could serve as a model of how the US should lead in the Middle East and around the world. “We must trust diplomacy, deterrence and multilateralism to solve the security problems of the 21st Century.” Also, the imagined “path towards a ‘better deal’ does not realistically exist," so “if the United States [walked] away, we would isolate ourselves and recklessly reject cooperation with our allies, potentially losing the legitimacy and leverage that comes from negotiating with Iran as part of a strong, international coalition.” Coons also said “tough, unified sanctions are what brought Iran to the negotiating table,” that Iran “must not be left with any doubt that it will feel the pain of sanctions from the entire global community the moment it violates the agreement,” that he favors “strengthening the US alliance with Gulf partners, support for Israel and the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons,” that while he opposes large scale deployment of US forces to fight the Islamic State, the US should step up airstrikes and increase indigenous ground forces in the region, and that the US should “lead by example” and accept more refugees from the Middle East in coming years. “We will have other crises ahead of us. The United States must continue to lead through what I would call muscular multilateralism because it represents a better approach.” The part about “other crises ahead” is definitely right, and the IND may be an important factor. Compare Should Congress reject the Iranian nuclear deal? 8/24/15. Top 9/17/15, A second governor bid in 2016 for Carney; Democrat will chase prize he lost in 2008, Jonathan Starkey – Representative John Carney has announced that he will run for governor in 2016, and from the sounds of this story he won’t face any opposition from other Democrats. He won’t begin actively campaigning until next year, but has formed a committee so his campaign can start hiring staff and raising money. As previously announced, DE Sen. Colin Bonini and retired state trooper Lacey Lafferty will be seeking the Republican nomination. Bonini is quoted that he likes Carney personally, but “Delaware needs to go in a different direction” and “I’m going to be offering a different choice.” GOP Chairman Charlie Copeland took a harder line: “If you like wasteful government spending, higher taxes, and [former Governor] Ruth Ann Minner, then you’ll love John Carney.” Former Republican congressman and governor Mike Castle is quoted that “it is going to be hard for Republicans to win in a year like the one coming up.” A primary contest is expected between DE Rep. Bryan Short and DE Sen. Bryan Townsend to replace Carney as US Representative. Top
Sept. 13-17, 2015, Does “We the People” matter any more – As in past years (last 10 years), the News Journal ran a series of essays in conjunction with Constitution Day (Sept. 17). This year’s series had a “We the People” theme, and focused on topics pertaining to African Americans, Muslims, birthright citizenship, same-sex marriage and the one-person, one vote case.
I. All American citizens fall under “We the People,” but who is really included, Professor Alan Garfield, Delaware Law School, 9/13/15 - Does this phrase include legal immigrants who have lived here for decades, felons who have lost their right to vote, illegal immigrants or their US-born children? And this fall the Supreme Court will consider a case about drawing voting district lines in Texas. Should the lines be drawn based on population or on voters (which would shift power from urban to rural areas and therefore benefit Republicans over Democrats)? And what about Texas “making it exceedingly difficult for undocumented mothers to obtain birth certificates for their children.” And isn’t it awful that we haven’t built a more inclusive, welcoming society but instead continue “to struggle with deep-seated racism.” Charleston massacre – relentless stream of videotaped white officers shooting black men – Confederate flag controversy. All this and more will be explored in the series. 2. For the African-American community to feel included in the “we,” more needs to happen, Carron Phillips, Delaware On-Line, 9/13/15 - Is “We the People” really as inclusive as it sounds? No sir, that’s simply code for white men or at least that’s what was meant originally. Racism persists, and even having a black president didn’t change things. “As if electing Obama was some kind of favor that magically washed away hundreds of years of oppression and racism.” Etc. Nurturing an abiding sense of grievance and endlessly calling for “conversation about race” are not likely to yield productive results. 3. Equal dignity in the eyes of the law, Lisa Goodman, Esq., president of Equality Delaware, Inc., 9/14/15 – The writer lauds Obergefell v. Hodges (recognizing a constitutional right for marriages between same-sex couples) as “a landmark decision for the LGBT community.” Justice Anthony Kennedy’s majority opinion is quoted – no mention of the four dissenting opinions. Goodman goes on to say “we still have work to do,” in that LGBT Americans will not truly have equal dignity in the eyes of the law until each of us has basic protections from discrimination wherever we may live or travel. No one should be denied housing, fired from their job, or refused service in a store or restaurant. We decided long ago in America that businesses that hold themselves out to the public should not be able to refuse service to members of the public. *** Americans now overwhelmingly feel that this social contract includes LGBT people. According to a March 2015 poll . . . 69 percent of likely voters support comprehensive federal discrimination protections for all LGBT Americans.” These assertions can’t easily be squared with the rights of Americans to freedom of thought, speech, and religion; a great deal of ultimately divisive litigation lies ahead. 4. In a country founded by immigrants, are they “the people”? Patricia Rivera, member of the Delaware Hispanic Commission, 9/15/15 – Ms. Rivera was born in Bolivia; her family came here in 1978 and in due course acquired US citizenship. She considers herself an immigrant, although “my children can only describe themselves as American.” Her main point is that birthright citizenship is “an American tradition,” which is protected by the 14th Amendment that “expanded the protection of civil rights to all Americans.” “Historically,” she asserts, “immigrants have not come to the United States to give birth” but rather “their incentive is economic.” Also, the derogatory term “anchor babies” is wrong because “children of undocumented immigrants born in the US don’t offer their parents any immediate protection.” And, “little evidence exists that denying citizenship to future generations will slow down immigration.” Citizenship status and welfare entitlement for the babies provide a motive for immigration, as do policies aimed at keeping families together. So fie on “a slew of candidates and political leaders who are now focusing on . . . the elimination of birthright citizenship.” Ditto for “some conservatives” who have “thrown out different ideas of who should and should not receive citizenship.” The big picture: “more than 11 million immigrants without legal status are living in limbo and they need a way to become legal.” So far, this sounds like a case for open borders . . . but in the closing paragraph Rivera tries to have it both ways. “The United State is facing an immigration crisis. Something must be done to control future illegal entry. Let’s find a just and serious way to solve our problems without using undemocratic tactics that go against the grain of what this country stands for.” Any measures to effectively stop illegal immigration, as opposed to phony “reforms,” will likely be resisted as un-American. There is no way to satisfy everyone in this situation. 5. The “We” in “We the People” is an evolving idea, [UD Professor] Muqtedar Khan, 9/16/15 – Dr. Khan lauds this country as “truly a multicultural state. ” It is becoming less Christian and less white (from 90% in 1910 to about 63% “non-Hispanic white” currently), and “also changing in other ways,” e.g. “our concept of family, of marriage, of even who deserves constitutional protection (now even corporations have freedom of speech) is changing radically and rapidly.” The writer differs with Thomas Jefferson’s notion that “every generation had a right to live according to its own vision,” however, saying “America’s greatest strength has always been the enduring relevance of our Constitution.” Also, “Islamic values have always been a part of the American Republic,” witness an image of Muhammad with a Quran on a Supreme Court frieze of lawmakers and Jefferson’s personal copy of the Quran in the library of Congress. And yet, although “Muslims have become an integral part of ‘We the People,’” our culture is infected by “a high level of both Islamophobia [the Ground Zero Mosque controversy, 2012 presidential election] and xenophobia [2016 election].” So will America manage change by adjusting, which “means valuing our democracy; our rule of law; our cultural and religious tolerance; our appreciation for knowledge, innovation and creativity; our [work] ethic; and our pursuit of excellence,” or become “a nation of battling tribes.” What exactly is the writer advocating? And what adjustments are Islamic-Americans proposing to make? Note this video of reaction in Sterling Heights, Michigan to denial of permit to build a massive mosque in a residential area. 6. Who’s the “we”? Who’s “the people”? Dean Rob Smolla, Delaware Law School of Widener University, 9/17/15 – The invocation of “We the People” in the preamble has always been “both stirring and vexing,” because the term “we” does not have a predicate. And now the Supreme Court will hear Evenwell v. Abbott, a Texas case re a legislative redistricting plan adopted for the state senate. Texas made each of the senate districts roughly the same size as measured by total population [including persons not eligible to vote, notably illegal immigrants], but the challengers assert the district lines should have been based on eligible voters. This is based on the “one person, one vote” principle that was established by a prior Supreme Court decision based on the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. The plaintiff’s claim has “some immediate intuitive appeal,” but “perhaps Texas should be able to decide for itself whether to grant a measure of representative ‘voice’ to all persons within its borders. If you were a [justice on the Supreme Court,] what version of ‘We the People’ would you endorse?” So it’s OK either way, even though very different answers would be reached? That’s a rather odd suggestion if one assumes that the “one person, one vote” principle should have been established in the first place. In the end, is the law simply a matter of personal preference? Top
9/3/15, Manufacturing a drag on state’s output, Dr. John Stapleford (CRI) – The total inflation adjusted output of goods and services in Delaware rose a mere 0.6 percent over the past 10 years – and output was flat or declining in “all the Delaware industries with above average productivity” with the sole exception of financial services (“most of the output gained leaks immediately out of state”). A key factor was the decline of the manufacturing sector, which over the past 10 years has dropped from 9.9% to 6.6% of total Delaware output. Manufacturing activity has been declining elsewhere too, but it still accounts for 12.2% of US output (and 12.1% in PA). Alas, “the state government’s current fiscal crunch will not be relieved without renewed growth in Delaware’s output.” In the concluding paragraph, Dr. Stapleford throws out two ideas for improvement: a “right to work” law in Delaware, and doing something about Delaware’s unusually high electric power rates, which are “due to the half a billion dollar Bloom [Energy] subsidy and participation in a regional cap and trade system.” Top
9/2/15A, Bipartisan study of spending needed – Re the projected $100B shortfall in the next DE budget, this editorial endorses a serious look at options to cut spending as well to raise revenues (the revenue study has already been done under the leadership of former judge Josh Martin, resulting in “a fair, thorough report”). The contract with the Pew Commission to examine individual agencies to test their effectiveness is described as “a good start” on the spending side, but “more is needed.” The “spending group should be led by someone who has the proper credentials as well as the respect of all groups.” And fie on the Democrats, who “hold almost all of the cards in state government,” for raising “the issue of whether such a panel is actually needed.” Hmm, stay tuned for the other shoe to drop.
9/2/15B, Coons backs Iran pact; crucial win for Obama; opponents had pressured senator in effort to win votes for override, Jonathan Starkey – Speaking after an announcement by Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) that the latter will support the Iranian nuclear deal, Senator Coons has put the administration within one vote in the Senate of upholding a presidential veto of an expected congressional resolution of disapproval of the IND. He told an audience at the University of Delaware that this agreement “puts us on a known path of limiting Iran’s nuclear program for the next 15 years with the full support of the international community.” In addition to reciting some of the arguments used by Senator Coons (see 9/21/15C) this report states that “opponents of the deal say it does not allow for robust enough inspections of Iran’s nuclear sites and would pave the way to the bomb.” Also, DE GOP chairman Charlie Copeland is quoted in the final paragraph: “The Obama administration has tied the hands of the American people and our allies into accepting a nuclear deal that only kicks the can down the road and ultimately will allow Iran to have the weapons they long for.”
9/2/15C, Sen. Coons expounds on his Iran decision, Senator Chris Coons – Having announced his position on the Iranian nuclear deal at a speech at the University of Delaware yesterday, i.e., he intends to vote in favor of it, Delaware’s junior senator explains his reasoning in this column. To begin, he has been studying the matter since July with the goal of “understanding deeply [the IND’s] content and consequences." Thanks to “the dozens of experts who have briefed me” and to “the thousands of Delawareans who have reached out to me to express their strongly held views for and against this agreement.” Rest assured that “I am deeply suspicious of Iran, the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism," which has a “record of cheating on past deals and expressing virulently anti-American, anti-Semitic and anti-Israeli views.” That being said, the IND is the result of US success in building “a global coalition of countries over the past decade united in their determination to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.” And while the deal has features that are unpalatable, such as the release of tens of billions in blocked funds, it does require Iran to “give up 97 percent of its existing stockpile” of enriched uranium, disable 2/3 of 19K centrifuges, and permanently change its heavy water reactor at Arak so it can’t produce weapons grade plutonium. Also, Iran (1) has agreed to “thorough, intrusive, 24/7 inspections of all its known nuclear sites – uranium mines, mills, centrifuge production and uranium enrichment facilities – for 15 years and more,” and (2) “pledges under the agreement to abandon all efforts to develop or acquire a nuclear weapon.” The UN “has ratified a unique arrangement under which the US alone is able to re-impose UN sanctions on Iran for cheating on the deal at any point.” And the US military confirms that “the option of military action against Iran remains available at all times, and will only be strengthened by the significant additional intelligence we will gain through on the ground inspections of Iran’s nuclear sites.” Senator Coons goes on to make the point that if the US rejected the IND now, it’s unlikely that “the nations that dedicated years to these negotiations” would join the US in renewing demands for a better deal. Going forward, the writer plans to support “strengthening Israel’s conventional military deterrent against Iran, vigorously interdicting and countering Iranian support for terrorism and its proxies in the region, and developing a clear plan with our European allies for active enforcement to deter Iranian cheating on the agreement.” But “if we are destined to confront a deceitful Iran on its nuclear weapons ambitions, I would rather give diplomacy, in concert with our allies, a serious chance of succeeding before turning to military means to contain and deter a dangerous regime.” This is the best argument available for approving the IND, namely we are where we are and there’s no way to start over now. Professor Alan Dershowitz has ably documented how the administration botched the negotiations, yet agonized over the question of what to do at this juncture (concluding by suggesting an express US commitment to a military response in the event of any Iranian cheating). The case against the Iran deal: how we can prevent Iran from going nuclear, Alan Dershowitz, August 2015. Senator Coons makes several statements with which we would disagree, notably (1) implication that the military option will remain or possibly even be strengthened (the pending air defense missile purchase from Russia would vastly complicate air strikes to take out Iranian nuclear facilities); and (2) the purported Iranian pledge “to abandon all efforts to develop or acquire a nuclear weapon.” (In the IND, Iran denies that is has ever had anything other than a peaceful nuclear development program rather than admitting what it has been up to and committing to change its behavior.) Top
8/28/15A, This is why I am in support of the Iran nuclear deal, Senator Tom Carper – This column argues in favor of the IND and dismisses opponents as biased or misinformed. “Unfortunately,” it is stated, “almost before the ink had dried on the deal, most of my Republican colleagues and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu had denounced it.” Also, “this August, I did something that many critics of he Iran deal have yet to do, I read it.” Senator Carper goes on to recite many of the administration arguments for the IND, which he concludes “beats the likely alternative – war with Iran – hands down.” He also claims that his decision is not based on trust in Iran’s intentions because “I still have serious doubts about their government,” but rather on the rigor of the IND verification and inspection procedures, the ease with which sanctions could be restored if Iran cheats, etc. Yet, the writer nevertheless implies that Iranian behavior will improve when that nation is removed from pariah status. The evidence: “a sea change in Iranian political leadership” – Hassan Rohani, a western-educated moderate, was elected president in 2013 - Rohani appointed a like-minded moderate, Javid Zarif, as Iran’s foreign minister, and Zarif served as a negotiating partner for Secretary of State John Kerry – Ali Akbar Saleni studied at MIT where US Energy Secretary Ernie Moniz also had a long association; “working together, these two men changed the trajectory of the negotiations” – the average age of the Iranian population is 25, so “most of them weren’t alive during the 1979 Iranian revolution” and they “want a better relationship with America.” This review ignores: (1) all contrary evidence, such as the IAEA deal to allow Iran to self-inspect the Parchim nuclear site and the impending purchase of sophisticated air defense missiles from Russia, and (2) the power of the fanatical regime that controls Iranian policy and has relentlessly repressed domestic dissent.
