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. 7/23/17A, Fix Delaware's spending problem, Kevin Dombrowski (https://revitalizedelaware.com). - Offers a pointed and sensible critique of the budget deal that was just made to keep the Delaware government functioning for another year. Delaware has a "spending problem," as shown by fact that state government outlays have been growing faster than the state economy for a number of years. Such a pattern can't be sustained without raising taxes, as happened this year to the tune of $182 million per year, e.g., a one percentage point increase in the real estate transfer tax (DE's is the highest in the nation), higher tobacco and alcohol taxes, and an increase in corporation franchise taxes. And will Delawareans get new services and investments in return? Nope, "the new tax revenues will go directly toward a system of unsustainable spending that continues to grow faster than the economy." What's more, the relief is temporary - everyone says there will be another budget hole to fill next year. Delaware's income tax is already said to be uncompetitive, e.g., 6.6% over $60K, vs. lower top rates in both MD and PA. And don't forget that this rate was boosted to 6.6% from 5.95% in 2009, so who's to say another increase would represent a permanent solution? Budget battles to keep the existing government going have the unfortunate effect of diverting attention from longer-term opportunities. For example: (1) With healthcare spending rising some 7% per year, "the state needs to implement programs that focus on cost-saving preventative care" and "ask state employees to cover more of their premiums": (2) Consolidating school districts and shifting the funding from the state to the districts through referendums should be considered. (3) shift younger state employees to defined contribution pension plans because they "can no longer count on the pension they've been promised to be around when they're ready to retire." IN SUM: "Without structural reform to the state's biggest cost drivers - such as Medicaid, education and pensions - and a pro-growth agenda that encourages economic growth, Delaware will continue to find itself scrambling."
7/23/17B, Democratic leaders: Prevailing wage is a good thing for state, DE Senators David McBride, Margaret Rose Henry, and Nicole Poore – Reacting to GOP attacks on the prevailing wage rules for state contracts, the writers claim the issue is “completely peripheral to the budget” and clouded by “partisan misinformation.” They set out to debunk a series of “myths” about these rules, but wind up doing an unconvincing job of it. For example: #Not a “budget issue” as public works projects are funded almost entirely by the capital budget or “bond bill”. This is merely a matter of timing, as capital projects must be paid for just like any other type of government outlay. #“Reducing or repealing the prevailing wage” would not “lower public construction costs by as much as 24 percent.” If so, what is the markup involved? The writers carefully avoid saying. #Prevailing wage is anti-market, perish the thought. “Leveling the playing field on wages incentivizes competition through productivity, adherence to budgets and schedules, safety records, efficiency and reputation rather than a race to the bottom on wages.” If a free labor market doesn’t result in lower costs, maybe there should be a prevailing wage system for private contracts as well. #Conclusion: “We are always interested in ideas that improve public policy, regardless of who gets the credit. That’s our job. But it becomes harder to do that job when we waste time on trophy politics instead of the true fiscal reforms both parties know we need.” We cannot allow the DE Republicans “to hold responsible budgeting hostage while they attempt to convince us that middle-class blue-collar workers have it too good, but that the wealthiest residents in our state can’t afford the most modest of tax increases.” The issue is whether the cost of state public works should be artificially inflated, not whether “blue-collar workers have it too good.” Top
7/21/17, Maryland plans lawsuit against EPA under Clean Air Act, Brian Witte – MD authorities claim that nearby states (as far away as Indiana) are not being compelled to ensure that power plants within their boundaries “run their pollution controls on a daily basis” and are turning them off during summer months in order to make more money. MD’s environmental director claims “we have the data, and it’s clear, and the pollution is coming from these power plants.” Further, some 70% of MD’s “ozone problem” is said to come from upwind plants. Top
7/20/17, Former state environmental chief wants Carper to oppose ethanol bill, Karl Baker – The official in question is Colin O’Mara, former DNREC head in the Markell administration, who is said to be allied with “a coalition of unions, boating enthusiasts, and others”. The bill would allow more than 10% ethanol in gas during summer months. Bad for our air – bad for our health – bad for boat motors, maybe? Carper says “biofuels, if done correctly, can give us an environmentally friendlier option to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels [and] foreign energy production.” However, Carper is supposedly open to the argument that burning higher ethanol gas will produce more ground level ozone, so he hasn’t yet made up his mind. Ethanol mandates should never have been established in the first place, and this particular issue is just a detail in the overall picture. Still, for what it’s worth, we agree with Mr. O’Mara for a change. For more, see Pro-ethanol bill dividing both parties, Ben Wolfgang, Washington Times,7/19/17. Top 7/12/17, School task force needs balance, Jordon Rosen (Wilmington) - Writer supports task force to study feasibility of reducing number off school districts in Delaware, but suggests that the proposed commotion of the task force - representatives of the Dept. of Education, school district superintendents, charter schools, PTA, vo-tech schools, and Delaware State Education Association - "seems a bit incestuous" and would provide no incentive to change the status quo. Accordingly, he suggests that at least 30% of the task force should be "made up of individuals with no relation to the state education system in order to provide adequate public oversight and objectivity to the process." Top 7/9/17A, [General Assembly] must do better next year – Members of the GA should be honest with themselves – they blew it. Missed the budget deadline, and “the deal they eventually reached did little to solve Delaware’s long-term problems.” Fine, the outcome could have been worse (as it was in Maine and New Jersey), but Delaware leaders “hardly deserve praise just for keeping the lights on.” Fixing Delaware’s budget will require “significant negotiation between people who have fundamentally different views on the role of government.” And that’s good, because “most reasonable outside observers believe the state needs both spending and revenue reform.” Start talking now, no need to wait until 2018. And let the Democrats make the first move by following through on their agreement to “study ideas like school district consolidation, Medicaid reform, and ways to help the state more responsibly spend its budget surpluses.” [No mention of getting rid of prevailing wage racket.] Create real plans to save money, and pay the political price of implementing the plans. Then Republicans “need to step up and vote for revenue,” which could take the form of income tax increases or property tax reassessment/rate increases. [No mention of a sales tax!] And most voters will be happier in the long run “if they know the state is enacting long-term solutions.” Unless the government is growing faster than the economy, the need for tax increases isn’t obvious.