8/28/15B, Carper to support Iran nuclear deal, Xerxes Wilson – This report combines a reprise of a longer story on 8/27/15 with the news that Senator Carper (pictured speaking at a previous Wilmington event) has now announced his decision. One notable point in the story is a cryptic statement that Republican opponents of the IND “need a majority in the House and 60 of 100 votes in the Senate to pass the disapproval resolution.” This is presumably a veiled reference to a Democratic plan to filibuster a resolution of disapproval in the Senate, which would surely violate the spirit – if not the specific provisions – of HR 1191, the Iran Nuclear Review Act of 2015 (aka Corker bill). The propriety of such a filibuster deserves and will hopefully receive serious discussion. Top
8/27/15, Iran vote focus on Coons, Carper, Xerxes Wilson – The gist of this first page story is that everyone in Delaware, or at least everyone contacted by the News Journal, wants to put the Iranian nuclear deal (IND) over the top by having the members of Congress vote against it by a less than veto proof (2/3) majority of both the Senate and the House. Sources cited: UD Professor Muqtedar Khan (political science), “more than 50” demonstrators outside the senators’ Wilmington offices on Wednesday backed up by “well over” 1,000 signatures from Delaware residents, Wanda Thomas (one of the demonstrators), and Harvey Zendt, president of Wilmington nonprofit Pacem in Terris (which organized the demonstrations). It is noted, however, that “opponents say [the deal] actually paves Iran’s way to a nuclear bomb, threatens the existence of Israel and will lead to more money flowing to terrorist organizations.” Also, “Senate Republicans are nearly unanimous in opposition to the accord,” and “Groups like the American Israel Public Affairs Committee are running nationwide TV ad campaigns and targeting states with undecided Senate Democrats.” Reportedly Senator Coons will announce his decision at UD on Tuesday (Sept. 1), and Senator Carper will “divulge his position to the News Journal on Thursday (today?). SAFE has written to the members of Congress from Delaware urging them to vote against the IND. Although our views may not carry the day, we wanted to put them on the record. Top
8/26/15, Will Bloom Energy surcharge be broken out on Delmarva Power bills? – Over a year ago, it was decided (in a PSC proceeding, the so-called transparency docket) to (1) begin a generalized breakout of mandated charges on Delmarva Power bills, and (2) study the desirability/feasibility of further disclosures (notably, breaking out the Bloom Energy fuel cell surcharge separately) after the new invoice system was up and running. The logic of bifurcating the review process in this manner seemed unclear, i.e., wouldn’t it have been simpler to reach a final decision so that all disclosures to be required could be built into the new invoice system before it went on line? Consensus emerges on bill transparency, 4/11/14. Over a year later, the follow-up study has not been completed. We understand that Delmarva Power is still equivocating as to whether it will or won’t agree to put the fuel cell surcharge on its bills. The issue will be taken up at the next PSC meeting on September 8, but with no guarantee that it will be resolved then. Note that Delmarva is charging its time and effort on this matter to ratepayers, and that the expenses of the PSC and public advocate’s office are borne by taxpayers. This seemingly endless study of a rather simple request does not serve the public interest in our opinion. Top
8/21/15, Edge Moor Plant closing, Jeff Mordock & Xerxes Wilson – With no advance indications that it was about to happen, the DuPont performance chemicals spinoff – Chemours –announced that this TiO2 plant will be closed down. Factors cited are a global slowdown in TiO2 demand, plus a need to enhance profitability by cutting jobs. Chemours will continue to manufacture TiO2 at plants in New Johnsonville, TN (where a production line will be closed), Mississippi, Taiwan, and Mexico (plant opened this year and will begin production in 2016). The company denied that the Edge Moor closing and Mexican plant opening are directly related. It’s said that the Mexican plant will produce a titanium dioxide that differs from the “very unique product” made at Edge Moor. No specific mention is made of unfavorable conditions in Delaware that might have contributed to the shutdown decision, e.g., high taxes, labor costs, or electric power costs. The announcement prompted renewed discussion as to whether Chemours will move its headquarters (currently in the old DuPont building) out of Delaware, a decision that the Chemours management says has not yet been made. It’s unclear what will be done with the Edge Moor site, but it’s in the coastal zone so any new use (assuming the site won’t be purchased by some other TiO2 producer) could require review and approval by the Coastal Zone Industrial Board. Top
8/18/15, Iran deal will be tricky but worth it, A. Hays Butler (Wilmington) – Mr. Butler acknowledges that the Iran nuclear deal is neither “without risks” nor “a perfect deal,” but he argues “the American People are far better off with this deal than without it.” Deal is not based on trust – imposes rigorous inspection regime – represents international consensus about “the best way to keep Iran from getting a nuclear weapon.” And arguments against the deal “have little merit.” Iran does support terrorists, but that country would be more of a threat with a nuclear weapon than it is now. No evidence that US could return to the bargaining table and get a better deal as Iran would hardly agree “to dismantle its nuclear structure completely.” Only real alternative would be war, “but we would probably achieve even less control over Iran’s getting a nuclear weapon” that way. What are the risks inherent in the deal that are referenced but not discussed, and does this argument boil down to rationalizing appeasement? Top
8/16/15, There is a downward spiral of dysfunction in Congress, Ted Kaufman – As the writer sees it, Republican victories in the mid-term elections have had a pernicious effect. “This is a Congress that just can’t get its act together,” he says, citing a series of examples (in every case, GOP members are seen as in being in the wrong, never Democratic members let alone the president or his subordinates): (A) Since 2009, Congress has “passed short-term fixes 34 times” for the Highway Trust Fund. That’s no way to support the nation’s roads and bridges. Hmm, which party controlled both houses of Congress in 2009?(B) Not only did Senator Ted Cruz call Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell a liar on the floor of the Senate, but he “has promised to shut down the government if Congress does not agree to shut down Planned Parenthood.” Accordingly, says Kaufman, “I fear we are in for another cliffhanger this fall, one that is likely to be even more costly and damaging [than] the 13-day shutdown in October 2013.” Compare SAFE’s analysis: Another budget showdown looms, 8/17/15.(C) House Speaker John Boehner has a caucus that “simply won’t follow him on major issues,” and now Rep. Mark Meadows has filed a motion to remove Boehner for bypassing “the majority” and causing “the power of Congress to atrophy.” Could it be that Boehner is the one who is out of step? (D) Treasury Jack Lew notes that “the government will run out of money around the end of October,” which will “require Congress to pass another extension [increase?] of the debt limit.” Ho hum, everyone knows this action is a formality.(E) Other straws in the wind: upcoming vote on the “Iran Nuclear weapons Treaty” (Oops, treaties require 2/3 approval by the Senate under the Constitution, so the administration has consistently claimed that this is merely an agreement) - need to confirm Senate’s extension of the Export-Import Bank (let the EIB die) - “annual end-of-the-year donnybrooks over expiring tax provisions (let them expire). (F) “Until the end of this year our two legislative bodies are scheduled to be in session at the same time a grand total of [only] 10 days, including Sept. 24, which “will be devoted to a joint session to listen to an address by Pope Francis.” We have not attempted to verify this point, but if it’s true an adjustment to the House and/or Senate schedules might be in order. Top
8/5/15, Why do we let corporations hide? Margaret Cassling (Newark) – Letter likens setting up anonymous corporations – shareholder(s) not identified, only an employee or agent for service of process – to getting an anonymous driver’s license from the DMV. So if you want to “run an illegal business of any kind,” here’s your license to “set up bank accounts in the name of this corporation and collect millions from your enterprise without being identified. Sweet set up.” So “why won’t our lawmakers take action to require that owners be listed on corporate documents?” There was a raft of letters last year (9/1/14, 8/30/14, two on 8/20/14) on the same subject, mostly from residents of Newark. Why do these people keep bringing up this subject? Top
8/4/15A, DE reaction to the Clean Power Plan that was released in final form yesterday by the EPA – This isn’t just a Delaware story, of course, but it was interesting to see how it was reported locally. FIRST, there was a front page story by Molly Murray & Jeff Montgomery, complete with a big picture of the Indian River Power Plant near Millsboro, smokestacks and all, which “now burns oil along with coal.” The theme was that having already taken steps to encourage “renewable energy” (wind, solar, and even Bloom Energy fuel cells), Delaware has a “head start” on making the necessary transition to a lower carbon emissions future. Nevertheless, some concerns were expressed that the precise implications for Delaware are not entirely clear. For example, PSC Executive Director Robert Howatt hedged that while “we would have to be very supportive of anything that can help us limit carbon emissions . . . we have to balance that with the costs of achieving those emissions [reductions].” And Sen. Harris McDowell (D-Wilmington North} says “he wants to see more information on the Obama administration’s proposal before commenting in detail” because “sometimes you just can’t get there. Economics intervene.” The most pointed criticism came from David Stevenson of Caesar Rodney Institute, who likened the CPP to “a federal takeover of the electric power grid.” According to Stevenson: “The EPA knows nothing about running the grid. The net impact of the Clean Power Plan will reduce global temperature by 0.018 [degrees Centigrade] by 2100 . . . [effectively] zero impact on climate . . . [coupled with] un-competitive, job killing electric rates, and power outages.” SECOND, there was an editorial entitled “Expect legal fight over carbon plan,” which expressed “little doubt we need to switch from coal-fired electricity to more sustainable production” and suggested that environmentalists who say “bigger changes are needed now” have a point, but the CPP “may be the best that can be done given the political circumstances.” The biggest problem with the CPP is said to be “that it comes by executive order” [technically inaccurate, as it’s an EPA regulation issued under the Clean Air Act], which “means the order does not have the weight that Congress-passed and president-signed environmental laws of the 1960s and 1970s do.” Congress may try to countermand the CPP, but this effort will of course be vetoed. Maybe the next president will choose to dilute the plan. For sure there is going to be a legal battle, in which the US Supreme Court will have the final say. That could take years. Maybe “cheaper natural gas would be a better first step.” THIRD, columnist Eugene Robinson weighs in with a column castigating all the GOP presidential candidates with the possible exception of Lindsay Graham for either denying the global warming menace or choosing to hide their heads in the sand by ignoring it. They should know better, as “the vast majority of scientists who have devoted their professional lives to studying the Earth’s climate believe human-induced warming is an urgent problem requiring bold action.” Actually, we believe there is a good bit of evidence pointing the other way. In any case, SAFE is sponsoring an August 21 talk by Dr. David Legates, a climatologist at UD, about the scientific arguments and evidence for and against the Manmade Global Warming Theory. Stay tuned for a report on this event.
8/2/15B, Data center, power plant plan approved, William McMichael – “After a prolonged public comment period marked by emotional and sometimes heated exchanges, the Middletown Town Council voted unanimously Monday night to approve the record plan” for the proposed data center. This is not the end of the road, however, as “more approvals lie ahead that will require public hearings [and provide a forum] for opponents of the plan . . .” One of the speakers at last night’s meeting expressed disdain for the regulators who are supposed to balance economic and environmental considerations. According to local resident Pete Sullivan, “an air permit [from DNREC]” is merely “a permission to pollute.” And he questioned why a co-generation power plant was needed when the data center could simply buy power off the grid, apparently not accepting the need for a highly reliable power source to make the data center commercially viable. We’re glad to see that this project seems to be staying on track. Top
8/2/15, Que pasa in Delaware – (A) State looking at more taxes, Jonathan Starkey – After a barrage of stories about Delaware’s fiscal woes, the other shoe is about to drop. “A committee created by Gov. Jack Markell to study Delaware’s tax structure has already endorsed . . . . imposing a property tax at the state level [or] shifting additional costs to the county level, which could force local officials to rely on higher property taxes.” To his credit, DE Treasurer Ken Simpler is quoted that “there is going to be a lot of push-back on the spending side before we go down the path of more revenue.” Property taxes have been rising sharply as it is, and if a tax increase can’t be avoided it should probably be a sales tax. At least all Delawareans would have to pay it, not just property owners. (B) Two major projects up for approval, William McMichael – Two projects are on the docket for the Middletown town council meeting tomorrow night, one a 170-acre multisport complex, and the other a data center/power plant project that has previously been noted. Opponents of the data center don’t seem to have developed much traction so far, but it’s not for lack of trying According to this story, two petitions with a total of 530 signatures have been sent to Mayor Ken Branner, members of the town council, and state representatives. The ask is for “a public meeting where ‘questions can be answered with substantiated claims rather than assurances’ on topics such as the project’s projected impact on home values, energy rates and health, and [requests] for studies on air quality and noise.:” In other words, critics hate the data center project and they are searching – so far without much luck – for evidence to support their position. (C) This time around we should really blame the messenger, [former senator and Joe Biden adviser] Ted Kaufman – This half page column, including a big picture of Donald Trump with a mouth-wide-open picture of Lisa Lampanelli, suggests that Trump is not a serious presidential candidate. In addition, Americans are faulted for not being interested in policy issues and the press is faulted for reporting stories that Americans are likely to find interesting as opposed to attempting to “educate” them. Example: When John Kasich announced his candidacy on July 21, he “actually delivered a substantive policy message . . . but you didn’t read about that on many front pages. The big story of the day was what Donald Trump said about John McCain.” And while “the Democratic primary is far less contentious, the coverage of Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders is also light on policy differences” and heavy on “Hillary’s e-mail problems,” etc. Tell us something that we don’t know. Also, given Kaufman’s relationship to potential candidate Joe Biden, is it appropriate for him to be writing columns about this subject?(D) Biden’s run for president is again under discussion, Julie Pace & Josh Lederman – The word is that Vice President Biden has not decided whether to run for president, but may make a decision “as soon as early September.” In the meantime, “former Delaware [US] Sen. Ted Kaufman . . . and Mike Donlon, have both been given offices in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, steps from the vice president’s West Wing office.” The only reason Biden wouldn’t run is a conviction that he couldn’t possibly win. (E) Electrical line plan to cost Delmarva customers; Disputed cost-shares remain for more than $275 million project, Jeff Montgomery - Governor Jack Markell et al. are making a big fuss about the cost to Delmarva customers of an electric line from the Salem Nuclear Power Plant to Delaware. See also prior reports, e.g., Markell calls power line cost plan “patently unfair” to Del., 7/15/15B. Higher costs for electric power that have been inflicted on Delawareans as a result of Delaware’s renewable energy program and the ill-conceived deal with Bloom Energy, are no big deal, but Markell et al. are outraged about the supposed injustice in this situation because it wasn’t their doing. Top
7//26/15A, Proposed nuclear agreement only seems to benefit Iran, Kevin Wade – We initially misread this title, because the agreement certainly does benefit Iran. And what about the statement that Mr. Wade “was the Delaware Republican nominees [sic] for US Senate in 2016"? [He ran for the Senate in 2012 against Sen. Carper and in 2014 against Sen. Coons.] The writer slams the Iranian nuclear deal as “an agreement that allows Iran’s development of nuclear weapons.” The rationale, he says, is that “the agreement slows Iran’s nuclear development” up front in “hopes that delay [will allow] time for a change of attitude by Iran’s Shia Islam theocracy.” That’s a blunder, because “the agreement benefits [for our side]] are imaginary.” Uranium removed will only be waste from earlier processing – thousands of centrifuges to be removed are already scrapworthy – billions of dollars to flow into Iran can be used to “build larger and more effective processing lines” and other hostile purposes such as developing long-range rockets. In sum, “this agreement is madness” and all the Middle Eastern leaders know it. Look for a nuclear arms race in “the world’s most violent and unstable neighborhood.” The alternative is to maintain and enforce the current sanctions, bearing in mind that “the Islamic Republic is fragile, and its economy is weak.” These are thoughtful points. See also SAFE’s blog entry on 7/27/15. 7/26/15B, Dodd-Frank law was liberal overreach, Pete Norton (Wilmington) – Responding to previous comments of Senator Chris Coons, Mr. Norton makes these points. (1) Financial crash in 2008 was not primarily caused by too little regulation, but by “affordable-housing mandates” that led to the extension of housing credit to people who weren’t creditworthy. (2) Dodd-Frank was never an attempt to find the regulatory “sweet spot” where rules are simple yet prevent bad behavior. The rules are actually complex (many community banks and credit unions are being forced out of business), and the bad behavior in this instance is political overreach rather than abusive business practices. Top
7/22/15A, Bloom improves its fuel cell; Units can create twice as much power without using any extra space, Jeff Montgomery – 2/3 of a page story on A-3, including picture of a row of metal boxes (which look a bit like stainless steel refrigerators) with this caption. “Energy servers sit outside of the Bloom Energy factory in Newark on Thursday afternoon. The company has refined its servers to generate the same energy output in half the footprint, while using less fuel.” According to the second paragraph of the story, “the innovations could open new doors for Bloom, seen as one of the nation’s leading commercial fuel cell makers and one of the most-prominent – if still unproven – landmarks in Gov. Jack Markell’s two-term economic development efforts[s].” Reading on, it appears that there has been no change in Bloom’s fuel cells – but only in the manner in which they can be configured in arrays. Accordingly, it’s hard to see how generation efficiency would be improved – even though the denser arrays may enhance marketability for certain applications, such as the example cited of rooftop installations on tall buildings. No explanation is provided for the statement that “the company’s new server could help bring down the costs of monthly premium [aka surcharge] payments by Delmarva Power customers for Bloom’s electricity supply to that company” as “the newer configurations [replace] the older ones [when] internal components wear [out].” Top
7/22/15B, Coons: GOP threatens Dodd-Frank reforms, Nicole Gaudiano – In this story, Senator Coons' concerns are spelled out more specifically than they were in his own column on the subject. Topping the list is a proposal pending in the House that would “fundamentally restructure” the CFPB by terminating the current funding arrangement (Federal Reserve revenues) in favor of annual appropriations. “That will make it much harder for the CFPB to function independently, particularly if [shudder] there happens to be a hostile Congress.” Rep. Jeb Hensarling authored a recent op-ed in the Wall Street Journal that suggests the CFPB was given overly broad powers and should be subject to effective congressional oversight. After five years, Dodd-Frank is a failure, 7/19/15. Coons has been working behind the scenes on crafting strategy to head off unwanted changes to Dodd-Frank. He reportedly considers himself “in the middle” of those who think Wall Street reform [which is not what the CFPB represents] went too far and those who think it didn’t go far enough. What this probably means is that he will favor the status quo (or even new regulations) with the exception of being sensitive to inputs from large financial services firms with operations in Delaware.
7/21/15, Don’t roll back Dodd-Frank rules, (Senator) Chris Coons – Five years ago today, says the writer, “Congress passed groundbreaking Wall Street reforms to prevent another financial crisis.” But look out, because “many Republicans continue their push to dismantle the new rules,” which “would be a dangerous step backwards for the safety and soundness of our markets, and for our nation’s economic security.” The “housing market meltdown” in 2007-08 is described as stemming from a “complicated house of cards with plenty of responsibility to go around." Insolvent borrowers – lenders who should have known better - bundlers of mortgages into mortgage-backed securities for resale – rating agencies. And to make sure the same situation wouldn't happen again, Dodd Frank (1) created the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB); (2) Limited unsafe investing practices by, for example, raising capital requirements for big banks; (3) Put regulators in charge of liquidating big banks if they fail. But no doubt the parties can work together to make things even better. Rules that are simple and effective – additional safeguards to make the system even safer. “I’m a firm believer in a strong, responsible and well-functioning financial services – it’s critical to capitalism and to our economy. Comments: (1) The description of how the housing debt meltdown occurred omits all mention of government policies and agencies, and two government-created entities (Fannie Mae & Freddy Mac) that issued a lot of the dubious loans. (2) Dodd-Frank did not impose “simple” rules, far from it, and the cumulative costs involved for the financial services industry (ultimately borne by consumers) is substantial. Dodd-Frank imposes $24B in regulatory costs, study finds, The Hill, 7/15/15. Also, formation of the CFPB had essentially nothing to do with the housing loan crisis and has done more harm than good. SAFE Newsletter, Spring 2015. (3) Republican proposals (e.g., by Senator Richard Shelby) to amend the law would not, as suggested, dismantle it. Proposed banking overhaul sets up high-stakes battle, the Hill, 5/12/15. (4) It’s by no means clear that there will not be more financial crises; the government continues to support permissive mortgage terms for low-income borrowers. Top
7/18/15, UD fights Data Çenters’ lawsuit; University argues no deal made on buying steam, Jessica Masulli Reyes – The filing of this suit was previously reported, at which point The Data Centers Limited was said to be seeking $5M in damages for UD’s cancellation of the project after entering into a long-term lease with TDC, etc. Data Centers claims UD lied, 2/5/15. In this update, a claim for damages of up to $200M is reported and UD is seeking dismissal on grounds that they never agreed to support the project, e.g., by buying steam as recited in the letter of intent that UD signed on the same day as the lease. UD counsel also asked the judge to limit the damage claim and hold off on agreeing with TDC’s request for a jury trial on grounds that the motion was premature. Sounds like this will drag on for a while, too bad! Seems to us that UD treated TDC quite shabbily and should offer a reasonable settlement. Top 7/15/15A, US 301 funding details close; DelDOT official: Agency expects to hear about federal loan guarantees shortly, Jeff Montgomery – The first segment of this project is a 14 mile stretch on US-301 (from the MD line) and then on a new connector road to the Roth Bridge on Route 1. Cost $500M, to be financed primarily by tolls. An application is pending for an $189M federal loan guarantee to help get things up and running. DelDOT has already sold $125M in federally-backed loans to cover the costs of land purchases, design expenses, and some utility relocations. There is also a spur up Route 15 to the Summit Bridge, which however is not covered in the federal loan application paperwork. Traffic studies have tended to undercut the project, but accident statistics and the needs for future housing projects in the area are cited as the clincher for why the new/upgraded roads must be built. Many Middletown residents are lukewarm about this project and have little desire to pay tolls to drive from A to B. If so much time and money had not already have been sunk in the project, it might well have been dropped. 7/15/15B, Markell calls power line cost plan “patently unfair” to Del., Jeff Montgomery – The new high voltage power line would run from the Salem/Hope Creek nuclear power plant (just across the Delaware River in NJ) to a transmission station in Red Lion, DE. Most of the cost (some $283M) would be charged to Delmarva customers on the Delmarva Peninsula, but the benefits would accrue to everyone served by the multistate grid. Governor Markell, and before him the DE PSC and public advocate, have said that the cost should be allocated more in accordance with the benefits. However, grid officials say the plan was developed under rules established by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. If the line ran from NJ to PA, would DE willingly bear part of the cost just because of grid-wide benefits? Somehow we doubt it. Top
7/8/15, Say no to tax money for secretive data project, John Flaherty (Delaware Coalition of Open Government) – Two months ago, according to this column, Cirrus Delaware, LLC (applicant for approval to build the Middletown Technology Center data center/power plant) applied to the Delaware Economic Development Office (DEDO) for a $7.5M infrastructure grant, the same amount previously granted to TDC for the proposed (eventually killed by environmentalist opposition) data center in Newark. DelCOG’s concern about this, supposedly, “is not the dollar amount of the grant, nor the right of a business to apply for grant funds,” but rather “our concern [about] who will be Delaware’s business partners when and if $7.5million of taxpayer money is co-mingled with financing [some $250M] from unknown sources.” Who knows, maybe these are the same investors who [shudder] backed the TDC project. Accordingly, “DelCOG insists that no state money be granted to Cirrus Delaware, LLC unless the funding secrecy is lifted and the facts are disclosed.” The writer’s insistence on public disclosure re the identity, track record, etc. of the investors seems rather presumptuous. A better question would be why DEDO should approve such a grant, i.e., isn’t the project economically viable without it. Top
7/2/15, Caesar Rodney Institute adds facts to debate, David Stevenson (director of CRI’s Center for Energy Competitiveness) – This responds to the June 29 column by William Moyer. CRI often suggests changes in state policies that are not working well, and supporters of said policies often oppose our suggestions. Contrary to the author’s [Moyer’s] assumption, CRI has “received no contributions from the fossil fuel industry.” In any case, “our policies are driven by facts and are not influenced by our donors.” As for CRI’s energy policy, (A) “we do agree increased levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere are manmade, and can lead to increased global temperatures.” However, (B) satellite measurements made by NOAA show no increase in average temperatures over the past 18 years. Also, forecasts of warming appear to be exaggerated and “the computer models are seriously flawed.” (C) We agree “mankind should be good stewards of limited resources,” which entails “good financial stewardship” as well as “conservation.” Delaware energy policies (subsidies for solar power, participation in a regional cap and trade scheme) have not only raised energy costs but also done less to reduce carbon emissions than could have been accomplished by building new natural gas power plants in the state. (D) “Like the pope, we oppose carbon tax and trade schemes, and any energy policy that disproportionately affects the poor.” The attack on CRI was nonsensical. However, this rebuttal leaves some questions: (1) What about Heartland and other “think tanks” that are also being attacked? (2) Isn’t there a disconnect between points (A) & (B)? (3) Although the pope didn’t embrace specific policies like cap & trade, isn’t it clear that he has positioned the Catholic Church on the other side of the argument? (4) Didn’t Moyer err in talking about “scientists” at CRI?
6/29/15, Conservatives attacked for questioning MMGWT – Two pieces appeared in today’s News Journal, both questioning the integrity of the Heartland Institute and one going after the Caesar Rodney Institute as well. (A) “Think tanks” foisting off unreliable information, William Moyer (former president of the Inland Bays Foundation) – The writer complains about statements authored by so-called ‘scientists’ representing organizations that go by the illogical name of ‘think tank.’” He claims to have “previously shown the ‘scientists’ at the Caesar Rodney Institute continue to mislead the public regarding the facts of climate change, simply because they receive funds for their research and travel expenses from big oil companies.” And now there’s another one, as shown by the column from Heartland Institute’s president, Joseph Bast, in the June 21 News Journal. According to Moyer, Heartland worked with Phillip Morris in the 1990s to question “the link between smoking and lung cancer,” and Mr. Bast authored several columns on this theme, e.g., “Joe Camel is innocent.” Furthermore, Bast’s piece in the News Journal claimed that his skeptical comments “are substantiated by scientists, economists and the United Nations,” which “is simply not true unless the scientists and economists belong to think tanks like the Caesar Rodney Institute and the Heartland Institute.” So just tune these folks out, they are not worth listening to. Bast’s “Joe Camel” column, 8/21/96, dealt with smoker’s rights and whether R. J. Reynolds was targeting kids with its advertisements, not “the link between smoking and lung cancer.” As for funding sources, both sides need money for their work and there is no reason to assume the alarmists are totally objective while the skeptics are just a bunch of mercenaries. (B) Republicans aren’t thinking rationally, Robert Gravell (Odessa) – Mr. Gravell characterizes the Heartland Institute as a “hired gun for the tobacco industry 30 years ago” [it was founded in 1984] that now “receives a large amount of funding from the fossil fuel industry.” He accuses Heartland of “using discredited or misleading information to ‘prove’ there is no [global warming] change.” And “as this position falls apart more bogus reasoning is used to deny that fossil fuel is responsible.” Or as a fallback, “they claim climate change is good,” e.g., because it helps plants. At the end, without explanation, Republican politicians are blamed for politicizing the issue. The evidence that there has been no significant global warming since 1998 is robust and widely accepted. Papal economics and papal climatology, John Goodman, townhall.com, 6/27/15.
6/21/15, Commentary on papal warning that “global warming is manmade” – Today’s Dialogue Delaware section leads off with a half-page color picture and column by Ted Kaufman (Pope Francis changed the climate debate for the good). There is also an editorial (Will the pope’s challenge challenge us?), a brief dissent (Pope’s climate thinking is outdated, Joseph Bast, Heartland Institute), and a letter to the editor from Chad Tolman & Mike Rominger (Pope’s message important for world). Kaufman’s column predicts that “by the end of this year we will look back on the encyclical as the decisive catalyst that changed the mainstream debate from “does it [manmade global warming] exist” to “what should we do about it?” For despite “the overwhelming scientific consensus on the reality of climate change,” reciting the usual talking points for this view, “it has become increasingly obvious that a certain percentage of Americans simply don’t or won’t listen to the scientists.” In the end, as noted by Dr. Katharine Hayhoe, manmade global warming is “an ideological issue” and “we have to appeal to people based on values.” That makes the pope “a very effective messenger.” On the other hand, Bast’s dissent takes issue with the pope’s encyclical for assuming that technological progress is turning the Earth into “an immense pile of filth” to the detriment of the poor. In reality, policies designed to curb carbon emissions by turning back the clock would hurt the poor more than anyone else. The science is far from settled in our opinion, but does that matter? The real debate is political, not scientific, and global warming alarmists (now including the pope) seem determined to implement solutions that would waste economic resources without achieving significant environmental benefits. What do they hope to gain?
6/19/15, Delawareans react to Pope’s climate message, Molly Murray – “As Pope Francis outlined a new appeal to combat climate change [184 page statement dealing with this and other matters] on Thursday, the reaction of Delawareans was mixed.” FOR: Rev. Christopher Curry, senior pastor at the Ezion Fair Baptist Church; Governor Jack Mark Markell; Senator Chris Coons; UNCLEAR: Delaware State COC President Richard Heffron (We know climate is changing; the issue is whether human beings are causing it.); Lewes resident David Stevenson (Claims the pope said carbon emissions must be cut, yet rejected “carbon tax and trade schemes and efforts to reduce global population.” Expresses appreciation for the reaffirmation of “man’s responsibility to be good stewards of God’s creation, and the need for us to find the best solutions to environmental problems in a spirit of good faith.”) AGAINST: Father Tom Flowers downplays importance of the pope’s encyclical, observing that “most Catholics never read an encyclical” and what people will see are cherry picked quotes to support the biases of whoever is reporting on the matter. OTHER: This report is salted with supposed information based on unidentified studies about the grim future outlook, e.g., the average sea level rise off Delaware’s shores could be up to 3 to 5 feet or more by the end of the century, and “in a worst case scenario, average annual temperatures could rise by as much as 9.5 degrees.” As usual, the News Journal fails to mention that (1) there has been no significant global warming for nearly two decades; and (2) earlier computer model projections of accelerating global warming have proven wildly inaccurate. Also, one might think someone would have suggested that the pope has no special expertise when it comes to scientific, economic or political matters. Top
6/14/15A, Questions remain over data center, power plant; Middletown project could get final approval in July, William McMichael – This is basically an extensive reprise of previous coverage about the proposed Middletown data center. One gathers that opponents of the plan have failed to find any real basis for attacking it, which frustrates them no end. However, critics are “looking closely at the questions raised and tactics employed by Newark Residents Against the Power Plant” and “[Andye] Dailey [who is spearheading Residents Concerned About the Middletown Power Plant] said they have reached out to [the Newark] group’s leader, Amy Roe, and that she has ‘offered to help.’” The comment about using Bloom Energy fuel cells as an alternative to the cogeneration plant is misinformed; this would destroy the economics of the project (unless the extra cost was picked up by taxpayers) with no resultant environmental benefits. At the tail end of the story, there is recognition of “one group” that “backs the project without reservation,” namely workers who would build it. Hopefully this project will be approved without a lot of drama, but the News Journal seems to be giving more coverage to the critics than their objections and questions merit.
6/14/15B, General Assembly is taking a real look at spending as opposed to simply mulling tax increases – Editorial: Looking ahead to the next budget crisis; Column: Finding ways to confront state budget shortfalls head-on, Rep. Melanie George Smith & Senator Harris McDowell, co-chairs of the Joint Finance Committee which is responsible for writing the budget every year. The particulars: A complimentary budget review by the Pew Charitable Trusts to “identify which programs simply aren’t working, are duplicative or are outdated.” Medicaid will be required to hire a private company for a pilot plan search for waste, fraud and error in the system. A Criminal Justice Improvement Committee has been established to suggest improvements and cost savings in the criminal justice system, presumably including lighter sentences for non-violent offenses. A bipartisan commission will review the Grant-in-Aid process to ensure that funds go to nonprofits that are effective as well as having “great” missions. The overall goal is to “find a way to close the nearly $60 million budget gap this year and then the $200 million gap next year.” Much remains to be done, but the groundwork has been laid. According to the editorial, “Rep. Smith and Sen. McDowell are to be congratulated for leading this effort.” Sounds promising.
6/14/15C, Don’t let our leaders get away with “plausible deniability,” [former Senator] Ted Kaufman - The writer’s basic point is well taken, namely powerful people often manage to keep their fingerprints off underhanded actions even though they understand very well what is going on. His primary example is the “Bridgegate scandal” in New Jersey, where several of Chris Christie’s aides were charged with a scheme for political reprisal that occasioned much public inconvenience, but which the governor insisted he knew nothing about. “I am not suggesting,” Kaufman concludes, “that we should in any way abandon the principal of innocent until proven guilty or change our criminal justice system. But I do think we should recognize plausible deniability when we see it, and hold leaders accountable in the court of public opinion.” Christie answered questions about this matter in a very forthright manner, and it’s certainly possible that he didn’t know what was being done. Kaufman offers no new information to prove otherwise, only conjecture, and he neglects to criticize prominent Democrats for actions (Fast and Furious gun running fiasco, Benghazi cover-up, destruction of allegedly “private e-mails” on an unauthorized private server) that would make Christie’s possible misbehavior pale by comparison. Compare a previous column - Why do we let the media ignore their mistakes? 12/7/14 – in which the writer took a very different approach. Top
6/6/15, Hillary Clinton needs a Sister Souljah moment, Harold Meyerson (American Prospect) – The writer suggests that Ms. Clinton should jumpstart her campaign by launching a war on Wall Street, advocating a financial transactions tax with the proceeds dedicated to the support of free college education for those who can’t afford it. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) have already done this and, lest we forget, the US supposedly imposed a financial transactions tax from 1914 through 1966. Details of the proposed tax: levy of 0.5% on the trade of stocks, 0.1% on bonds and .005% on derivatives, with offsets for taxpayers with incomes under $50,000. The purported results: enable more Americans to go to college, curtail the high-frequency “flash” trading that dominates stock exchanges, and “shrink finance’s swollen share of the economy.” Added benefit for Ms. Clinton: counter “new stories about her family’s links to the billionariat [that] dribble out daily, each one a hurdle to her credibly waging the kind of campaign she seems to want to run.” Other suggestions: call for constitutional changes to diminish the role of money in politics and “withdraw the First Amendment protections with which the Supreme Court has cloaked big money’s purchase of US politics and government.” This doesn’t sound like the universal tax system suggested by a recent letter writer (6/4/15B). Only the well to do would pay the financial transactions tax being proposed, and there would be no change in other taxes. The last thing this country needs is more tax & spend schemes to complement the ones already in existence. Top
6/4/15A, Delaware is running out of financial tricks to play; The estimated $70 million shortfall forecasted . . . for next year’s budget is only the beginning of what will become a widening gap over time unless we change, Paul Morrill (executive director of the Committee of 100, a non-profit association of DE business leaders) – The somber fiscal outlook and one-sided focus on tax increases versus spending cuts has been expressed by others, e.g., John Sweeney of the News Journal. At some point, the “free money” is going to run out – in fact that point is already being reached. As for answers, the writer suggests that it’s time to stop “using the wrong kinds of revenue for the wrong kinds of spending.” Thus, escheat revenue isn’t reliable so it should be directed towards capital spending and one-time needs. Similarly, Transportation Trust Fund revenues shouldn’t be diverted to cover the cost of Del-DOT operations. Won’t be easy to sort things out, but must start now “before the problem becomes a crisis.” At the same time, unspecified “new revenues” should be considered because “we need to be investing in our future – schools, technology, transportation, clean water and energy,” which is “the spending that can spur economic growth and bring jobs and prosperity back to Delaware.” Overlooks the “elephant in the living room”: rapid growth in government healthcare expenditures.