7/9/17B, Physician-assisted suicide is not the answer to better end-of-life care, Dr. Francis Taylor (president of the Medical Society of Delaware) – After “careful and thoughtful review of HB 160, the Medical Society of Delaware “strongly oppose[s] any bill to legalize physician-assisted suicide or euthanasia and urge[s] the members of the General Assembly to focus on the recommendations established by the Delaware Health Care Commission (DHCC) at the conclusion of a End of Life Workgroup that was begun in November 2015 and issued a final report in May 2016. Palliative care, pain management, and all that, but doctors should not withdraw from the case as the end nears and patients with psychological issues should receive help. Is this real opposition to assisted suicide, or simply a smoother rationale?Top 7/7/17, “No” vote on editorial, Chandler Land (Middletown) – News Journal Editorial Board should be ashamed for printing its voter fraud editorial. How do Americans know there is no significant voter fraud? We certainly shouldn’t accept the bare word of the government or some government agency. And state refusals to submit voter information are silly as federal government already has extensive personal info on citizens, e.g., Social Security numbers. What will the editorial board say if significant voter fraud is revealed by voter data from compliant states? “Perhaps a correction and a call for action? Stay tuned.”Top 7/5/17, VOTER FRAUD PROBE DOESN’T MATTER TO PRESIDENT TRUMP –We can’t recall such a prominent title for other News Journal editorials, two solid cap lines running across the page – and the text is also over the top.The editorial begins by labeling Trump as a flat-earther for his “allegations of voter fraud on a national scale.” No wonder that “as of Tuesday afternoon, 44 states, including Delaware, had refused to surrender personal voter data to the Presidential Advisory Commission on Electoral Integrity.” And wouldn’t you know it, Trump is “already using that refusal to allege a massive cover-up.” Imagine the states complied fully, however, and after a lengthy, expensive probe, the task force concluded that the president’s allegations were baseless.” Trump wouldn’t care, because “all he ever wanted to do was implant *** this as yet-unproven idea that elections in our country are rigged and fraudulent.” With no proof or basis, “the President of the United States is calling the very core of our 241-year-old democracy a sham. He has called into question the legitimacy of his own election as well [as] countless others across the country. To what end?” The editorial slams the president for making unsubstantiated claims, while at the same time cheering state refusals to cooperate on grounds that the claims are obvious nonsense. Really? Compare: Growing pile of data shows that voter fraud is a real and vast problem, Jason Snead, dailysignal.com, 6/30/17.See 7/7/17 critique, above, and also SAFE 7/7/17 blog entry, section C. http://bit.ly/2uyJICVTop
7/2/17A, Delaware budget crisis: After historic breakdown, what’s next? Matthew Albright – The General Assembly did not adjourn by midnight on June 30, as it was supposed to, but rather at 5:20 AM on July 1. Furthermore, there was no last-minute budget deal, only a temporary measure to keep the state government from shutting down for 72 hours. The action will resume at 1:00 PM on July 2. The hang-up is that Democrats want an income tax increase, and Republicans (whose approval is needed in the Senate due to the super majority voting requirement for tax increases) are only willing to oblige on certain conditions (see 6/25/17B for their initial demands). From the story, there probably would have been some sort of budget deal without an income tax increase, but Governor John Carney killed the idea. It remains to be seen what will happen next.
7/2/17B, More bad press for Republican healthcare proposals – Three columns basically reiterate the charges that appeared in the 6/30/17 news report – the authors for these columns were DE Rep. David Bentz (D-Newark13), UD Professor Saul Hoffman, and Senator Chris Coons. From their account, there is nothing of redeeming merit in the Republican proposals – only what Professor Hoffman labels as “fake healthcare reform.” Also, the unsupported (and to our mind implausible) claim that the Senate bill would cut Delaware Medicaid funding by $2 billion is reprised in a political cartoon, which shows an oafish president posed with the grim reaper bearing an “opioid crisis” blade. “2 billion in Medicaid cuts in Delaware,” Trump is saying, as he snaps a selfie. Hmm, it may be time for another letter to the editor.Top
6/30/17, Healthcare bill draws skepticism, Meredith Newman – With one exception, all sources quoted foresee “dire consequences” to Delaware from the Senate healthcare bill. Jill Fredel of the Health Department: It would cut $2B from Delaware’s Medicaid Budget.Maybe this reduction is over 10 years, because DE Medicaid budget is currently about $2B a year in total, of which the state bears a portion of the cost, and it’s obvious that the Senate bill wouldn’t eliminate ALL federal funding. As a result, DE would have to choose between vulnerable populations (children, disabled, and “225,000 Delaware seniors [who] depend on Medicaid for nursing home care”) and other programs. Also, older workers could be charged five times the amount that younger people would pay, so their healthcare insurance premiums would soar. AARP’s Public Policy Institute: Under Senate bill, a 60-year-old Delawarean with annual income of $45K would have to pay up to $12,730 in premiums in 2020. Dr. Prayus Tailor, Medical Society of Delaware: Uninsured patient population won’t receive preventive care, so an ailment that could have been easily managed in outpatient care could instead become a significant event. David Humes of atTAcK Action: Medicaid cuts could make it even harder for residents to find treatment for opioid addiction. Sen. Tom Carper expresses hope that “pause” in Senate will allow GOP and Democrats to “craft a principled compromise that protects Obamacare’s marketplace exchanges.” He blames Aetna from leaving the Delaware exchange market on lack of predictability. The fix is to create a reinsurance plan and preserve the individual mandate and cost-sharing arrangement in the Affordable Care Act. Sen. Chris Coons is hosting a roundtable discussion about the Senate bill today at 10 AM in Delaware. Key healthcare sector stakeholders are invited for a discussion that will reportedly “talk [about] how the Senate bill would disrupt care for seniors, those with pre-existing conditions, veterans, women, and those fighting addiction, among other topics.” GOP State Chair Michael Harrington reportedly “remains confident that Republicans will be able to pass the legislation.” His rationale is that most Delawareans want to have a choice of providers and plans with lower premiums and deductibles they can afford. Top 6/25/17A, Silent no more; It’s time for young conservatives to have true voice in government, Kevin Dombrowski – For the past quarter century, citing statistics to prove it, the total cost of Delaware government ($12B per year, presumably including county, local and perhaps federal grants) has grown considerably faster than the Delaware economy – both in nominal dollars and on an inflation-adjusted basis. Similarly, the per capita cost of government has grown considerably faster than average income. And “we believe most Delawareans would agree” that there has not been a commensurate improvement in “the quality of education, infrastructure and other public services.” To the contrary, “many people would suggest that the quality has declined” since 1990. Daily headlines about tax increases and public service cuts – companies leaving the state or downsizing. The only certainty these days, it seems, is “that government leaders will continue to strive to maintain the status quo on increased government.” A short-term focus on filling the “budget hole” each year is depriving us of the solutions needed to meet the challenges ahead. “Continuing to spend beyond our means doesn’t just hurt this generation – it leaves a legacy of debts and burdens for our children.” So a group of young Republicans founded Revitalize Delaware, a political movement aimed at giving voice to the ideals of limited government and fiscal responsibility. Our plan is to communicate and promote government policies in Delaware “based on the principles of limited government, individual liberty, and political accountability. We look forward to opening up the debate.” SAFE’s focus is primarily on national issues, but otherwise rather similar to RD’s. Mr. Dombrowski is identified as a professional in the investment industry. There doesn’t appear to be an RD website yet. 6/25/17B, Status quo will only hasten Delaware’s economic demise during “crisis year,” DE Sens. Gary Simpson (R-Milford) & Greg Lavelle (R-Sharpley) – Current $400 million deficit is due to “years and years of new programs being added without any forethought on the sustainability of funding.” New programs added in good years, raising the baseline for future budgets. So now we’re in a “crisis year,” and being told that “we will be a ‘third-world country’ if we don’t pass a massive $200 million tax increase.” This despite the fact that DE government spending has been growing at over 4% per year for the past 7 years, and we have the 4th-highest per capita spending in the nation. Time for the First State to live within its means, rather than fall into a fiscal death spiral like CT and IL. Accordingly, we [Republicans] want some changes before agreeing to more tax increases (some have already been agreed to). (1) A new fiscal framework, which limits government spending growth to growth in the state economy. There needs to be a budget stabilization (aka “rainy day”) fund so excess revenues in good years will be banked against future needs rather than blown on new programs, and we should establish metrics to track the performance of government programs. (2) Three-year process to study, design and implement major changes in our healthcare and education systems. Our “proposal is actionable and has boundaries in place to ensure implementation and savings for the taxpayer.” (3) A waiver on “prevailing wage” requirements, which “add 20 percent to the cost of public construction, so that workers on those jobs can be paid 200-400 percent what they make on private jobs.” In sum, without real, permanent, structural changes to how we do business in Dover, we simply cannot support new taxes.” Point one seems like a lot of hot air, and point two is too general to evaluate. Point three seems solid, and we would urge GOP legislators to stick with it. Top 6/22/17, Lawmakers consider fewer districts, Matthew Albright & Jessica Bies – Some members of the General Assembly [Rep. Earl Jaques, Joe Miro, & Stephanie Bolden are named] want to create a task force that would figure out how much money Delaware could save if it reduced the member of school districts. Wow, we thought all the General Assembly could contemplate was budget gimmicks or tax increases. However, some state officials, e.g., Governor John Carney, question the potential savings because “teachers receive different salaries in different districts and the state would have to “level up” salaries, “which would cost more than the savings in administration.” This is not necessarily true, and in any case the money would be going to teachers versus superfluous bureaucrats. Red Clay Superintendent Merv Daugherty is quoted that the issue is worth studying, although “I believe when they see all the numbers on the table, they’ll see all the school districts do operate very effectively.” Top 6/11/17, Time to end voter confusion in Delaware, Rep. Stephanie Bolden (D-Wilmington) – It’s critical to engage all Delawareans in the electoral process, and “House Bill 89 does just that.” Effective in 2020, the bill would move state primaries to the same day (4th Tuesday in April) as our presidential primaries vs. the current timing (months later). DE would get in synch with 17 states that already do this, including MD, NJ and PA. Perceived advantages: improve turnout in state primaries, save money by reducing the number of primaries held. Sponsored by a bipartisan group of legislators from both chambers, HB 89 passed in the House, and it has been assigned to the Senate Elections and Government Affairs Committee. Not mentioned: (1) Desirability of also consolidating school board elections, which are currently handled separately with miserably low turnout. (2) Effect of the change of timing on the conduct of state elections, e.g., would earlier primaries result in stretching out the election cycle with the result that voters would get bored and tune out long before November.Top
6/9/17, Electric rate plan will save millions for customers, Gary Stockbridge (region president for Delmarva Power) – The writer argues in favor of SB 80, a pending bill that would authorize Delmarva Power to impose a Distribution System Improvement charge designed to cover the cost of service reliability investments without advance approval of the PSC. This procedure would supposedly save money for Delmarva Power ratepayers, who ultimately bear the cost of rate case proceedings before the PSC. A similar effect has been in effect for water utility customers since 2001, with estimated savings to date of $10.5M, while “still providing rigorous oversight by regulators.” And as a first installment of the benefits for ratepayers, Delmarva Power is prepared to delay an upcoming rate case by a full year if SB 80 is enacted. Don’t be fooled by arguments of the Public Advocate that investments in system reliability aren’t needed; PSC requirements are set as a minimum, but our customers expect good service and we’re aiming to do a lot better. Also, this isn’t about allowing Exelon to recoup the costs it incurred to acquire Delmarva; that deal was quite beneficial for Delawareans. In sum, enactment of SB 80 “will help our customers, the business community and workforce, and it is rooted in our purpose: providing safe, reliable and affordable energy delivery service.” If Delmarva didn’t expect to benefit financially under SB 80, they wouldn’t be supporting the legislation. Given the PSC is responsible for distribution rates, we question whether automatic rate increases are appropriate.Top 6/7/17, Trump’s decision to leave Paris agreement makes sense for US, David Stevenson (Caesar Rodney Institute) – The day the Paris accord was signed, James Hansen (a former climate alarmist) “called it a fraud” and “he was right” to do so. Aside from US commitments, “the commitments made were generally business-as-usual promises that, in the end, would lower global warming by two tenths of a degree by 2100.” Meeting the US emission commitments would “cost $3 trillion to [the US] economy by 2040 according to a study by the National Economic Research Associates” that was cited by the president in his Rose Garden statement. Global warming trend is far less rapid than models are predicting, and the US is reducing carbon emissions faster than anyone else with improving technology, e.g., the fracking and horizontal drilling boom has produced a lot of cheap natural gas and speeded the phase-out of coal power. “Good stewardship requires that we continue to become more efficient and reduce emissions, but [this can be accomplished] at a measured pace.” Beyond switching from coal to natural gas, “we need to shift federal expenditures to research on non-CO2 emitting power sources, such as on more efficient solar panels, better batteries, and small modular, nuclear generators. Also, given the cost pressure on existing nuclear plants due to cheap natural gas, “some support may be needed to keep plants open.” In sum, President Trump has made “the right decision.” Absent a demonstrable risk of catastrophic climate change we see no reason for government efforts (in the US or elsewhere) to manage the energy industry, pick winners and losers, etc. Maybe federal funding for alternative energy systems should be eliminated, and we certainly don’t favor subsidies for existing nuclear plants if they aren’t economically competitive with natural gas plants. See, e.g.,https://store.cato.org/book/lukewarming. Top 6/6/17, Del. joins alliance to fight climate change, Matthew Albright – Photo: Leader with portable microphone, head and upper body, striking a pose. “Gov. John Carney has added Delaware to coalition of states [and cities] fighting climate change.” The object of the exercise, apparently, is to oppose the president’s decision to withdraw the US from the Paris climate deal. “The US should lead in the global fight,” according to the governor, and “Delaware is proud to join this coalition.” Also quoted is Governor Jerry Brown of California, who accused the president of being “AWOL in this profoundly important human endeavor.” Left unsaid is how the anti-Trump alliance proposed to “reduce emissions by 26-28 percent from 2005 levels and meet or exceed the targets of the federal Clean Power Plan,” and who would pay for it. Carney’s declaration is reportedly in line with the sentiments of the three members of Congress from Delaware, climate scientists, environmentalists, industrial titans including the DuPont Company, and the former president. The only person cited in favor of withdrawal from the Paris climate deal is President Trump, who asserted that it would impose “draconian financial and economic burdens” on this country. This “notion” has been challenged by “those who negotiated [the deal].”For a more informative view, see this book:https://store.cato.org/book/lukewarming. Top 6/2/17A, Paris pullout endangers planet – This editorial (USA Today) characterizes President Trump’s decision as “dealing a body blow to the best hopes for slowing a ruinous rise in global temperatures.” Breaking ranks with nearly 200 nations – the only other holdouts were Syria and Nicaragua (which didn’t think the Paris deal went far enough) – defying advice of the world’s leading climate scientists – breaking with daughter Ivanka, son-in-law Jared Kushner, and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson – ignoring the wisdom of Pope Francis and other religious leaders – ignoring wishes of the American people, “seven out of 10 of whom favor the Paris agreement. But the president thought he knew better, and he wanted to gratify the coal companies, Steve Bannon, etc. From a practical standpoint, it may not make that much difference; market forces are already impelling the US to bend the curve of carbon emissions by speeding a switch from coal to natural gas. And by other decisions, he was already compromising the ability of the US to comply with its Paris agreement commitments. “There was no greatness in [Trump’s] decision, just the heightened prospect of a climate-stricken goal left behind for future generations.Compare: Exiting the mad climate tea party, Paul Driessen, townhall.com,6/2/17.