6/4/15B, Order a better study of our tax system, Larry Koppenhaver, New Castle – If the tax base were all transactions that are exposed to electronic processing, a miniscule flat rate with no loopholes would be possible. Taxation would be like going through the EZ pass lane. No evasion, no avoidance, no preferences, no incentives (that are not paid for), no corruption, no special interests. Universal taxation for universal funding of all government budgets. User fees would be appropriate for specific, optional uses, as in pay for what you get and get what you pay for. *** We the Lilliputians have the numerical ability to restrain Gulliver the plutocracy [but] we do not have the intellect [so] we need leadership. Let’s hear it for Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and Sheila Blair’s book, “Bull by the Horns.” This doesn’t compute. Define miniscule. And how would the proposed universal tax further the leftist demand for redistribution of wealth? See 2/23/13 letter by Mr. Koppenhaver re his earlier critique of flat tax proposals and citation of another book. Top
6/2/15, Residents want green options for power plant, William McMichael – “If you build it, make it green” was reportedly the message at last night’s Middletown Town Council meeting re the proposed data center. See previous story on 5/23/15A. “Nearly every speaker . . . said they want to see some form of renewable energy considered over natural gas as the prime backup power source for a proposed 52.5 megawatt data center.” Greta Myers: “I would like to see greener options.” Dave Carter and others: such options should include fuel cells such as those manufactured by Bloom Energy, and solar energy. Concerns were also mentioned about “emissions and public health,” e.g., by Katie Capelli who has a little girl and is “just concerned about her health.” The story notes that even if local approvals are obtained from the Middletown authorities, an emissions permit will be required from DNREC. Bloom Energy fuel cells burn natural gas, and they are less efficient than a conventional natural gas generating power plant such as the one proposed. As for solar energy, it’s intermittent and therefore inherently unsuitable as a backup power source for a data center. Top
6/1/15, America faces a red-blue divide for workers, Harold Meyerson (editor-at-large of the American Prospect) – The gist of this column is that while the blue states (CA, CT, IL, NY, WA) are getting bluer, red states (TX, the South, the Mountain West, WI, IN and MI) are moving in the opposite direction. Thus, “states with Democratic governors and legislatures, and increasingly numerous Democratic mayors and city councils, are taking it upon themselves to raise wages.” Examples principally relate to hiking the minimum wage at the state or local level, or other legal maneuvers designed to pressure employers to pay higher wages. For example, “the Connecticut legislature is considering a bill that would penalize large employers who pay workers less than $15 an hour.” Supposedly, movement in opposite directions is fueled by generational and racial differences, e.g., “red states have veered right under pressure from the increasingly all-white and disproportionately aged Republican Party, whose most fervid members see government programs as a reward to the very people of color who threaten their vision of the nation.” As a reward, corporate executives are “placing six low-wage Southern states and five of the 11 with the highest poverty rates, among their top 10 [on a business friendly list].” But the Texas “job miracle” supposedly “comes at the expense of US taxpayers,” as Texas has “the highest percentage of residents poor enough to receive federal assistance who are also employed.” Actions like raising the minimum wage are not free; they inevitably result in higher prices and more unemployment. And it’s our impression that the red states are doing better than the blue states in terms of economic growth, stable government, etc. A little less partisan rhetoric might be appropriate. For more on Mr. Meyerson’s pro-union thinking, see this article from the American Prospect website. top
5/27/15A, Carney leads series on climate change issues; City, bayside flooding, insurance woes discussed, Jeff Montgomery – Representative John Carney has organized a weeklong, home-district series on climate change issues. “The main thing is to hear from Delawareans, mostly in flood-prone areas, about some of the issues they’re dealing with currently and what some of the challenges may be, long term, with sea [level] rise and climate change driving that.” The initial areas visited were Southbridge and Leipsic. Apparently, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has been raising flood insurance rates, and 80% of the rates in Leipsic are now “full-risk rates.” Mayor Craig Pugh said the higher rates were “driving us away from our homes,” pointing out that century old houses in the area have never sustained flood damage. The reporter then interjects some gratuitous propaganda, e.g., “failure to stop the rise [in atmospheric CO2] is likely to push mid-Atlantic sea levels up 3 to 5 feet or more by the end of the century, according to both [unspecified] national and regional studies.” However, it seems that the “shorter-term concerns dominated Tuesday morning’s meeting,” e.g., Little Creek Mayor Glenn Gauvry questioned why the conventional insurance for his home costs $600 a year, while [government-provided] flood insurance premiums, covering only water damages from external sources, run $2,100 a year. Good question!
5/27/15B, “There’s unfinished work for us to do;” Senators challenge Delaware’s poor ranking for launch of women-owned businesses, Jeff Mordock – In a recent survey, American Express Open, a division of American Express, “ranked Delaware as the second –worst state for women to launch a business since the recession. Women-owned businesses in Delaware increased by 18 percent between 2007 and 2015, tying it with Florida and ranking it ahead of only Nevada, according to the study.” This was apparently the inspiration for a walking tour to meet with female small-business owners in downtown Wilmington. The walking group included Senators Chris Coons and Tom Carper, Delaware Economic Director Alan Levin, and Maria Contreras-Sweet who heads the US Small Business Administration. After meeting with several female entrepreneurs, Coons and Contreras-Sweet “attended a roundtable with lenders and small business owners to discuss how to increase the capital deployed to Delaware companies.” Wonder how American Express ranks Delaware higher as a state for men to launch a business. And don’t the two senators from Delaware have something more important to discuss with their constituents, such as when the federal budget is going to get balanced? Top
5/26/15A, Markell fought on education policy, Matthew Albright & Jonathan Starkey – As his time in governor winds down, Jack Markell is facing increasing pushback of his state educational policies. The general theme: bureaucrats in DE Department of Education, headed by Secretary Mark Murphy, have attempted to exercise too much power versus leaving personnel decisions, etc. to school boards and schools. Straws in the wind: (1) Complaints that Murphy had little teaching experience, i.e., all of 3 years and proposal to change requirements for future DOE heads. (2) Resistance to the Priority Schools edicts to Christiana & Red Clay School districts. (3) Complaints that new “Race to the Top” windfall is ending, state wants school districts to assume some of the cost for some 10 state administrators who were added. (4) Pending bill to permit parents to pull their kids out of state mandated testing on grounds that excessive testing is being done, at the expense of education time. Passing by a wide margin, Markell will either have to accept or veto the new rule. The only thing that has not caught on thus far is a backlash against the Common Core standards (albeit not for lack of trying), basically because teachers are backing them. Markell’s response is that when you try to make change, that creates resistance, but clearly he’s a bit on the defensive. Top down policies are not the answer, what’s needed is competition and choice.
5/26/15B, Congress should invest in rail safety – The headline for this editorial is off-putting, seemingly joining in the chorus about how the nasty budget cutters caused the Amtrak accident north of Philadelphia that resulted in 8 fatalities and hundreds of injuries. While one can complain that the Amtrak corridor from DC to Boston should have been better supported, however, it’s clear that a lot of money is being wasted on Amtrak nationwide. In many parts of the country, there simply is not enough traffic to make ends meet. And even in this area, as the News Journal goes on to opine, “talk about high-speed trains is a waste” because “if you look at a map of the line, you can readily see the wide-open spaces are sparse” so high speed operation would be too limited to save much time. “It would be far better to get back to the idea of safety.” Makes sense. Top
5/23/15A, Data center idea debated; Middletown facility would be smaller than failed Newark plan, William McMichael – The proposed Middletown Technology Center (MTC) was previously reported: High-tech proposal; Middletown Council hears plan for $300 million computer center, Middletown Transcript, 4/9/15. Now the proposal came up at a Thursday night meeting of the Middletown Planning and Zoning Committee. Some attendees lauded the project, according to this report, while others “expressed concern over emissions, noise and the speed at which they see the project moving through the approval process.” Presenter Steven Lewandowski took pains to distinguish this project from the TDC project that was rejected by UD. Different owners, much smaller power plant, however project could “potentially sell” power back to the grid during times of peak outside demand. The Middletown Planning and Zoning Commission members voted 5-0 to approve the preliminary plan, which came before the Town Council in April and will be revisited by that body on June 1. The developer wants to start construction this fall, but “at least two attendees expressed concern that the project is moving too quickly to get thorough public consideration.” Thus, according to Pete Sullivan of Middletown, “this whole thing is mysterious and dark,” seems to be “on the fast track,” and that “makes it very hard for us to be good citizens and do our job.”
5/23/15B, Delaware unemployment at lowest level since 2008, Scott Goss – Delaware Dept. of Labor: April unemployment down to 4.5%, the lowest level since May 2008 and lower than the national average of 5.4%. An economist in the DE DOL office said that the real trends are longer term, “but this report does nothing to dissuade me that Delaware’s economy is growing pretty smartly.” If so, why have other reports indicated that Delaware’s economy is ailing, tax revenues are in the dump, etc.? Top 5/12/15A, Cutting DuPont would hurt Delaware, Gov. Jack Markell – A day before the DuPont annual meeting at which a proxy contest with Trian Fund Management will be decided, this column supports the existing company management (CEO Ellen Kullman et al.). Whatever Trian may say, according to the governor, they are really after short-term profits. And by the way, a lot of the $2-4B in overhead costs that Trian wants to cut “are right here in Delaware. [They] could be talking about your neighbor’s job.” Also, notice what “Trian is not talking about – investing in research and development to create the products of tomorrow. This sort of short-term financial engineering is designed to create quick returns – not long-term value for workers, shareholders and communities. *** For 200 years, our ‘return on investment’ in DuPont has been a stronger community and quality jobs.” Let’s keep it that way! See also letter to the editor praising DuPont support for non profits, signed by leaders of various civic groups: YMCA of Delaware, First Tee of Delaware, YWCA of Delaware, West End Neighborhood House, Wilmington Senior Center, Girl Scouts of Chesapeake Bay, Boys & Girls Club of Delaware, Delaware Historical Society, Latin American Community Center, Children & Families First, Habitat for Humanity New Castle County, United Way of Delaware, and Claymont Community Center.
5/12/15B, Lawrence Lessig, Have Democrats accepted “Citizens United”? Harvard Law School Professor Lessig believes that many problems in the US political system could be alleviated by a constitutional convention to reverse the result in Citizens United and eliminate obstacles to campaign finance “reform.” See, e.g., his book on the subject, Republic Lost, and SAFE’s critical review (2011). Despite disagreeing with Lessig’s policy agenda, we agree 100% with this column suggesting that his fundamental premise – corrupt fundraising is far broader than proving an explicit “quid pro quo” – should be applied by Democrats in evaluating the pattern of Clinton Foundation fundraising that is reported by Peter Schweizer’s new book on “Clinton Cash.” The fact that Schweizer found “no smoking gun” does not justify viewing the pattern of widespread and obvious corruption that he reports as irrelevant to Hillary Clinton’s run for president in 2016. Top
5/2/15A, Delaware healthcare planning: Time to rethink effort, Dr. John Stapleford (president, Caesar Rodney Institute) – Delaware is working on a Healthcare Innovation Plan that “will involve a one-time outlay of $160 million and $190 million annually for 10 years.” Major components: “a health-information exchange, a ‘holistic’ approach to work force development and a new Delaware Center for Healthcare Innovation.” A major justification is that Delaware spends almost 25% more than the national average per capita on healthcare, “a level and a rate of growth that is unsustainable.” The writer goes on to review various statistics and facts suggesting that “this alarm is overstated,” including the following. Almost 16% of Delawareans are 65 or older vs. 14% nationally. Delaware’s Medicaid enrollment per capita is higher than average, which tends to push up healthcare spending. And Delaware’s Medicaid outlays have grown to such a large percentage of the overall state budget that “efficiencies have to be found,” so presumably things will get better. Also note that Massachusetts, the state with the highest healthcare expenditures per capita in the nation also has the most comprehensive state healthcare plan. Conclusion: “Can we rethink the whole effort? Will this plan really cost $190M annually in addition to an upfront cost of $160M, or is that the operating cost over 10 years. A previous report lauded a federal grant to start the plan - Delaware gets $35M grant to test healthcare plan, Beth Miller & Jen Rini, 12/17/14A - which would seem like a drop in the bucket vs. a plan cost of over $2 billion in 10 years. We would certainly agree, however, that this plan sounds like a dubious, top-down approach. See also two previous CRI columns on the subject, by Dr. Stapleford (1/14/15A) and Dr. (MD) Christopher Casscells (10/13/14) respectively. 5/2/15B, Same day registration will increase voting in Delaware, Claire Snyder (Common Cause Delaware) – Let’s here it for “government of the people, by the people, and for the people.” (Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address) And the right to vote is essential to achieve that ideal. Indeed, Pew surveys show that over 90% of Americans agree “completely” or “mostly” that voting is a civic duty. It follows that the right to vote (voting?) must be “free, fair and accessible.” Perceived reasons for someone not to register beforehand and therefore need to show up at “their polling location,” register and/or change their address, and vote on the spot: Just moved to the state, missed the deadline, or “only started paying attention in the last weeks before the election.” Accordingly, Common Cause Delaware supports a same-day registration (SDR) bill that is apparently being considered by the legislature. It would make things so much more convenient than submitting a paper provisional ballot. SDR can be done safely, as shown by the experience of 14 states plus DC. Two of these locations (Maine and DC) have had SDR for 40 years, and they “boast the highest turnout in the land.” Remember that the voting turnout rate in DE’s midterm elections (2014) was a puny 36% because “nearly half a million eligible Delawareans failed to vote.” Boosting voter participation would not only engage a larger number of citizens in the democratic process, but “also help strengthen the public’s faith in government.” There is “no good reason” not to fix this problem, thereby “ensuring our representation truly reflects the people served.” Hasn’t the writer ever heard of voter fraud, and how does that phenomenon promote trust in government. One might wonder why it’s so important for people who have not bothered to register, nor studied the issues or candidates, to be able to show up and vote at the very last minute. But rest assured, “this is not a partisan issue, this is not a partisan issue, this is not a partisan issue.” See a previous editorial on the issue, 4/7/14, A10. Top
5/1/15A, Claymont could get 5,000 new jobs, Jeff Mordock – Here’s another story about the proposed do over of the Claymont steel mill site by Commercial Development Co. (CDC), which was covered extensively three days ago even though no details about the proposed project had been disclosed at that point. This story describes the four phases of the First State Crossing venture: (1) Corporate Center on 30 acres, with four office buildings totaling 600K square feet envisioned – to be built as justified by demand. Supposedly there is a lot of interest. (2) Employment Center, a 59-acre site housing manufacturing, warehouse and logistics space, which is expected to “provide opportunities to create as many as 600 jobs. (3) Transit Center to replace Claymont’s current train station. 600-foot passenger platforms, bus connections, 650 parking spaces, bike and pedestrian spaces (?), a ride dropoff area. (4) Logistics Center, a redevelopment of the existing port with a 1-mile bulkhead for boats and space for companies to ship products via trucks and rail. But before this “vertical phase” got going, there would be a horizontal development phase in which the existing structures, e.g., the steel mill would be razed with the exception of “an old historic building on Philadelphia Pike.” This phase would include environmental remediation and is estimated to cost at least $100M. CDC has reportedly “submitted demolition permits to New Castle County and expect to receive a green light next week to proceed with the project. Demolition is expected take 18 months.” So far, at least, CDC has not asked for any state funds – even for new roads or sewer lines. NCC Executive Tom Gordon is a big backer of the project, which he describes as “a brilliant idea that Claymont needs.” Sounds promising, but we do have some questions. (1) To what extent has DNREC vetted the project? (2) Will the currently free parking at the Claymont station end? (3) Where would be tenants for the new office buildings come from, e.g., downtown Wilmington facilities like the DuPont Building? (4) What sort of things would be manufactured at the Employment Center, and does this venture mark a continuation of trend away from real manufacturing operations in Delaware?