6/4/17A, Lesson on school funding, Bill Osborne & Ed Ratledge – A lot of money ($2.3B) is spent on public education in Delaware: Roughly 34% ($1.4B) of the state budget, $700M in funds from the 19 school districts, and $200M in federal funds. This currently works out to a cost per student of about $17.6K, which is well above the national average. In 2016, 52% of all state employees were working for the school districts not to mention 200 employees of the DE Department of Education. UD research suggests DE could do with fewer school districts, e.g., the optimal school district would serve 22K students vs. the DE average of 7K and the largest district (Red Clay) total of 16K. The mechanics of the funding match system are archaic, and the property taxes on which school districts rely may be out of date because properties haven’t been reassessed in decades (Sussex 1974, New Castle 1983, Kent 1987) and DE’s assessed valuation is only 21.6% of current market value. Etc. Conclusion: “Perhaps more attention needs to be paid to the costs, efficiency and ultimately the effectiveness of the [public education funding] system.” Amen!
6/4/17B, Myth vs. fact: Recreational marijuana legalization and commercialization – This Delaware Voice column is supported by numerous organizations that are concerned about the proposal to legalize recreational marijuana: AAA Mid-Atlantic, DE Police Chiefs Council, DE Healthcare Association, Medical Society of DE, Sunday Breakfast Mission, DE State Chamber of Commerce, etc. The format is to list and refute eight “myths” about legalization. Some of the key points: Marijuana for medical purposes is already legal. No one goes to jail for “smoking a joint,” there is almost invariably other misconduct involved. Projected revenue gain from legalizing marijuana would be offset by additional costs (as shown by experience in Colorado) for bureaucratic oversight of the program, stepped policing for drug-impaired driving, etc. Marijuana users do drive soon after, according to a poll in Washington state, and their faculties are sufficiently impaired to at least double the crash risk. Illegal drug dealers would not be put out of business as users would seek to avoid taxes or usage restrictions; 70% of marijuana sales in Oregon are still being made by illegal drug dealers. Health risks of marijuana are being downplayed by “Big Pot” interests in much the same way that cigarette companies were downplaying smoking risks in the 1950s. Recreational marijuana does not stay at home, the number of workers testing positive rose about 10% (double the national average) in both Colorado and Washington following legalization. “We ask the members of the 149th General Assembly to review the facts and oppose House Bill 110.” This is a difficult issue, and we’re not sure what the right answer is, but it’s good to see the drawbacks of legalization are now being pointed out. Previously, the proponents seemed to be getting most of the coverage. 6/2/17B, Sparks fly over marijuana bill at charged roundtable conversation, Karl Baker – A comment session on HB 110, the Delaware Marijuana Control Act, was held. It’s described as “a lively and largely measured debate about the future of marijuana in Delaware, and was apparently a balanced discussion versus the pep rally for marijuana legalization that was staged earlier. Advocates push for legalized pot, 4/20/17. Top
5/30/17A, Proposal: Let school board raise taxes without referendum, Matthew Albright – The proposal is being sponsored by Rep. Earl Jacques (D-Glasgow), and it would give school boards the ability to bump up property taxes every two years (not to exceed 3% or enough to offset inflation) without referendums to seek voter approval. Critics such as Rep. Rich Collins (R-Millsboro) suggest that the result would be to let school boards off the hook, as they would be under less pressure to manage their budgets responsibly. As Collins put it, “I’m not sure Delaware’s education record is good enough to justify throwing more money at the problem.” Sen. Greg Lavelle (R-Sharpley) commented in a similar vein, suggesting that districts would increase their budgets automatically by 3% per year and before long DE property tax would rise to the levels of NJ and PA. The current gamesmanship over referendums has aggravated people on both sides of the arguments. For example: A Chancery Court judge ruled that the Red Clay School District violated the “free and fair elections” clause of the state Constitution, yet still managed to let the results of the referendum stand on grounds that the district had been disadvantaged by a lack of property tax reassessments or other means to cover growing operating costs. Given the state budget crunch, Gov. John Carney has proposed a cut of more than $37 million per year in state funding for public education, including a $22 million reduction in the “education sustainment fund.” In effect, the idea is that this cut would be made up by higher property taxes – transferring some of the state’s fiscal burden to the school district taxpayers without the necessity of passing a state tax increase, which would require GOP support due to the supermajority (2/3) voting requirement.
5/30/17B, Healthcare bill indicted again - The CBO scoring of the healthcare bill recently passed by the House is pointed to in this USA Today editorial as “proof” that this bill is a total nonstarter. Within 10 years, 23 million fewer Americans (7% of the US population) would have healthcare insurance (HCI). Many would lose coverage because the bill “savages” Medicaid; others with personal HCI coverage would be priced out of the market due to “expensive medical conditions that insurers would no longer be required to cover”; still others would simple opt out of carrying insurance if the mandate was eliminated, gambling that they wouldn’t experience serious medical problems down the road. And what would be gained from enacting the AHCA? Very little, except for a “dramatic tax cut on the investment returns of wealthy Americans.” OK, the CBO estimates deficit reduction of $119B over 10 years, but similar savings could be achieved in other ways, e.g., by allowing Medicare to “negotiate” prices with the drug companies. Obviously, the Republican-led proposal “makes sense only in the context of runaway partisanship." The implication that the GOP rushed a vote on this legislation before the CBO had a chance to score it is silly, as (1) two prior CBO reports reached essentially the same conclusion, and (2) the CBO predictions re HCI coverage are far from certain anyway. On the healthcare bill, nothing to CBO here, Sally Pipes, Washington Examiner,5/25/17. Top 5/28/17, So much with which we differ, so little time – Today’s Sunday edition of the News Journal was full of left-leaning stories & commentary: (A) FOR FEMALE VETS, EVERY DAY IS STRUGGLE, Margie Fishman – Delaware Air Force veteran Kim Peters (big color picture displayed across the top of the front page) is suffering from PTSD, and she’s by no means the only one. PTSD has been a problem in past wars, and seems to be increasingly common these days. The incidence of veteran suicides is sobering, especially for female veterans. Ms. Peters is described as a “mother of four, who feels robbed of her freedom by a war she still doesn’t fully understand.” In her words: “We went in [to Iraq] looking for weapons of mass destruction, right? Did we find any?” She is said to “sneer” at a picture of herself in military fatigues, posed next to a waving American flag and the Statue of Liberty’s blazing torch, and her photo album from a decade of military service is “missing in action.” The way this story is told – on the day before Memorial Day at that – seems designed to turn veterans into “victims”. (B) WE ARE FAILING OUR VETERANS – This editorial cites the Fishman story, and complains that our society has for decades cultivated the image of the American “fighting man,” while downplaying the contributions and sacrifices of female veterans. This supposed lack of respect for veterans carries over even when they are no longer wearing the uniform and no longer fit the image we demand. “It is almost as if they never served, as if their vulnerability is unwarranted, even shameful. The situation is worse [if] they are women.” C) USA TODAY: WHY EUROPEANS LOVE OBAMA, LOATHE TRUMP, Oren Dorell – “The former president received a rock-star welcome in Berlin, while his successor gathered looks of bewilderment from European leaders in Brussels.” Thus, Trump made the point that most of the members of NATO weren’t meeting their obligations to spend at least 2% of their GDP on defense, whereas Obama had “never raised any doubts about the US commitment to the alliance and [displayed] a more cooperative approach with European leaders.” Obama was a strong proponent of the fight against global warming, while Trump has called it a “hoax.” Etc. (D) USA TODAY: PAYDAY LOANS ARE DYING. PROBLEM SOLVED? NOT QUITE, Amrita Jayakumar – In part due to scrutiny of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, there has been a shift from lump sum loans to installment loans. The installment loans have somewhat lower interest rates, but typically remain outstanding longer. For many payday lenders, the result is higher – not lower – interest expense. And here’s a shock: 81% of respondents in a Pew survey said “they’d rather take a similar loan from a bank or a credit union at lower rates.” Banks are waiting for the CFPB to finalize its payday lending rules before jumping into this market, however, and “the fate of the CFPB remains unclear under the Trump administration.” The CFPB’s crackdown on payday lending may generate more business for illegal “loan sharks” than for banks and credit unions. (E) DESPITE HEADLINES, REGULATIONS PROTECT YOU EVERY DAY, Ted Kaufman – “Just about everybody can find a reason to dislike one government regulation or another, but try thinking about it this way.” If the “anti-regulation zealots” get their way, we may all wind up without clear air, clean weather, food and drug safety,” etc. Take the Wells Fargo scandal, which cutting through the legalese boils down to this: “Top management put enormous pressure on local branch employees to sell more bank products even if that meant cheating their customers.” Granted that government regulators didn’t prevent the scam, which was brought to light by investigative reporting of the LA Times, but they are on the case now. Thus, the CFPB et al. fined Wells Fargo $185 million last September based on the alleged opening of some 2 million dubious and/or bogus accounts. Otherwise, the scandal “might have blown over without any serious repercussions for Wells Fargo, and no message to other financial companies that they had better worry about a new customer watchdog.” According to Bloomberg News, the CFPB has provided “$11.4 billion in relief for more than 25 million aggrieved customers” since its inception. If Congress gives in to pressure and abolishes the CFPB, that would represent “yet another victory for the powerful banking lobby” and “a lot less protection for consumers.” Compare: CFPB under fire, Daniel Kerrick, Esq., SAFE newsletter, Spring 2017. (F) MANNER IN WHICH JAMES COMEY WAS FIRED MATTERS, Peter Atwater – Without discussing whether Comey’s firing was justified or not, the writer slams the manner in which the deed was done. Thus, the president fired Comey by a letter that was publicly released, while the FBI director was on a business trip. Comey and a group of FBI agents watched on network television as the story of his firing broke, which was totally inappropriate for a “quasi-military organization” like the FBI. “Generals are not de-starred . . . in front of their troops via the media.” Trump may have reason to regret his impatience as “there is likely to be an even greater adversarial relationship at all levels between the civilian White House and all branches of the quasi-military and military.” Is it our imagination, or does this sound like a threat?(G) SOMETHING IS NOT RIGHT, Ruth Marcus – Beginning with a comment by Defense Secretary James Mattis about the lack of political unity in America, the writer voices a series of complaints about the supposed misconduct or bad will of Trump administration officials/actions. Thus “something is not right” when GOP congressional candidate Greg Gianforte “body-slammed a reporter for daring to ask a question” . . . the murder of DNC staffer Seth Rich was “baselessly linked to WikiLeaked DNC emails . . . Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross marveled that there were no signs of protestors when the president et al. were in Saudi Arabia (an authoritarian regime) . . . HUD Secretary Ben Carson spoke about poverty being “a state of mind” . . . the president proposed a budget that would slash funding for the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, which has “saved nearly 12 million lives in Africa and elsewhere by providing antiretroviral drugs . . . oh, and the president’s budget proposal would also cut food stamps and housing vouchers for needy families, healthcare for poor children, etc., all “to help pay for trillions of dollars in tax cuts for the richest Americans.” Compare: Pluses and minuses: Assessing the president’s budget proposal, 6/5/17. (H) MAINTAIN MOMENTUM ON DELAWARE EMISSION STANDARDS, Jill Fuchs (president, DE League of Women Voters) & Chad Tolman –It’s time to put a price on carbon emissions” at the national level, despite “some uncertainty about how much more CO2 we can put into the atmosphere before really serious damage is done.” The goal should be for “most of the known fossil fuel deposits . . . to be left in the ground.” Human activities have already increased global average surface temperatures, and “a degree or two can raise global sea levels by 20 meters (65 feet). As the lowest-lying state, DE is uniquely vulnerable to the resulting sea level rise (SLR), storm surges and flooding. We have just completed a study of DE policies in this area, and recommend: #Continued participation in the Regional Greenhouse Initiative (RGGI), increasing the RGGI cap reduction goal from the current 2.5% per year to 5% per year starting in 2021 and setting “stretch goals for renewable energy sources for electricity for 2030 and 2050 that are above 25%”; #Participation in a regional (with 11 other nearby states in the Transportation and Climate Initiative to reduce CO2 emissions from the transportation sector and encourage the TCI to put “an increasing price on carbon emissions from transportation over the entire TCI region; #Adoption of a Climate Action Plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) from all sources by 30% (from 2008) by 2030, and then raise that goal to 40% by 2030 and 80% by 2050; #Increase the current RGGI cap reduction goal (currently 2.5% per year) to 5% per year starting in 2021. Let’s make “our state a leader among states in reducing GHG and in developing a green energy economy.” The economic cost of implementing these proposals is conveniently not discussed, let alone who would be expected to pay for it.Top