5/1/15B, Delaware’s career prosecutors deserve thanks, not blame, DE AG Matt Denn – The writer takes issue with a News Journal editorial criticizing mandatory minimum sentencing laws and characterizing them as shifting power from judges to prosecutors. Denn expresses agreement with the reduction of some mandatory minimum sentencing (e.g., for drug possession crimes) and says he has acted on it “in my first hundred days as attorney general” by collaborating with Rep. JJ Johnson & Sen. Margaret Rose Henry on proposed legislation. However, he takes umbrage at the idea that the highly professional prosecutors in his office have anything but the ends of justice in mind in charging accused criminals. “They don’t care about politics,” but only “doing the right thing” and sticking up for “the victims of crime.” Also, “there are some crime, such as serious violent felonies, where minimum mandatory sentences are absolutely appropriate” and a few cases where minimum mandatory sentences are not currently provided but should be, e.g., illegal possession of guns by “young adults” who committed violent felonies as juveniles. These folks should get jail time, not the currently recommended non-mandatory sentence of probation. And the News Journal’s description of voters was simplistic, because, according to Denn, “voters are fairly nuanced in their thinking about criminal justice issues” and “quite aware of the fact that laws and prosecutors will not ultimately solve our violent crime problem, and we need to invest in dealing with the underlying causes of crime if we are serious about curtailing it.” That’s why the AG’s office “has a proposal before the General Assembly’s Joint Finance Committee” re substance abuse treatment programs, after school and summer programs for juveniles, re-entry programs for released inmates, and investments in our high-poverty elementary schools. One could question whether more social welfare spending will necessarily be effective in addressing the crime problem, it certainly hasn’t proven very effective so far. But locking people up and throwing away the key is not the answer either, and it's desirable for judges to have considerable discretion in sentencing. Top 4/30/15A, Sussex Tech under criticism, James Fisher – Sussex Technical High School is reportedly achieving excellent results. Students excel on state tests and are taking college-credit courses, graduate with professional certifications in fields like carpentry, auto repair and cosmetology. But instead of being praised, Sussex is receiving “a stiff wind of rebuke.” The charge: cherry picking the best students from other districts while “keeping the difficult to teach children away.” Sussex was lobbying in Dover for a 114% increase in its countywide tax rate on grounds that 44 staff positions were at risk. Under legislation currently being worked on, they can expect a 23% increase in the next fiscal year, 3% in the year after that, and then reversion to the current rate by 2018. Meanwhile, their student population would be cut from the current 1,545 level to about 1,250 as a cost-saving measure. Note that Sussex’s operation diverges from the norm in that about 2,600 adults are enrolled in evening courses at the facility. Also, there is so much demand for admission that they need an admission lottery to determine who will get in. Sounds like the backlash against good charter schools. Evidently, competition and choice are not highly valued by the public school system – as opposed to topdown management. And who cares if vocational schools are turning out people with skills needed in the economy?
4/30/15B, Delaware air gets “F” for ozone, Molly Murray & Jen Rini – “Delaware’s air quality, while improving over the past two decades, still gets a failing grade throughout the state because of high levels of ozone on hot and sunny days.” And in the northern part of the state, particulates are still high enough to receive a “C” on the American Lung Association’s newly released State of the Air report,” although that’s an improvement from 2014 when NCC was barely passing with a “D”. So listen up people, because (quoting Deborah Brown, American Lung Association of the Mid-Atlantic) “there’s still a lot of work to be done to make our air healthy for all of us.” Also, remember that “exposure to ozone while jogging on hot, sunny days can sunburn lungs just as it can faces.” Limit exercise and time outside later in the afternoon – problems in summer and in winter – homegrown ozone and ozone from chemicals produced hundreds of miles away by upwind coal-burning power plants and vehicles traveling in the Baltimore-Washington corridor - increases in pollen growth that worsen allergies – risk of intense asthma, cardiovascular disease and infection long-term “if Delaware’s air quality doesn’t improve.”Our guess is that no matter how much air quality improves, the “experts” being quoted will keep raising the bar. If the purported problems were acknowledged as solved, that would put them out of business. Top
4/28/15, In Claymont, hope for a revival, Xerxes Wilson – The acquisition of the Claymont steel mill property by a firm interested in cleaning it up for some other purpose was previously reported. Conversion in Claymont, Jeff Montgomery, 11/11/14A. The new owner, Commercial Development Co., Inc., is described in this story as “a St. Louis company with a national reputation for acquiring large, shuttered heavy manufacturing sites for conversion into new uses.” It’s reported that community sentiment is generally favorable. CDC will be meeting with county and state officials to discuss “its early intent for the property and publicly speak about it this week.” Meanwhile, there is a bit of buzz about how plans for this site could tie-in with revamping of the aging Tri-State Mall and relocation of the Claymont train station to a location a bit north of where it is now. Brett Sadler, executive director of the Claymont Renaissance Development Corporation is quoted to the effect that this confluence of projects represents “a unique opportunity to assist in the creation of and access to good paying jobs for our residents.” All this and there weren’t even any development incentives promised, sounds too good to be true. Top
4/21/15, SAFE joins in 50+ group letter to Congress urging that the Export-Import Bank be allowed to expire – Here’s a link to the letter. Let’s hope it works. See also “Corporate welfare has nine lives,” 7/11/14.
4/20/15, The short-term kills us in the long-term – “Do you want to know what is wrong with the economy? Blame short-term thinking. If you want to know why our political system is so dysfunctional, pin it on short-term thinking too.” This indictment of short-term thinking by the News Journal was inspired, perhaps, by Nelson Peltz’s pending proxy challenge against the DuPont Company. Sources cited: Letter from Larry Fink, chairman of BlackRock to the Fortune 500 CEOs (reported by the New York Times); Study by Richard Reeves, a Brookings economist, on short-term thinking in American politics, 4/16/15 (download PDF). Short term investors and special interests benefit; everyone else winds up losing. In the public sector, blame the ideologically committed activists on the right for the Republicans and on the left for the Democrats, who scare politicians into committing to policies “that drive-up debt or burden government with layer after layer of bureaucracy." Top
4/15/15, Obama does not represent “We the People,” Kimberly Whaley Mascheri (Laurel) – “As a citizen,” this writer decries a president “whose beliefs are the polar opposite of those fought for by our Founding Fathers.” How have “We the People” grown "so complacent that we have allowed [him] to hold office with no accountability to our Constitution”? It’s time to “stand with America” and “aid in restoring her soul.” We must do our “part to ‘keep the Republic.'” Among the specifics cited: “falsified legal documents, Obamacare, Benghazi, Fast and Furious, not defending DOMA, IRS and NSA data collection, executive orders [like Executive Amnesty].” The midterm election results spoke against the president’s policies, but he responded “as only a despondent dictator would by stating that he would either be given a bill for amnesty or he [would] bring it about by executive order.” Failure to stand on the principles and values that make America great, “I fear, will bring consequences resulting in her demise.” The writer’s concerns about executive overreach are well taken, although in all fairness this trend did not begin with the current president but has been going on for some time. Compare this recap from SAFE’s last newsletter. Top
4/13/15, Delaware backs constitutional convention, Judith Butler – This letter exults that the Delaware Senate “made history” by passing Senate Concurrent Resolution 6 calling for an Article V Convention of the States to consider amending the US Constitution in the name of campaign finance reform (reverse the result in the Citizens United case, etc.). Here is a way “to help restore democracy to our citizens when the legalized corruption of our electoral process renders the US Congress incapable of doing so.” Prime sponsor Sen. Bryan Townsend and the 10 other senators who passed SCR “have given me hope.” (1) If there was to be an Article V convention, which seems unlikely, very different issues would likely be on the agenda. See 3/3/15 SAFE letter. (2) It remains to be seen whether SCR6 will be passed by the House. Top
4/12/15A, Don’t regulate carbon dioxide? The EPA is poised to regulate carbon emissions. The ensuing political battle will be fierce. What is at stake? Jonathan Sharp (UD professor emeritus, oceanography) – This highlighted and lavishly illustrated Delaware Voice column attempts to shift the burden of proof on the manmade global warming theory from proponents to opponents. Thus, (A) the title is converted to a question versus an affirmative assertion that regulation is necessary, and (B) the text is organized as an attack on purported claims of “climate change deniers,” which are said to “indicate a poor understanding of how carbon interacts in the air-earth-ocean system.” The writer proposes to clarify “how the carbon cycle of Earth is in a delicate balance, and human activities can alter it.” What he terms “carbon pools” exist in ocean water, in rocks & sediment, and in the atmosphere. “The CO2 in the atmosphere and the dissolved organic matter in the ocean [at another point referred to as “dissolved inorganic carbon in the ocean”] (essentially the remnants of life from land and sea) each make up about 1.5 percent.” [CO2 constitutes about .04% of the atmosphere at present, so what does the 1.5% figure relate to?] Moving on, the column attacks the alleged points of deniers: (1) CO2 is natural so it cannot be a pollutant and should not be regulated. The increase in atmospheric concentration due to human activities makes it a pollutant so “we can and should regulate it.” From a legal standpoint, it’s inconceivable that the authors of the Clean Air Act envisioned it being applied to the regulation of CO2, water vapor, or any other natural component of the atmosphere. Therefore, no regulations on CO2, water vapor, etc. should be imposed without explicit congressional approval. (2) CO2 varied considerably in the past, so variation is natural. OK, “but this paleo-history of the Earth also suggests that the surface of the Earth was not habitable by life in the distant past.” Define distant past. Life has been thriving on Earth for hundreds of millions of years.(3) Increased CO2 is good because it enhances plant production. In theory, maybe, but “other things, such as nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, and water, do limit production” so “increased atmospheric CO2 will not significantly enhance plant growth.” (4) The ocean is too big for ocean acidification to be occurring. Although “this increase in acidity” may seem slight, “the ocean balance is very tenuous” because “it has come to equilibrium with natural processes over hundreds of millions of years.” (5) Global temperatures have fluctuated over time, and we are currently in “a short period of anomalously warm Earth temperatures.” Curiously, this final point – the real issue – is mentioned without being attributed to deniers. The writer’s rejoinder is that much colder temperatures in earlier eras came “before large mammals and birds lived on Earth” and “are not really relevant when we talk about the future of modern civilization.” Be warned that “our uncontrolled increase of atmospheric CO2 will probably not destroy the Earth, but it will make it highly undesirable for human habitation.” If that’s what you think, prove it!
4/12/15B, Maryland governor: Conowingo Dam hurting Chesapeake, Darryl Fears (Washington Post) – Sited at the mouth of the Susquehanna River before it empties into the Chesapeake Bay, this dam generates “enough clean energy . . . to power 160,000 businesses and homes.” Nearly everyone agrees that’s good. However, Governor Larry Hogan (R) claims the dam is an environmental hazard because of the 170M tons of sediment that has built up behind it and which results in “millions of tons of gritty material” pouring over the dam “during every major storm” to the detriment of grasses in the bay that marine animals rely on to survive. According to Hogan, “a dredging operation costing up to $250 million might be the answer to the bay’s pollution problem and he wants Exelon Corporation (the dam’s owner) to pay most of the cost. Exelon calls the governor’s concern misplaced, pointing among other things to a Corps of Engineers/ University of Maryland study indicating that nutrients from phosphorus and nitrogen that come from farms and municipal sewer systems are far more harmful. Dredging behind the dam, “the study concluded, would not help much.” Exelon is in a bind, however, because the company is seeking to renew its license to operate the dam for 46 more years after the old license expired in 2014. This can’t happen until the state certifies that the dam meets Clean Water Act standards, and “both Hogan and state environmental officials strongly question whether those standards are being met.” Exelon is hoping for a meeting with the governor, who according to a representative wants to meet with the power company, but it seems that the governor’s schedule is full and “it could be weeks before he’s free.” Hmm, one more example of the potentially pernicious power of government regulators.
4/12/15C, 2015 could be big for green energy, Chris Mooney (Washington Post) – This report is based on a 2015 power outlook released by Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF). “There’s basically these three big shifts underway, and they result in a drop in emissions, but more important, a structural shift towards a more decarbonized power fleet.” (1) More renewable energy projects coming on stream, especially solar. (2) Largest wave of coal retirements in history, which is attributed in part to new regulations and also to “a tougher economic picture.” (3) Rising use of natural gas for electric power generation, “so even for the coal plants that stick around, they’re being challenged on an hourly basis by cheap gas.” Overall upshot: 2% drop in carbon emissions from 2014 to 2015, and “an overall emissions level from the electric power sector that is 16 percent below where the sector’s emissions were in 2005.” Why not let the switch from coal to natural gas proceed without a lot of government pressure, which will mainly result in economic penalties from the premature retirement of coal power plants? And who says that the higher cost/reduced reliability of renewable energy is worth it? Top
4/9/15, High-tech proposal; Middletown Council hears plan for $300 million computer center, Dolores Bernal, Middletown Transcript – Conceptual plan was presented by Steven Lewandowski, an engineer with the Dover-based company CABE Associates Inc. The project’s owner would be Mautom LLC, a Milford-based development company owned by Dennis Silicato of Silicato Development. The proposed site off US-301, adjacent to the Amazon Distribution Center, would take up 49 acres. The main building of the Middletown Technology Center (MTC) would be about 180K square feet, designed “to house computer servers and other IT infrastructure to tenants.” Power might be from the grid, this apparently has not yet been decided, but with a standalone 40-megawatt generator fueled by natural gas to provide at least backup power. The MTC generator would “have its own maintenance buildings and cooling stations and substations,” and be nearly as large as the 50-MW generating station of the Delaware Municipal Electric Corporation in Smyrna. Estimated jobs: some 2,000 for the construction phase, 50 to 100 full time jobs for the operation. The MTC project was carefully distinguished from the TDC data center that was proposed at the UD Star Campus, but ultimately rejected based on environmental objections to a 279-MW generator. Middletown Mayor Ken Branner noted that the TDC concept was “to sell back to the grid as a profit center,” which MTC does not propose to do. No vote was taken, since the proposal was presented only conceptually. However, several adjacent property owners are already expressing opposition to the project, e.g., “I’ve always heard that power lines are detrimental to your health.” Sounds like the MTC project may fare better than TDC’s did, but time will tell. Top 4/8/15, Republicans target unions: They say proposal will help revitalize manufacturing, Jonathan Starkey – Legislation offered by DE Rep. Greg Lavelle (R-Sharpley) would allow state economic development officials to create “right-to-work” zones in designated areas, in which workers could not be required to join unions and pay dues as a condition of employment. Additionally, manufacturing companies in the zones would be exempted from paying gross receipts taxes for five years. The hope would be to attract new ventures like the now mothballed Boxwood Plant (originally GM, later a site for Fisker that was eventually abandoned). Lavelle’s bill has a number of co-sponsors, all of whom are Republicans. The story reports claims that the measure would be unacceptably anti-union, but (as the News Journal noted in a 4/9/15 editorial), although conceding that Delaware has been losing out on manufacturing jobs, the critics apparently failed to propose any alternatives.