5/14/17, Aetna’s departure has wide reaction, Matthew Albright et al. – Follow-up story with reactions from Delawareans, etc. Aetna’s withdrawal will leave only Highmark in the Delaware marketplace for 2018, and Highmark’s premiums are feared to be going up. “As politicians argue over who is to blame for the turmoil, [Nicole] Alvarez [of Middletown, who has a $5K deductible and pays about $200 a month - $35 a month after the tax credit) and many of the nearly 28,000 Delawareans covered under the Affordable Care Act are panicking over rising costs and uncertainty in the healthcare marketplace.” According to Wayne Smith, president of the Delaware Health Care Association,” the situation “is not good” because without competition “rates tend to go up.” The debate over repeal of the ACA “is pitting Republicans and Democrats against each other," and Sen. Tom Carper is quoted to the effect that Republicans have backtracked on the president’s promise “to make sure everyone is insured with better healthcare than the ACA offers.” Carper goes on to blame the administration for “pushing most of the buttons they can push to undermine confidence in the marketplace.”How could anyone take such a promise seriously, at least if it’s interpreted as meaning that no one will lose any of the existing ACA features? What precisely would/could drive such an improvement?
5/11/17, Aetna pulling out of Delaware healthcare marketplace next year, Matthew Albright – Starting next year, 11,854 Delawareans will lose their current healthcare coverage with Aetna and only one company will be offering plans on the ACA exchange for DE in 2018. Aetna will have pulled out of all states (15 in 2016, currently down to 4) where it was participating in the ACA exchange business, having lost some $700M (2014-16) plus an estimated $200M for 2017. Sen. Chris Coons is quoted as calling Aetna’s decision “frustrating and disappointing,” but saying it shouldn’t cause people to believe that Obamacare is completely broken. The ACA “is far from perfect, and I’ve been trying to work across the state with my Republican colleagues to provide better options for families and businesses. I will continue to do that, but make no mistake, the Trump administration and Congressional Republicans are solely focused on repealing the ACA and undermining the stability of the marketplace, rather than fixing it, and it’s driving up premiums for consumers.”The willingness of insurance companies to participate in this business is influenced by their anticipated profit or loss. Thus, Aetna will enter the exchange business in Nevada in 2018, motivated at least in part by a new contract to manage the Medicare business in that state. Aetna to pull out of current [ACA] exchanges, Anna Wilde Matthews, Wall Street Journal, 5/10/17. Top
5/7/17, House health[care] plan sickens us– The theme of this editorial is that the “wealthy and healthy” (from the president on down) have zero compassion and can’t wait to deprive the less fortunate of affordable healthcare insurance coverage. A cartoon below the editorial shows a Trump-like devil with horns, who has a drink on one side and a “Trumpcare” bottle on the other. “I don’t always turn healthcare for millions into a massive windfall for billionaires, but when I do . . .”. What evidence is there to support such fiendish intent? (1) About half of Americans (or perhaps it’s 130 million Americans, as indicated at another point) have a pre-existing condition. (2) The ACA makes it illegal to deny coverage to those with chronic conditions or to set premiums based on a client’s health. But the Republican bill “tosses that aside,” thereby “theoretically allowing insurers to make coverage unaffordable for the sickest of us.” Sure, the bill provides for “so-called high risk pools,” but these pools would be underfunded by $20 billion annually so good luck with that. (3) Perhaps it was insensitive of Democrats to celebrate the passage of the bill as dooming many Republicans in the 2018 mid-terms, but House Republicans and President Trump were cruel to celebrate House passage of a “repeal and replace” bill that the president says will result in premiums and deductibles coming down and is “a great plan.” This isn’t the first time we have questioned Trump’s grip on reality. (4) Perhaps no one told the president that “millions could lose coverage under this proposal,” or he was told and couldn’t or wouldn’t comprehend that this was so. Whatever, “he’s worth $3.5 billion and says he’s healthy,” so why should he care? Clearly, he couldn’t care less.Top
5/1/17, Delmarva Power seeks change, Matthew Albright – Delmarva wants to impose a Distribution System Improvement Charge on ratepayers for improvements to make its electric and gas infrastructure more reliable. Would only apply for improvements to better serve existing customers, i.e., could not be used “to expand to new customers, thus increasing the company’s revenues.” Currently, Delmarva can only seek money for these improvements through formal rate increases, which reportedly “happen every two years or so and must be approved by state regulators.” And rate increase requests for other costs would be less frequent, e.g., Delmarva has offered to put off its next rate increase from this year to next if the DSIC proposal is approved by the General Assembly. Costs for rate increase reviews are some $750K, which is ultimately borne by ratepayers. In the long run, says Delmarva VP Glenn Moore, “we are confident this will bring down costs for consumers.” The PSC supports the DSIC proposal, as does the business community, but Public Advocate Drew Slater has sent a letter to legislators urging that it be turned down. “This generous grant of money would come with significantly less oversight and examination.” Also, past rate increase requests have often been approved only in part. PSC’s executive director Robert Howatt says the PSC would still get to monitor the DSIC increases, even though not required to formally act on them, so they wouldn’t represent “free money.” Top
4/30/17, Thousands rally over climate; Delawareans join crowd in nation’s capital to support science versus ideology, Molly Murray – Another Saturday anti-trump rally (dubbed the People’s Climate March) took place in DC with corresponding activity in numerous satellite locations, the third round of demonstrations (after Tax Day and The March for Science) in three weeks. There were reportedly 150K marchers in DC alone, including “hundreds from Delaware.” Michael Brunne of the Sierra Club is quoted that “we cannot nor will we be stopped.” The marchers paused in front of the Trump International Hotel to chant “shame, shame, shame” and ended up in front of the White House. Senator Tom Carper greeted the Delaware group and led them in the Sting song “Every breath you take,” ending with a refrain to the Trump administration: “I’ll be watching you.” Carper has been a vocal critic of current environmental proposals, include the order on Friday to open areas off the Eastern coast to oil and gas exploration. Susan Mack of Wilmington is quoted that she decided to attend because “I’m very concerned by the fact that the current administration is basically gutting the environmental laws. ** I just think they are setting us back.” Are these demonstrations truly spontaneous, or is someone backing them for political purposes? See, e.g., George Soros funding reveals true motivation of People’s Climate March, Tyler O’Neil, pjmedia.com,4/29/17.
4/30/17A, Resist Band-Aid budget fixes – Governor John Carney is calling on Delawareans to make a “shared sacrifice” to close the chronic budget gap. 2017 is “at least the third straight year” in which Delaware is “facing a budget deficit,” and “this time it’s nearly $400 million.” Accordingly, the time has come for “the General Assembly and governor to fix the flaws in the state’s revenue and school funding models.” So why does Delaware have 19 school districts, while Austin, Texas with a similar sized population has only one school district? And to those who say Delaware is not like Austin so it’s not a fair comparison, the editors would ask “can Delaware afford not to consider every option?” And by the way, not only is the status quo quite expensive, but it’s not working well in terms of “how we’re educating the neediest of our kids.” The governor wants to give school districts an option to raise school taxes without referendums, which is said to be a “worthy proposal.” But like everything else that we’ve heard, it’s just a Band-Aid. Idea of radically consolidating school districts has merit, but eliminating referendums would empower local school boards to raise taxes without effective accountability to anyone (while the state continues cutting back its contributions to the cost of public education).Top 4/24/17A, The many faces of legalization, Scott Goss & Matthew Albright – Delaware advocates of marijuana legalization are gaining ground, in large part by broadening their arguments versus simply relying on personal liberty. Revenue gains (e.g., an estimate of $22M per year) for DE – savings on law enforcement – racial justice. And critics are falling back on the need for further study versus opposing legalization under any circumstances. Health concerns about the use of this drug aren’t mentioned in the story; to the contrary, claims are recited that marijuana isn’t chemically addictive, can’t lead to an overdose death, and “does not provoke risky behavior in those who consume it.” The only reasons that the bill hasn’t passed already are (1) a 2/3 majority vote in both houses is required for a change in criminal penalties, and (2) Governor John Carney has been opposed (thus far). No mention of the counter-legalization roundtable that the governor was pushed into agreeing to at the pro-legalization session on April 19.
4/24/17B, Will AG Sessions launch a War on Weed? If so, it could accelerate marijuana legalization, Phil Waldman – The writer argues that AG Jeff Sessions is old school on marijuana, e.g., by quoting from a recent Sessions speech. “I realize this may be an unfashionable belief in a time of growing tolerance of drug use. But too many lives are at stake to worry about being fashionable. I reject the idea that America will be a better place if marijuana is sold in every corner store. And I am astonished to hear people suggest that we can solve our heroin crisis by legalizing marijuana – so people can trade one life-wrecking dependency for another that’s only slightly less awful. Our nation needs to say clearly once again that using drugs will destroy your life.” Waldman goes on to paint a picture of a national movement towards legalization, not just in terms of changing attitudes but also political action. Thus, nine states had marijuana initiatives on the ballot in 2016 and look at the results. CA, MA, ME and NV went all the way; AR, FL, MT & ND passed medical marijuana. Only AZ’s recreational measure was narrowly defeated. This leaves the big unanswered question: how will the AG approach the states that have passed some form of legalization? Assuming a crackdown is coming, as seems likely, it will probably spawn a negative backlash and increase the pressure for legalization. 2020 might well see the first major party presidential candidate who advocates legalization at the federal level. Crackdown might take the form of going after drug distributors versus users, and be directed at all drugs being brought into this country versus only marijuana. Smuggling by international crime syndicates is what keeps Homeland Security chief up at night, David Sherfinski & Stephen Dinan, Washington Times, 4/18/17.But even that game plan carries no guarantees of success, any more than earlier versions of “the war on drugs” did. If enough people want to destroy their lives with drugs, it won’t be easy to stop them.
4/24/17C, Attacks on environment echo 1995, Harry Themal – Lauds Earth Day marches and protests, expressing outrage about “the ways the Trump administration is setting out to undo many protective and environmental measures.” Kudos to Molly Murray and Senator Tom Carper for their timely warnings about the influence of “the destructive head of the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt.” Shades of 1995, when I wrote a column about Republican assaults. “The current congressional majority proudly proclaims it is conservative. It is not conserving, it is destroying.” And nothing much has changed since, except that “now the efforts to harm our natural legacy are being led by the White House and its appointee, Pruitt.” Happily, “most of the Congress’s threatening actions during the Clinton years did not come to pass or have since been corrected. We will also survive the Trump attack on safeguards but in the meantime what damage has been done to our state, country and the world by the destructive forces being unleashed in Washington.” Isn’t it possible to tank the US economy by imposing unwise environmental restrictions? No sign that the writer has considered this possibility.Top
4/23/17A, Delmarva rallies in support of science; Trump administration targeted over environmental cuts, Gino Fanelli – “Dozens of attendees” gathered at Lewes’ Canal-front Park, bearing signs such as “Science is not an alternative fact” and “Science is our friend.” The event was reportedly “aimed at supporting the scientific community against skepticism and the defunding of scientific programs.” Mayor Ted Beck “expressed [concern] over the budget presented by the Trump administration which, among other cuts, plans to cut $828 million from the Environmental Protection Agency.” Also, it was reported that “the president placed a gag order on some federal employees, including scientists, from discussing climate change on social media.” Bottom line, according to the event organizer - UD professor emeritus Jonathan Sharp – “science, scientists and the strides toward clean energy are under attack through budgetary and policy restrictions” and “that is putting our health, food, air and water at risk.” Lewes-based oceanography professor Matthew Oliver spoke of the need for unification in the “Anthropocene Era” in which humans hold the dominant impact on the climate, geology and ecosystems. “We live in an era when humans have an impact on the environment, and this is a result of science that has done marvelous, incredible things that we sometimes forget the impacts of. *** And in our rush to assert our dominance over nature, we now stand to lose it. *** Is this really where we are? Where persuasion is no longer an option? That it’s just one power bloc over another? I think there’s another way.” And other participants are quoted as bemoaning that science has almost become a “bad word,” and the move to reject science is spelling a bleak future for the world. “When we start to conclude things not based on fact, there are long-term consequences.” The manmade global warming theory is far from being proven, let alone the claimed necessity for an energy infrastructure makeover based thereon; a course correction in prevailing regulatory policies is sorely needed (and hopefully underway). 4/23/17B, Wind turbines signal era of subsidy-free green power, Jessica Shanklemann, et al. – Manufacturers led by Siemens are working to almost double the capacity of the current range of wind turbines, which will supposedly allow electricity from offshore windfarms to be supplied “at market prices” by 2025. Once “a fringe technology,” these facilities are shifting the economics of the energy business “quicker than anyone thought possible” and “adding competitive pressure on the dominant power generation fuels coal and natural gas.” Facilities taller than the Eiffel Tower, wing spans that surpass the wing span of jumbo jets, etc. No mention that wind power is not dispatchable, and therefore has a lower value than reliable power sources. Also, if the picture being painted were true, there would be no reason for government policies to reduce carbon emissions as the perceived problem would be solved by the cost advantages of wind power? Top