4/8/15, Schools funding system debated; Some want accountability; others say vote politicized, Matthew Albright – Delaware’s two largest school districts are facing controversy over their attempts to hike property taxes (Christiana increase was rejected, smaller one will be proposed; Red Clay increase was passed using dubious tactics, resulting in a legal challenge by the ACLU), which is said to be “reigniting the debate over how schools are funded.” About 60% of school funding comes from the state in DE, with most of the rest coming from local property taxes – which is the only chance that residents have to question the amount and allocation of educational spending. School officials would just as soon not face questions about such things, which has led to suggestions such as indexing property taxes for inflation. Another complaint is that property values have not been reassessed for decades (NCC 1983, Kent 1987, and Sussex 1974) so “most property owners tax bills don’t reflect the market value of their property.” And an overarching issue, groups like the Wilmington Education Advisory Committee are agitating for the legislature to either overhaul the school funding system completely or at least “weight” the current system so “high-poverty schools” get a bigger share of the pot. The argument is that these schools cost more because children from poor families need extra support at school in order to learn. If so, how come some of the charter schools serving largely minority populations in Wilmington have done quite well with less money? Top
3/30/15, Raiders of the Lost Assets – Delaware’s property claim, Sher Valenzuela – The writer argues that Delaware has perverted the mission of tracking abandoned property from locating the owners to seizing the property for the state (aka “stealing”). She renews the argument that she made during an unsuccessful run for state treasurer (lost to Ken Simpler in the GOP primary) last year that this function should be supervised by the treasurer (or now state auditor) rather than “the State Department of Finance, which protects it as a state revenue generator.” Top 3/29/15, Partisanship, ignorance and wishful thinking will do us in, Ted Kaufman – In this column, former Senator Kaufman lambastes Republicans for inviting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address a joint session of Congress, addressing a cautionary letter (signed by 47 senators) to the Iranian supreme leader, and generally questioning the terms of the nuclear deal that the president is negotiating with Iran before the negotiations are completed. Shame on them, what ever happened to the understanding that “politics ends at the water’s edge”? However, Kaufman does allow, “hyper partisanship run amok is only part” of “what’s going on.” It seems that there are many problems brewing in the international arena: Israeli-Palestine standoff - Iranian expansion in the Middle East - rise of ISIS – conflicts in Yemen, Syria and Lebanon – newly aggressive Russia – China’s bullying of its neighbors – North Korea with nukes – European Union that may be fracturing. “There is so much ignorance about foreign policy on display among politicians it is hard to choose which ones to cite.” But consider Senator Marco Rubio, who “was so confused by Middle East complexities” that in a recent Senate Foreign Relations hearing he suggested to Secretary of State John Kerry that “I believe that much of our strategy with regards to ISIS is being driven by a desire not to upset Iran.” In response, “Kerry had to explain” that Iran is a Shiite country so they “would welcome our bombing of ISIS.” Woe to us if the attackers “combine to destroy this and future [presidents’] ability to conduct foreign policy,” for “an already dangerous world [would] become far more so.”Kaufman implicitly assumes that the president is functioning effectively in the international arena, when in fact many of the aforesaid problems are of the president’s own making. Moreover, the suggestion to withhold judgment on an Iranian deal until the “final product” becomes available rings hollow given the president’s apparent intention to avoid submitting the agreement to the Senate for ratification or otherwise conferring with Congress. Basically, it’s now or never for those who think the president is on the cusp of committing this country to a very bad deal. And in defense of Senator Rubio, his supposedly clueless suggestion may have been prompted by the fact that the administration is allowing Iran to combat ISIS in Iraq versus making better use of the Kurdish military forces and other potential resources. As Prime Minister Netanyahu pointed out in his instructive speech to Congress (A business fortnight in DC, 3/9/15 part 3), Iran may be the “enemy of our enemy” but that does not make them “our friend.” Top 3/27/15, Senate defeats Coons’ temporary war surtax, Nicole Gaudiano – The measure was offered as one of numerous proposed amendments to the GOP-backed Senate budget resolution in a marathon session that reportedly lasted until 3:00 or so this morning. It would have allowed for a temporary surtax or the closing of tax loopholes to pay for fighting the Islamic State. It was defeated on a strict party line vote. In his pitch, Coons claimed that “we are just now coming to the end of two long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that have cost trillions of dollars and we didn’t pay for them,” which is “unacceptable,” so “we need to make sure that we pay for our war against ISIS.” Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) added that “if the Republicans want another war in the Mideast, they are going to have to tell the American people how much it will cost them and how it will be paid for.” Senator Bob Corker (R-TN) reportedly criticized the way that the amendment was crafted and also pointed out that there are various ways to pay for something, e.g., reduce spending for other things. Senator Coons’ position was previously noted by SAFE. Senator Coons proposes “temporary war surtax,” 3/13/15. We would add that (1) the Islamic State emerged because US forces were pulled out of Iraq too fast, i.e., this is not really a “new war,” (2) the president intervened against ISIS so blaming the war solely on Republicans is inappropriate, (3) it’s unclear why military actions need to be paid for while other programs are somehow exempt from this requirement (as shown by chronic budget deficits), and (4) not fighting wars can wind up costing a lot more than fighting them, it depends on the circumstances. Top
3/25/15, Refinery hearing attracts hundreds; Protestors say company getting “sweetheart” deal, Jeff Montgomery – The public hearing took place at a school auditorium near the Delaware City Refinery complex. Subject: The seemingly endless complaints about the plant’s cooling water intake and pollution discharge rights, and how fish are supposedly being endangered in the Delaware River. Present: more than 500 people, mostly plant workers and their supporters. Yet the headline of this front page implies that protestors dominated the crowd, and one has to read quite a bit of the story (continue to page 5A) to find any expression of pro-refinery sentiments. With all the regulatory firepower on this issue, i.e., DNREC and the EPA as well, one might think the environmental issues were being at least adequately represented. But the protestors are far from satisfied, as shown by the quoted comment of Maya van Rossum (Delaware Riverkeepers) that “DNREC has clearly compromised its ability to be an independent arbiter over this matter” and should “step back and request that the [EPA] take the lead in order to remove both the actual [sic] and appearance of bias.” Also quoted, at the end of the story, is Amy Roe (Sierra Club, Delaware chapter). PBF Energy acquired the site in 2010, after it had been closed down, and has cut daily cooling water demands to 300M gallons per day vs. 450M gallons per day “in the past.” Company officials insist that immediate construction of a cooling tower is not necessarily the best technological solution to achieve further improvement and that further study is needed. Plant workers who testified were supportive. And James Marvelias (Delaware Building and Trades Council) suggested that the environmental groups were among those “who killed” the Newark Data Center project. “Don’t push the envelope in getting into somebody else’s pocket to see if they can afford a $300 million closed loop system. We are totally against it. We are in support of the Delaware City Refinery and their actions right now to alleviate the problem.” Works for us! Top 3/22/15, Why we can’t do without law schools, Noah Feldman (Harvard Law professor) – This column suggests that would-be lawyers could learn the law by an apprentice system, as it used to be done a couple of hundred years ago, but this would be bad because they would learn by rote. At law schools students are taught “not only what the law is but also what it can be.” In Feldman’s view, “law is the set of master rules that govern every other aspect of our society and our state.” And if a person makes “a life decision without a lawyer, it’s [only] because the law allows you to do it.” Accordingly, “we [law professors] teach our students to understand that law is power . . . [that is never] exercised accidentally or abstractly, but always by real people who are competing with other real people . . . [and] the meaning of justice is an irreducible part of legal reasoning [that] is always and everywhere being contested and challenged.” It supposedly follows that students should be exposed to the tools of other academic disciplines: legal history, legal philosophy, legal economics, legal sociology and anthropology. All this deep thought may not be needed to function as a lawyer, but “you do need it if you want to exercise wisely the extraordinary power that lawyers have to shape government and society.” [From which it is thought to follow that] “we need people like Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, both graduates of [Harvard Law School].” Apprenticeship training can’t prepare one to “see the world that way” and “face the big questions.” Think about it, our society is so dynamic and rapidly changing. New products – new transactions – new medical technologies and treatments – all of which require “legal regulation so that it doesn’t spin out of control.” Wow, not so humble a view of the role of law professors. They are the masters who teach the lawyers who are destined to rule the world, kind of like Aristotle taught Alexander the Great. Compare Lawyers do not necessarily make great leaders, 10/22/12. Top
3/20/15, Markell: No more charters for now, Matthew Albright – “No new charter schools should be approved to open until Delaware figures out what its students need and creates a plan for how all its schools can meet those needs, Gov. Jack Markell said Thursday.” Before charter approvals resume, the state Department of Education and State Board of Education will reportedly be expected to “do a ‘comprehensive needs assessment’ to see what students need and what services they might not be given now. Once that study is completed, the state will craft a plan for how all schools can move to meet those needs.” In the meantime, charters that have already been approved will be allowed to open. Tony Allen, chairman of the Wilmington Education Advisory Committee that Markell “created to find solutions for city schools,” was pleased. While charters have their place, no doubt, “we cannot continue to operate two systems with little interaction and coordination and expect the quality benefits that all of our children deserve.” Kendall Massett, executive director of the Delaware Charter Schools Network, expressed confidence that “there are enough gaps out there that there is plenty of room for charters to be a solution.” Longer term, this policy change could put a major crimp in the creation of innovative charter schools. It’s a bit like requiring a certificate of necessity and convenience before new service businesses can be opened, thereby gratifying existing firms by protecting them from competition. The real reason for having charter schools is to provide more competition and choice in the educational system, not to enhance a centralized planning process. Top
3/19/15, Delmarva surcharge for Bloom Energy rises, Jeff Montgomery – Bloom surcharges began in mid-2012 and grew as Bloom added more fuel cells to the power generation facilities. Currently, Bloom (or actually its assignees) is guaranteed about 16.687 cents per kilowatt (hour?) vs. the 10.75 cents per kilowatt (hour?) that Delmarva advertises as its residential service price based on a mix of supplies from all sources. The surcharges totaled $37.1M in 2014, the first full-capacity year of service, and about $15.6M through May this year. Speaking for Delmarva, Nicholas Morici stated that the long-term agreement “aligns with what Delaware wants us to do for our customers and the environment.” However, only Delmarva’s customers in Delaware pay the subsidy, and the obvious motive for authorizing the arrangement was the supposed creation of Delaware jobs as a result of luring a Bloom manufacturing facility to the state. David Stevenson of the Caesar Rodney Institute reportedly branded the arrangement a regressive tax on lower-income households, as well as a problem for larger industrial users. “There is one customer paying $1 million a year for the fuel cell tariff, which makes them uncompetitive compared with other states.” One further argument for the surcharge, cited by Delmarva, is that it allows Delmarva to avoid buying renewable energy credits to meet Delaware’s clean energy supply targets. That’s a “bootstrap” argument, as the renewable energy credits are also an unwarranted imposition on power consumers. Besides, according to Stevenson, Bloom’s renewable credits are far more costly than those from solar or wind generation. Top
3/18/15, $10.25 minimum wage in 2019? Del. minimum wage proposal faces business opposition, Jonathan Starkey - Remember how DE Sen. Robert Marshall (D-Wilmington) proposed a big hike in the state minimum wage as the supposed answer to the shortage of jobs paying “living” wages? A $10.25 minimum wage by 2017? 1/18/15A Well here is a cover story on the same subject, including $10.25 in supersize type, even though little has changed since January. According to the current report, “it’s unclear whether Marshall has the support of [Governor Jack] Markell, a Democrat who has said lawmakers must focus on policies that grow the economy, not ones that seek to redistribute wealth.” Marshall says, however, that “I plan to exert my political willpower and leadership to get this bill passed.” He also reportedly claims “there is no evidence that minimum wage increases result in layoffs.” It’s Economics 101 that wage rates are set by supply and demand, so an increase in the minimum wage will necessarily reduce the number of jobs that would otherwise be available. Top
3/17/15A, GOP actions show party is adrift, Eugene Robinson – “Republican majorities in both the House and Senate are so out of control that they’ve managed a feat once thought impossible. They make the Democratic Party look like a model of unity and discipline.” Thus, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell not only allowed “his majority” to sign Senator Tom Cotton’s “embarrassing” letter to Iran, attempting to undercut the president’s negotiating position, but signed the letter himself. And there was that “long and pointless fight” over a bill to defund the “president’s executive actions on immigration” (aka executive amnesty), during which “Senate Democrats remained united” – “it takes 60 votes to get anything done in the Senate” – so Republicans naturally had to capitulate. As they don’t hold the White House or veto-proof majorities in either chamber, they should have grasped by now that “refusing to make the compromises needed to pass mandatory legislation leads to self-inflicted wounds, such as government shutdowns for which Congress is blamed.” This seems like a willfully one-sided view of the situation, i.e., does “the compromises needed” mean making whatever changes the president demands? In 2013, when then Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid invoked the “nuclear option” to do away with the filibuster for confirmation of appointments, Robinson was all in favor. Enough of GOP obstructionism, stlamerican.com, 11/27/13. 3/17/15B, Obamacare is doing well, but under attack, [UD economist] Saul Hoffman – Spring is in the air, and once again GovCare is under attack – with the usual “good news . . . political attacks by Republicans . . . legal challenges.” GOOD NEWS: (1) CBO report says GovCare cost over the next decade “will be 20 percent less than it predicted just a year ago,” primarily due to “the reduction in the growth of healthcare premiums.” (2) HHS report of soaring healthcare insurance enrollment (HCI), i.e., 11.7M people, an increase of nearly 50% from last year. (3) Expansion of Medicaid in 27 states provided “healthcare access” to 9.5M persons. And if the other states – such as Florida and Texas, both led by Republican governors - would wise up, they could score “almost $60 billion in annual Medicaid funding and hospital reimbursements.” (4) Provision allowing young adults to stay on their parents’ policies added at least 3M more. KING v. BURWELL: Knowledgeable court observers, such as Linda Greenhouse of the NYT, “have suggested that in ordinary times the case would be a slam dunk for [GovCare].” Blame it on polarization of our government and judicial system, which “has made these times anything but ordinary.” No wonder certain Republicans are putting alternatives to GovCare on the table in case the decision goes against the government, but don’t be fooled because the tax credits on offer would be “far too small” and therefore “leave insurance unaffordable for many low and moderate income families.” Bottom line, here is “a continuing Republican emphasis on ideological purity over evidence-based policy. The net result would likely be a return to the [bad old] days of high cost and low access to healthcare, so “we await a Supreme Court decision that could have far-reaching negative consequences.” It’s unclear why Hoffman believes that GovCare will lead to lower cost healthcare; one might think that heavily subsidizing healthcare insurance for Americans who can’t afford to pay full price would drive up prices given the law of supply and demand (Economics 101). Also, there is an important legal principle involved in King, namely whether the IRS can change the law that was enacted on its own authority. What to expect when the SCt rules on GovCare again, 3/16/15. Top 3/15/15, The graying of Delaware will be costly – In talking about the future, the News Journal always seems to strike a pessimistic note – and this editorial is no exception. Begin with the fact that seniors are relocating to Delaware from other states, such as New York and New Jersey, drawn by “the low taxes and relatively low cost of living . . . small towns . . . beaches . . . the state’s convenient position between New York and Washington.” One might think this was a good thing, and indeed today’s paper includes a slew of stories about how the construction of over 55 housing is contributing to the state’s economy, these folks are blending into and enriching the social climate, etc. But watch out, because “popularity like that can get costly.” More people using the roads and other services – retirees will keep getting older and what happens when they aren’t able to safely drive any more (ever hear of driverless cars?) – whose going to look after them, since they aren’t bringing their kids with them if they had kids in the first place – rising cost of long-term care, much of which Medicaid picks up. Also, Delaware schemes to “get other people to pay our bills” – corporation franchise fees, unclaimed property seizure, former regional monopoly on slot machines – are drying up. Largest employer is the government, which “really does not bring a lot of new dollars into the state.” DuPont Company is a receding presence, moving out of our largest city and under pressure from a corporate raider. Before one knows it, “the low taxes and relatively low cost of living” will be a thing of the past. Perhaps it is time for the state government to think about cutting back government spending and improving the business climate; they seem to be stuck in a rut of pushing for tax increases and proposing more government action to address exaggerated concerns like global warming and sea level rise.
3/13/15, Senator Coons proposes “temporary war surtax,” CNS News – If this story was reported by the News Journal we missed it, but anyway the junior senator from Delaware proposed raising taxes – temporarily, of course, but we all know how that tends to work out - to cover the cost of fighting Islamic State terrorists. Speaking at a meeting of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he tempered his idea by allowing that a mix of raising revenues and cutting spending might accomplish the objective of acknowledging the cost involved. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter is said to have agreed with the idea. Why Democrat tax hike proposal should be taken seriously, politicaloutcast.com, 3/12/15. The US military needs to be adequately funded, and in our view cuts have been made that went too deep. The solution is not to raise taxes to cover more military spending, however, but rather to aggressively eliminate wasteful domestic funding and restructure “entitlements”. Postelection updates: Defense Budget, 12/15/14; Deficits & Debt, 11/24/14. Top
3/8/15, Coons advocates for voting legislation, Nicole Gaudiano – When Senator Chris Coons attended the 50th anniversary of the voting rights marches in Selma, Alabama, he took with him a copy of the Voting Rights Amendments Act. While it was not his goal to “be rude or overly political on a weekend that is supposed to be dedicated to reflection and commemoration,” he said, why not do a bit of lobbying for his proposal. The idea is to restore the “pre-clearance” process that once required states with a history of voting-related discrimination to get federal permission before making any changes to their electoral systems. Never mind that the Supreme Court had said such a safeguard is no longer needed, and can’t be squared with fair treatment of the several states – a position that most Republicans share. “But Coons said recent actions by states and localities [prove] voting rights for minorities are still threatened. Since the 2013 court ruling, state legislatures – including those in North Carolina, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, Texas and Wisconsin – have passed voter ID or proof-of-citizenship requirements and have reduced early voting days and poll locations.” In short, according to Coons, “all over the country, states are taking aggressive action to restrict access to the ballot box.” Efforts to prevent voting fraud and maintain the integrity of the voting process are healthy, not evidence of bias. Voter fraud is all too real, 11/3/14. Top
3/3/15A, Markell unveils plan to combat climate change; Hope is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in state by 30 percent, Molly Murray – The new plan, some 18 months in the making, was put together by a team that reportedly “looked at dozens of worst case scenarios, from the impact of hotter days on police dogs – and the atmospheric fallout from idling [police vehicles] to keep the K-9s cool – to how to combat mosquito-born[e] diseases . . . in a Delaware that is hotter and wetter.” The governor observed that “I know it’s easy to say this isn’t real,” but “pointed out that the state has already spent ‘millions and millions of dollars’ to address climate impacts from pumping sand on beaches to repairing dikes in northern Delaware’s flood-prone cities.” “This is your money, this is taxpayer’s money. We all see this so personally.” The plan is to be posted on the DNREC website, with public comments to be “accepted” through May 30. The 30% reduction target will be measured from a 2008 baseline. Based on existing programs, it is reported, “the state is well on its way to meeting the [target] but those remaining reductions – 1.14 megatons – will be targeted based on a plan that is expected to be developed and completed over the next several months.” And in a hint of coming attractions, the story ends as follows: “One issue is that a key source of emissions is from automobiles and light duty trucks. Delawareans drive a lot.” Sounds like a new argument for imposing the gas tax and /or providing additional subsidies for electric cars is about to be unveiled. Why are we not surprised?
3/3/15B, Sen. Carper to skip Netanyahu speech, Nicole Gaudiano – Senator Tom Carper “will join about 40 Democrats in boycotting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to Congress” today. This story quotes him as calling the timing of the speech “totally inappropriate” given the imminence of the Israeli elections and the fact that House Speaker John Boehner broke “protocol” by inviting Netanyahu to speak without consulting with the White House. Netanyahu is reportedly concerned that the administration is so desperate to strike a deal in the nuclear talks with Iran that it will “give away the store” to get it, and given Israel’s proximity to Iran that’s not a pleasing prospect. Reasonable minds could differ as to whether Boehner should have issued the invitation without consulting the White House, but the White House reaction and associated boycott seem inappropriate. Why not hear the talk before rejecting it? Top
3/1/15A, Which way America? Under this headline, there are two columns on the idea of having an Article V constitutional convention – one pro and the other con. I. Reform needed to take big money out of politics, Sen. Bryan Townsend (D-Newark) – Argues that money is a corrupting force in politics, “whether spent by large organizations or tremendously wealthy individuals, and whether spent anonymously or transparently.” Complains of “endless streams of attack ads” and “now seeing politicians openly accepting millions of dollars from individual donors.” [Attack ads, sure, but the second practice would be illegal.] Blames “recent decisions by the US Supreme Court [that] limit our ability to reverse this flood of money and restore faith in our republic.” Cites “amending the US Constitution [as] our only meaningful option.” Says the Delaware General Assembly should “do its part” by passing Senate Concurrent Resolution 6, “a bipartisan call for a convention to amend the US Constitution so that Congress and state legislatures can develop more reasonable limits on the role of money in politics.” SCR 6. CA, VT, IL, and NJ are already on board with this, and “more than a dozen other states are in the process of considering resolutions.” How would an Article V convention work? Probably it would never happen, because if the call for reform got strong enough Congress would act. Senators Carper and Coons co-sponsored a proposed amendment last year, which got 54 votes in the Senate but died for lack “of the 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster.” Representative Carney sponsored a similar amendment in the House, which also did not advance. By passing SCR 6, the General Assembly could pressure more members of Congress to get on board. And if an Article V convention did happen, it wouldn’t morph into a “runaway” proceeding in which small states would be deprived of their power and influence. Why? Over ¾ of the states (38) would have to ratify the convention’s proposals, so “the chance that 38 states would ultimately support other amendments (especially controversial ones) is essentially zero.” Also, the convention proceedings would presumably be “live-streamed onto [electronic devices] across the globe” resulting in “a very public display of democracy” in action. Don’t be fooled into opposing this idea out of allegiance to “free speech,” because spending money is not speech and maintenance of the existing situation is intolerable. The supposedly enlightened reforms that are envisioned would likely do more harm than good. Doubling down on campaign finance “reform,” 4/28/14.II. Desire to change the Constitution is a problem, John Sweeney - Consider the moment on June 30, 1787, when Gunning Bedford from Delaware rose to address the delegates in Philadelphia’s State House and told the representatives of the big states that “I do not, gentlemen, trust you.” This admonition was addressed to George Washington, James Madison, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, etc. The convention almost collapsed. But eventually a compromise emerged, with population-based representation in the House and equal representation in the Senate. “The best of both worlds,” or so it seemed at the time, but now “the Constitution’s critics are growing in number” and they “come from the political right and the left.” Just as one side wants to limit political spending in some fashion and maybe give California more senators than Wyoming, the other wants a balanced budget amendment, term limits for members of Congress and even Supreme Court justices, etc. “So can’t we all come together and work it out? No. We have to be realistic. An Article V convention would be a disaster . . . because there [would be] no way of controlling it.” For instance, suppose the new Constitution specified that 25 of the states could ratify it versus the 38 states required under the present Constitution. “As some experts pointed out, you can line up the needed 26 states and still have only 18 percent of the nation’s people represented.” So looks like Gunning Bedford had it right in 1787. “I do not, gentlemen, trust you.” One could make a case for an Article V convention, as was recently done by former Senator Tom Coburn, but only as a last resort. In the meantime, this is an excellent and balanced review.
3/1/15B, Lavelle opts out of 2016 governor race, Jon Offredo – Senator Greg Lavelle (R-Sharpley) sent a letter to his political supporters announcing that he has decided not to run for governor in 2016. The decision was attributed to personal commitments. This leaves Senator Colin Bonini (R-Dover) as the apparent GOP candidate. On the Democratic side, the field currently includes Beau Biden, Rep. John Carney, NCC Executive Tom Gordon, and AG Matt Denn.
3/1/15C, 15 ex-students refusing to [pay] back loans; Failed for-profit school target of a “debt strike,” Danielle Douglas-Gabriel (Washington Post) – Surrounding a largish photo of Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), who has written a letter asking that the US Education Department address student loan debt and a for-profit college, this story is somewhat illogically carried in the Delaware Business section. It seems that 15 former students of the failing for-profit giant Corinthian Colleges are refusing to repay their federal student loans in a protest designed to pressure the government into forgiving their debt.” And the argument is that Corinthian is “the poster child for the worst practices in the for-profit education sector, including high loan defaults and dubious programs” with “allegations of deceptive marketing and lying to the government about its graduation rates,” for which reason “Corinthian lost its access to federal funds last year, forcing the school to sell or close its schools.” According to the Corinthian 15, “We paid dearly for degrees that led to unemployment or to jobs that don’t pay a living wage. We can’t and won’t pay any longer.” Some of the problems at Corinthian have been a function of punitive government regulation, reflecting hostility towards “for-profit” education. The Feds did not seem to realize that they were ensuring the collapse of the system, which would leave taxpayers holding the bag for a massive amount of student loans. The for-profit college that’s too big to fail, Karen Weise, Business Week, 9/25/14.
3/1/15D, Delawareans want immediate action regarding climate change, Rachael Pacella – A survey co-funded by the state and the Delaware Sea Grant Program polled 1,508 Delaware residents. Here are some reported findings. (A) 53% have experienced climate change; 28% have experienced sea level rise (SLR); (B) 76% want immediate action on climate change; 72% want immediate action for SLR; (C) The percentages of those who believe climate change (79%) and SLR (70%) are happening have risen a bit since 2009; (D) A majority (70% vs. 20/%) “support local and state governments spending more money on public construction projects to help structures withstand [SLR];” (E) 63% say they can personally take actions to reduce climate change. What is “climate change” and how does one experience it? What would it take to convince Delawareans that climate change is not happening, snow in July? What percentage of respondents supported tax increases and higher energy costs to reduce climate change & SLR, and what percentages of reduction did they envision? Top
2/27/15, UD professor caught in controversy, Jeff Montgomery & Molly Murray – Professor David Legates, and also Professor Willie Soon with the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, stand accused of (1) receiving research funding from “organizations supported by” the conservative (shudder) Koch Foundation and “Big Oil,” and (2) giving talks, writing papers, and testifying against the manmade global warming theory without full disclosure of alleged conflicts of interest. The specific Delaware connection is a letter from Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) to UD President Patrick Harker requesting details on grants and support provided to Professor Legates and others who have testified before Congress on the topic. “I am hopeful,” Grijalva’s letter is quoted, “that disclosure of a few key pieces of information will establish the impartiality of climate research and policy recommendations published in your institution’s name and assist me and my colleagues in making better law.” A UD representative said the school would have no comment, but she provided the News Journal with a copy of university policies that are reportedly “designed to avoid conflicts of interest and [require] disclosure of significant financial interests, payment for consulting fees and a variety of funding scenarios.” The story goes on to reprise statements by Legates and Soon over the years, e.g., a joint presentation to the Positive Growth Alliance in 2013 and participation “in a controversial report in 2007 disputing claims that polar bears were threatened by Arctic climate change.” This story has been spread all over the Internet, with Willie Soon being the prime target. The obvious intent is not to ensure the quality of information provided, but rather to isolate and silence critics of the manmade global warming theory while ignoring the glaring conflicts of interest for scientists on the other side of the debate. “What most definitely is scandalous is the vile hypocrisy of Soon’s harassment by the warmist establishment, which receives billions every year from the US government, left-wing charities, and billionaire activists like Tom Steyer and George Soros to prop up their bankrupt cause by promoting exactly the kind of junk science which Soon (and similarly principled scientists) have made it their business to shred. The warmists are losing their argument. Their desperation is beginning to show.” NYT smears scientist Willie Soon for telling the truth about “global warming,” James Delingpole, Breitbart.com, 2/21/15. Top 2/25/15, A clown face again – Congress is poised, according to this editorial, “to reach a height in irresponsibility.” Just when “the most urgent problem facing the nation is fanatical terrorism,” the national legislature “is about to let the Department of Homeland Security run out of money. It could shut down Friday.” And why? “Some House Republicans are letting the agency run out of money to save the Constitution,” withholding DHS “money out of protest over President Obama’s executive order on immigration.” Yeah, most of the DHS employees will fortunately stay on the job “for a time,” but “there is no way that political football will not harm our security.” We would question the unstated premise that the administration’s violation of the Constitution (the president did not sign the order on immigration, the DHS secretary did) is no big deal. And if Congress can’t defund the order, how are they supposed to force its retraction? Compare “Something’s got to give in the US Senate,” 2/23/15 (points B&C). Top 2/21/15, It’s colder in Delaware than Alaska, Molly Murray & Jeff Montgomery – Just imagine, “it was colder in Wilmington on Friday afternoon than some of the usual coldest places in the country” including International Falls, Minnesota; Jackson, Wyoming; and Fairbanks, Alaska. What in the world is going on? One might think the vagaries of the weather would be blamed, but instead it is suggested that global warming is responsible. Some scientists say – National Snow and Ice Data Center – Arctic Oscillation is in a strong negative phase, which makes it cold and stormy in our area and warmer in the north – shifts in the jet stream – Arctic warming faster than other places so temperature difference between warm and cold air is decreasing – wavy patterns, although probably not in the same location, will happen more often in the future – last year’s polar vortex pattern. “Underlying it all,” sums up New Jersey State Climatologist David Robinson, “we’ve got a warmer world with warmer sea surface temperatures, with a warmer atmosphere and less ice, and all of our weather events are being painted on this warmer canvas.” And of course, no one should think that the cold weather being experienced in parts of the United States sheds any doubt on the manmade global warming theory. We agree that regional weather patterns fluctuate, there is a big difference between weather and climate, etc. But the lack of any material increase in average global temperatures over the past 18 years does seem significant, and that’s what satellite measurements reportedly indicate. Top
2/14/15, New state maps give guidance on future flood risks, Molly Murray – “There’s a new worst-case scenario for future flood risk in Delaware – worse than the state’s sea-level rise [SLR] maps, worse than flooding from 100-year storms plotted by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. This mapping project takes that 100-year storm flood level and adds three feet to it. *** The new mapping tool is designed to help state officials plan where and how to build future roads, bridges, buildings and other structures even when they aren’t within a currently mapped flood zone. *** The new maps will be accompanied by step-by-step instructions that state agency planners can use as projects are in development to minimize current and future flood risk and damage.” WHO DONE IT? The impetus for all this, apparently, was Gov. Jack Markell’s Executive Order 41, which “called on state agencies to develop tools to plan for and adapt to climate change and [SLR].” The final recommendations from that effort are expected to be released early next month. WHAT DOES IT MATTER? State officials were talking out of both sides of their mouth. DNREC Planner Susan Love: “The new maps are not regulatory. They are for guidance.” DNREC Secretary David Small: Reportedly said there is no one in state government to enforce the use of the maps by state agencies, and that they are strictly advisory and have no impact on where local government and private landowners could or should build. DNREC Planner Constance Holland: “It doesn’t mean we are taking your rights away,” but “it is better building.” JUSTIFICATION – Susan Love: Says the 3-feet added on roughly corresponds to intermediate SLR projects for 2100 and the higher SLR scenario for 2075-80, which is reasonable since the design life of infrastructure projects such as bridges is typically 60 years. Mike Powell (who works on mapping project and manages the state’s FEMA flood-mapping program). FEMA maps show the flood risks of major storms but don’t factor in SLR, so they are “kind of backward looking.” With the new maps, we’re giving people an idea of those additional areas that are at risk.” No criticism of the new maps is reported yet, but it will come. We think there is essentially zero chance of SLR of 3 feet by 2100. Making sense of the debate about sea level rise, 10/13/14. Top 2/13/15, Darwin gets his day; Delaware’s Darwin Day creates controversy around the nation, Margie Fishman – How strange that Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin were born on the exact same day (February 12, 1809), and that while Lincoln’s birthday was once widely celebrated it is now Darwin’s birthday that is getting all the attention. While this may be a sign of the times, it doesn’t strike us as demonstrating progress. No matter, at the request of a local atheist Meetup group, Gov. Jack Markell last month officially proclaimed Feb. 12 as “Charles Darwin Day” and “heralded the naturalist’s theory of evolution as ‘the foundation of modern biology, an essential tool to understanding the development of life on earth.’” The News Journal has been falling all over itself to spread the news. On February 11, there was a two-page spread about Delaware’s Darwin Day, with an outsized picture of Darwin in the middle. Today it was a lead story, this time with a cameo headshot of Darwin (page 1) and a collage of his likeness and some text in his handwriting, which took up about 1/3 of the front page and half of an inside page. The political significance of all this is obvious; conservatives are being sneered at for holding religious beliefs and also for supposedly rejecting the tenets of science. Anti-evolution (creationism), anti-vaccine, deniers of the manmade global warming theory, it’s all of a piece and time to put this rubbish aside! Thus, Chuck Dyke, a Newark data analyst who co-founded the Delaware Atheist Meetup, is reported to see Darwin Day as “about inspiring scientific inquiry, intellectual bravery and truth-seeking.” Why not celebrate Isaac Newton Day or Louis Pasteur Day? “That’s not his passion, he acknowledges.” This subject “is bigger than a breadbox,” and we’ll have more to say about it in due course. Top
2/8/15, Support convention to change Constitution, Judith Butler (Wilmington) – Letter cites polls that supposedly show “90 percent of US citizens are concerned about the corrupting influence of money in elections,” so “I was excited that an important bipartisan resolution has been introduced in Delaware’s State Senate.” It calls for an Article V convention to propose an amendment reversing Citizen’s United “and other Supreme Court decisions that allow special interest money to corrupt our electoral process.” Supposedly, “ states have either passed resolutions or expect to have resolutions introduced this year.” Accordingly, “I urge all Delaware residents to support the resolution.” Dissatisfied, sure, but there’s no consensus on what to do about the situation according to Gallup, see this 6/24/13 story. Top 2/6/15, The rise and fall of oil – “Gasoline prices are bound to go up” from current levels, according to this NJ editorial. “We should not depend on any claim of long-term stability,” and “the tragedy” is the side effects. Thus Americans “became too dependent on cheap oil” in the 1960s, and then “OPEC struck with a vengeance and came close to crippling the United States.” And currently, “we drive far more when gasoline is cheap” and “also drive gas-guzzlers,” all to the detriment of the environment, even though “we are willing to conserve and invest money when gasoline is high priced.” So obviously, there is a need for “steady investment in alternate energy sources” in order to protect the environment and reduce dependence on foreign fuel sources, especially from “any unfriendly source that owns an oil well.” Consider the implications. Instead of paying high-energy prices part of the time, it is proposed to pay even higher energy prices all of the time. No sale! We do agree with ramping up US oil & gas production, however, as has been happening – no thanks to government policies - in recent years. Top 2/5/15, Data Centers claims UD lied; Lawsuit in Superior Court seeks $5M in damages, Maureen Milford & Melissa Nann Burke – Another lawsuit has been filed in the UD data center debacle, this one by The Data Centers LLC. TDC’s claim in a nutshell: “. . . the university repeatedly lied to the public to save the skins of its internal bureaucrats who had signed all the contracts to bring the project to Delaware, but who had failed to anticipate the backlash from local objectors and extremist activists.” No response from UD, which does not comment on pending litigation. However, one of the allegations in the complaint – that Newark resident Amy Roe launched a citizens group Newark Residents Against the Power Plan “shortly after TDC ignored [her] request for a job as an ‘environmental consultant’” - was denied by Roe for this story. She claims that TDC requested a meeting to seek the Sierra Club’s endorsement for the project and that she “didn’t ask for a job.” Also, UD “has never been a partner” with the citizens group.” SAFE pointed out the possibility of a claim against UD several months ago, basically on the grounds now alleged in the complaint. Two firms sue Data Centers [TDC] for $1.3M in unpaid fees, 9/16/14,_A1/A4 Top
2/2/15, Spend the settlement funds sensibly, Theodore A. Kittila (GOP candidate for AG in last election) – The writer criticizes proposal by AG Matt Denn to spend housing settlement funds on a bunch of social programs. (1/20/15C) “I have read the settlement agreement and agree the language relating to the funds [$36M] that Delaware will receive is fairly vague on how this money can be spent. But just because the settlement language is vague does not mean the funds can be spent like ‘found money.’ *** Without real accountability on how these checks get spent, these AG settlements are simply a money grab. Let’s do the right thing and get relief to those who got hurt [by the conduct complained of].” Top 1/28/15, Bill would halt new charter apps for city; Measure comes as many push for a moratorium, Jon Offredo & Matthew Albright – A bill has been introduced in the General Assembly to block approval of any new charter school applications in Wilmington until 6/30/17. It’s being sponsored by Rep. Charles Potter and others from the Wilmington delegation, and also Rep. John Kowalko. This is the latest in several efforts to rein in the expansion of charter school, e.g., the WEAB report (see yesterday’s story) and an ACLU law suit claiming charters are contributing to the resegregation of city schools (12/4/14A). The basic thrust seems to be protecting the public school system from disruptive change, not achieving educational excellence.
1/27/15, Ousting districts eyed by advisers; Plan would move city students to Red Clay to streamline, Matthew Albright – A year or so ago a committee composed of 20 educators, business leaders, city officials & community activists was formed to find ways to improve education. Titled the Wilmington Education Advisory Board, it was chaired by Bank of America executive Tony Allen. Now WEAB has issued an interim report (and will be seeking widespread input from the community before making its final recommendations). Among the preliminary recommendations: (1) Remove the Christina & Colonial School Districts from the city, leaving only the Red Clay School District and the Brandywine School Districts involved in city education (Red Clay would pick up the city schools run by Christina and students from Colonial, becoming easily the largest school district in the state and serving primarily city children. It’s said that Red Clay is uniquely suited to control most of the city schools since it is presently the only district with experience overseeing charter schools.); (2) Put a hold on new charter schools until the state can design a comprehensive plan re the desired mix of public, charter and vo-tech schools (Ken Massett, executive director of the Delaware Charter Schools Network, is quoted as agreeing that a state plan is needed but opposing a plan to limit school choice.); (3) Change the way schools are funded that will funnel more resources to high-poverty schools, thereby responding to a demand for more money and programs to serve-inner city kids who often deal with poverty, hunger, violence and absentee parents (And by the way , property values have not been reassessed in 30 years, which means some taxpayers are underpaying into a key revenue sources for local districts.); and (4) Create an office of education in Wilmington government to give city officials more say in what happens in schools. (This step, in particular, was lauded by Wilmington Mayor Dennis Williams.) A related editorial, titled “a plan to end the education quagmire,” generally endorses the WEAB recommendations (e.g., Christina School District is noncontiguous, and “the failure of many students in public schools owes more to poverty than anything else”); the editors encourage readers to read the report and join in the discussion. Some of the proposals probably make sense, e.g., why in the world should the Wilmington schools be served by four school districts on a continuing basis, but we would favor less stress on centralized problem-solving and more on providing competition and choice. Top
1/23/15, Court: Data Centers LLC owes $1.4 million, Melissa Nann Burke – Two law suits against TDC by vendors doing work for it on the proposed data center at the UD Star Campus (until UD cancelled the lease that it had granted due to environmental protests about the power plant that was an integral part of it) ended with judgments against TDC, not necessarily on the merits. According to this report, TDC “never answered the complaint and no attorney filed any pleadings on their behalf.” TDC’s CEO, Gene Kern, “declined to comment” for the story. This outcome does not bode well for TDC’s efforts to build the proposed data center somewhere else, we’re sorry to say. Top 1/20/15A, Exelon chief disagrees with merger demands, Jeff Montgomery – Exelon has proposed to acquire Pepco Holdings, Inc., with Delmarva Power to become a PHI subsidiary. The transaction needs to be approved in every state where PHI and/or Delmarva Power operate, including Delaware. An 8/31/14A news report noted that Exelon has raised some eyebrows by supporting repeal of the wind power tax credit and proposing that nuclear power be added to the list of renewable energy sources for purposes of Delaware’s mandate to use more electric power produced from renewables. Fast forward to the present, when Delaware Public Service Commission demands for “concessions” to approve the transaction are giving Exelon heartburn. Thus, the PSC staff has proposed independent directors for PHI after the merger, and also a $50 payment to each Delmarva residential customer when the merger closes, a $40M, 10-year set aside for energy efficiency or other pro job protections for Delaware workers, charitable giving commitments, solicitations for up to 200 megawatts of renewable energy by 2020, curbs on capital spending for service reliability, and a $1M commitment to a UD study of offshore wind development. Exelon’s CEO has challenged the PSC demands on the basis that they have little to do with the proposed transaction, and “would completely wipe out Delmarva Power’s earnings for years.” Could it be that the PSC is striking back at Exelon for not towing the DE party line on energy policy? 1/20/15B, GOP won’t move on climate, Eugene Robinson – This column begins with reports that “2014 was the hottest year in recorded history *** narrowly [edging out] former record holders 2010 and 2005 as the warmest since reliable temperature measurements began.” Alas, “President Obama can expect little help from Republicans in Congress – some of them cynical [e.g., Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma], others clueless [e.g., Speaker John Boehner] – in facing the most daunting environmental challenge of our time.” Having little choice but to act on his own, the president is off to a good start with the EPA’s Clean Power Plan and a supposed understanding with China re our and their commitments to reduce carbon emissions. Robinson is correct about the reports, and also the fact that cold weather in the US was balanced by above average temperatures elsewhere. His lack of interest in conflicting information, however, deprives his column of any credibility. Notably, satellite measurements of global temperatures (believed to be more reliable than surface-based readings) show no global warming over the past 18 years. Hottest year claim political, not scientific, Dave Jolly, godfatherpolitics.com, 1/19/15.
1/20/15C, Denn: Use $36M on housing, schools, police, Jonathan Starkey – Under AG Matt Denn’s predecessor, DE participated in a lawsuit against Bank of America and Citigroup re alleged misrepresentations to financial markets about mortgage-backed securities and reaped a $36M share of the resulting settlement. Denn now suggests that the money be used to provide temporary funding for substance abuse treatment, after school programs, community policing patrols, teachers in high poverty schools, etc. His ideas are reportedly backed by the governor, whose budget will be submitted next week. Critics include Sen. Harris McDowell, who worries that “the funding stream would be temporary, but create long-term expectations for people and programs receiving money.” The amount in question is a drop in the bucket versus the state’s overall fiscal problem. Top
1/18/15A, A $10.25 minimum wage by 2017? Jonathan Starkey – Remember the Low Wage, Service Industry task force chaired by DE Sen. Robert Marshall & DE Rep. Michael Mulrooney, which was holding public meetings in the fall of 2013? The group was described as a blue-collar jobs task force then, which implied action to boost employment opportunities. Delaware Chatter, 9/24/13 (please scroll down). The chief step now being recommended is to raise the state’s minimum wage from $8.25 (as of June 2015) to $10.25 in two steps and thereafter index it for inflation. There is also some talk, apparently, about how the state should shoot for a $15 minimum wage, at least in certain industries, and raise the current minimum wage for tipped workers beyond the current level of $2.23 per hour. “We think this plan has practical recommendations that will help not just people at the bottom of the economic ladder, but all Delawareans,” Senator Marshall is quoted. Dissenters include several Republican legislators, Delaware’s chambers of commerce, restaurants and retail businesses. If the task force was supposed to be working on increased job opportunities, a proposal to further raise the minimum wage is a non-sequitir. It’s economics 101 that jobs would be lost if the minimum wage was hiked. 1/18/15B, Getting ready for changes at the port – Complementing a lengthy news story on the proposal to set up a new port on the Delaware River (either in the neighborhood of the current port on the Christiana or a few miles south of the City of Wilmington in a brand new location), which could accommodate larger vessels, this editorial points out that a big investment would be involved. The city, county and state governments don’t have the money, so there is talk about a public-private partnership. Come to find out, however, “the money people are not jumping at the chance to build operations in Delaware. To attract them, the state, county and city would have to show investors the pot of gold at the rainbow’s end. *** Where is the profit? How big will it be? And when does it start coming in?” Conclusion: the best bet is “a solid, logical plan that builds on the current port’s advantages” as a niche operation. And given Delaware’s “failed attempt to bring in Kinder Morgan to take over the port two years ago, big-time investors probably are not waiting in line to plunk money down.” The union opposition that killed the Kinder Morgan deal may have been short sighted. 1/18/15C, Policy made our state Kryptonite to corporate CEOs, Richard Franta (a Wilmington lawyer) – Begins with reference to Stacie Beck/ Eleanor Craig column on 1/11/15, which argued that Delaware needs fewer government job programs and more efforts to provide incentives for businesses and workers. In this regard, Franta suggests that Delaware might do well to impose a sales tax and cut income tax rates that are not welcomed by CEOs and other high earners. He’d also like to see metropolitan government for the Wilmington area versus overlapping jurisdiction of city and country government. Metropolitan government works fine for Nashville/ Davidson County, TN, why not here? However, our multiple levels of government and plethora of school districts are seen “as benevolent providers of employment and benefits, and the political party that normally would offer alternatives remains an ineffectual minority,” so don’t hold your breath. If a sales tax was imposed, it’s doubtful that commensurate income tax reductions would be made, i.e., this would be used as a cover for a big tax increase. No deal! Municipal government is worth thinking about. Top
1/15/15, Delaware senators participate in debate over Keystone pipeline – (A) Carper backs climate change measure, Nicole Gaudiano: Having been attacked for backing the Keystone pipeline in previous votes (picture of Delaware Sierra Club protestors in front of Carper’s office on Nov. 16, with banner sign: “If you are not a climate denier, don’t vote like one”), Delaware’s senior senator has come out in favor of an amendment to the House bill that would declare it to be “the sense of the Senate” that dangerous global warming is being caused by the combustion of fossil fuels. Others on board include Senators Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Michael Bennet (D-CO). This amendment has only a symbolic connection to the pipeline proposal, but it will be interesting to see how many senators vote for it. (B) Chris Coons and liberal thinking, George Will: This column mocks Senator Coons for his anti-pipeline pitch, suggesting that he cannot possibly believe what he is saying. “The Canadian oil is going into the international market, and much of it into internal combustion engines around the world, even if this displeases Democratic senators who have demonstrated a willingness to look ludicrous rather than deviate from an especially silly component of today’s environmental catechism.” In a similar vein, see “And so the new, GOP- controlled Congress begins,” 1/12/15 (A). Top 1/14/15A, Delaware’s healthcare and the tyranny of so-called experts, John Stapleford (president of CRI) – Delaware’s healthcare innovation plan, which has won a $35M federal grant as was reported in a news story on 12/17/14A, would rely on “experts” to chart a path for improved healthcare for all Delawareans. Belief in this plan requires some “heroic assumptions,” including (1) that having more competition (independent physician practices”) would drive up prices and costs (rather than the reverse); (2) large healthcare organizations, such as regional hospitals, are efficient and simple to administer; (3) having only two healthcare insurance companies cover 75% of the DE market will lead to falling insurance prices; (4) electronic healthcare records cannot be hacked or used for political leverage; (5) high health risk segment of the population is hip to on-line information and adept at using apps; (6) outcomes of healthcare treatments can be measured, effectively filtering out intervening factors such as the patient’s lifestyle, diligence in taking medication, and interest in seeking professional help; (7) Delawareans will rally around societal healthcare goals vs. individual self-interest (themselves and their families); (8) labor markets for healthcare workers can’t work based on supply and demand, as other labor markets do, and therefore need to be “controlled;” and (9) “children can be made to favor asparagus over chocolate cake.” Welcome to the “arrogance and tyranny of the experts,” which “even when well meaning, knows no limits and apparently never learns from history.” SAFE’s earlier comment on the healthcare innovation plan: top-down reform, driven by healthcare bureaucrats is almost guaranteed to fail unless it leads to healthcare rationing – at which point the cost of healthcare may be held down but quality tanks.
1/14/15B, Border security must start by addressing migration causes, Senator Tom Carper – The writer reprises the “humanitarian crisis” on the southern border last summer, in which tens of thousands of unaccompanied children and families from Central America were entering the US and surrendering to border patrol agents. Since then, “thankfully, the surge of migration at our border has significantly receded due to seasonal factors and coordinated efforts by the United States, Mexico, and Central [American countries]. But if we don’t address the root causes driving people on the desperate journey north, we will witness this phenomenon again. Senator Carper goes on to outline, in effect, a “Marshall Plan” for Central American countries, which would make it safer and more attractive for the people in question to stay home. He claims that such an approach would be much more cost effective than spending money on border security. Thus, “we will not only make a meaningful difference in the lives of millions of people – we’ll likely save American taxpayers billions of dollars.” The root cause of this surge of new arrivals was legislation that prevented the immediate deportation of people seeking to enter the US who had come from noncontiguous countries. Many of the new arrivals were scheduled for hearings for which they never showed up and allowed to disperse throughout the United States, often to join family members already in this country illegally. If illegal entry were not rewarded in this fashion, it would be far less common. Revisiting the illegal immigration problem, 7/7/14. Top
1/11/15, Unfriendly to business, Stacie Beck & Eleanor Craig (UD economists) – Wilmington’s crime rate has been pointed to as factor in the lack of job opportunities for young people in inner-city neighborhoods, leaving a life of crime as “one of the few available opportunities.” What to do? A first step might be adoption of more pro-growth government policies, which would promote more jobs in the private sector rather than putting people on the government payroll (at taxpayer expense). SPECIFIC IDEAS:(1) Figure out why electric costs are 16% higher than the regional average. Are those high energy costs really necessary to achieve our environmental goals? (2) Streamline approval of business proposals. (3) Reduce corporate income tax rates, which are the highest in the nation. Waive Wilmington’s earned income tax (wage tax?) for young workers. (4) Pass laws that prohibit forced union membership to attract manufacturing jobs that now go to right-to-work states like Virginia. (5) Ditch the one-size-fits-all public school system, which is inefficient and inadequate, e.g., by giving inner-city parents education savings accounts. GENERAL OBSERVATION: The existence of the costs and barriers mentioned here reduce job opportunities, especially for new entrants in the labor force. It would be cheaper to eliminate them than to invest in a barrage of job training programs, and quite possibly more effective. So why is nothing happening? All the proposals are opposed by powerful special interest groups, which understand the benefits of protectionism but not the resultant costs. “Change is a choice, a choice yet to be made here in Delaware.” Given its long-time association with small business and desire to craft appeals to inner city voters, one would think Republicans would be quite receptive to this message. Top
1/7/15, Time for Republicans to pitch in, Eugene Robinson – Congressional Republicans “have a fundamental choice to make. They can acknowledge the obvious areas of common ground they share with President Obama – thus showing that the Republican Party can participate responsibly in government – or they can throw temper tantrums. *** Passing a bunch of bills that have no chance of ever becoming law [such as approving the Keystone Pipeline or attacking GovCare in some manner, which even if they beat a filibuster will be vetoed by the president] is not the best advertisement for effectiveness.” So suck it up, admit the economy is doing just fine, and say “nice job, Mr. President” even if it hurts. With “deficits falling rapidly” and “interest rates at record lows,” wouldn’t it be smart to agree with Democrats that its time to invest more money on infrastructure and have a bill on the president’s desk by the end of the month? And then maybe the GOP could offer (or go along with) some ideas (no examples cited) for boosting economic mobility, “which is what we really mean when we talk about ‘opportunity’”. Here’s the full text of the column from the Washington Post.Robinson doesn’t mention the possibility that the president might need to make some adjustments in his own agenda, but why should Republicans be seen as the only ones with something to prove? Making political deals is like dancing, and as the saying goes “it takes two to tango.” Top 1/4/15, Newark’s doomed data center; Lawsuit claims CEO misled UD, public and town, Maureen Milford – The lawsuit was filed by a disenchanted executive who was formerly involved with the project, Robert Krizman, who claims that Gene Kern froze him out of business affairs (he reportedly resigned in January 2014 after being fired in May 2013) and ran up millions of dollars in debt that the company had no ability to pay. He is asking the Court of Chancery to exonerate him from any responsibility for TDC’s debts/obligations and to cover his legal expenses against any liabilities. Kern had not seen the lawsuit, but said he didn’t know what Krizman was “talking about.” A lengthy reprise of the project’s controversial history and unhappy ending follows, which basically has nothing to do with the lawsuit. The story ends with Kern saying that TDC did nothing wrong with the Newark project, and that the university’s ultimate rejection of it was just a “business” matter. TDC is reportedly moving forward on other data center projects, but not one in Delaware. He declined to say where the new projects are. Evidently the News Journal doesn’t have much to write about, or they wouldn’t be making so much of a lawsuit that sounds spiteful and ill considered. Top