4/20/17, Advocates push for legalized pot, Matthew Albright & Scott Goss – Roundtable discussion of the topic: Governor John Carney was reportedly listening to both sides of the argument, but the event was heavily slanted in favor of legalization. Thus, “speaker after speaker urged Gov. John Carney to change his mind and support the legalization of marijuana Wednesday.” A handful of opponents were on hand, but even in questions from the floor they were heavily outnumbered. Some pro arguments: medical marijuana was just a start – overcoming misconceptions – open “wholly new industry in Delaware that would create new jobs” – issue of criminal and social justice – ban on marijuana doesn’t work – “healthier, safer alternative to alcohol” – new revenue stream for the state, and savings on law enforcement and prison - if users knew it would make their habit safer, they “would be glad to pay a new tax.” Among the skeptics: Bruce Lorenz of Milford (revenue estimates overblown, would spur black market rather than eliminating, more info needed); Cathy Rossi of AAA Mid-Atlantic (unintended consequences, including more drug-impaired motorists and young people munching on marijuana “edibles”); John Nichols of Middletown (called on Carney to “hold a similar roundtable with opponents,” and the governor said he would do that “as soon as we can”). Top 4/10/17A, Ozone, particulates taint air in Delaware; Region ranked second in NE [on] high ozone days, Molly Murray – “The Wilmington-Philadelphia area ranks second in the Northeast for days with elevated ozone pollution and soot from smokestacks and vehicle tailpipes are a problem more than half the time, according to a new study released Thursday by Environmental America Research & Policy Center.” Wilmington by itself had 97 high ozone days in 2015, and an environmental advocate is quoted that “even one day with unhealthy levels of pollution is unacceptable” so “we need to be strengthening our clean air laws, not rolling them back.” The report was released following a Trump executive order to review [shudder] the Clean Power Plan. Caesar Rodney Institute says CPP would drive up power costs). Rep. John Kowalko says goal should be zero emissions to minimize health risks, and other sources complain about pollution coming in from other states, industrial activity, brownfields, high rates of asthma and cancer, etc. Compare: The EPA’s next big economic chokehold, lowering ozone – from cars trucks, factories and power plants – in the name of an imaginary health benefit, Tony Cox, Wall Street Journal, 9/1/15.
4/10/17B, Lawmakers say they want to take politics out of redistricting process, Matthew Albright – The DE Senate has passed a bill to delegate the drawing of election district lines – which happens every 10 years after the census – to an independent commission. It doesn’t matter at the federal level, since Delaware only has one member of the House of Representatives, but would affect electoral districts at the state level. The bill is being pushed by Democrats, but has picked up some Republican support (Sens. Delcollo and Pettyjohn). Procedure for picking commission members is somewhat novel. Delawareans could apply to be on the commission – two designated state judges would pick 24 members (8 Democrats, 8 Republicans, 8 independents) – legislative leaders in both chambers could peremptorily remove one person each (total of four possible strikes) from the mix – then the secretary of state would draw names from remaining pool on a random basis until 9 members had been selected. Then the commission would draw the electoral district lines, albeit “with ample opportunities for public comment." and the possibility of court challenges.Would this elaborate process really solve problems with existing procedures? Somehow, we doubt it.
4/10/17C, Join March for Science, Lois Drake (Elkton, MD) – Defying a “multitude of science,” the president has signed “a repeal of the ‘Stream Protection Rule,’ allowing coal companies to dump toxins in our waterways, and signed an executive order attempting to roll back regulations on power plant emissions.” And Scott Pruitt revoked a ban on the use of chlorpyrifos, “a pesticide researchers says presents risks to children and farm workers.” To oppose these actions and show that “you want the United States to thrive” while also “protect[ing] our environment,” join the Earth Day “March for Science” in Washington, DE and other cities on April 22.”Top
4/1/17, Carper says he’s “troubled” by EPA pesticide decision, Karl Baker - The chemical is called chlorpyrifos. Developed by Dow, it has been used since 1965 to kill insects on farms (corn, citrus fruit, almonds, etc.) & golf courses, and to treat lumber. EPA Secretary Scott Pruitt just approved an order reversing a blanket EPA ban that was issued during the previous administration. This action prompted a letter from Senator Tom Carper, who called the action “troubling” absent a “clear and compelling scientific and legal basis for reversing” the previous decision and demanding copies of recent correspondence about the matter ion the EPA’s files. CHLOR ensued from WW II nerve agent research, and exposure to the chemical causes nausea and dizziness. A 2012 study (National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences) “found damage in the brains of children whose mothers were exposed to the pesticide during pregnancy.” Supposedly, CHLOR can contaminate well water, although testing of wells in Delaware hasn’t turned up any traces of it lately. The EPA ban was preceded by the imposition of a series of progressively stringent restrictions on usage starting in 2000, and the complete ban followed court rulings (9th Circuit) in 2015-2016. In lifting the ban, Pruitt stated that CHLOR is “one of the most widely used pesticides in the world” and “we are returning to using sound science in decision-making rather than predetermined results.” Senator Carper complained of the “apparent dismissal of the extensive analysis undertaken previously by EPA scientists.” Top 3/29/17, Del. may lose again with Trump exec. Order; Move may ease neighbor states’ emissions standards, Molly Murray – Poor Delaware, they worked so hard to clean up emissions, and now Trump wants to gut the Clean Power Plan – which was supposed to stick it to the states who have continued to rely on coal-fired (shudder) electric power. “Much of the state’s problem with ozone pollution, for instance, comes from large power plants and crowded highways beyond the state’s borders." Also, as “the lowest lying state in the nation,” Delaware is “especially vulnerable to rising sea level, which is expected to hasten as the planet warms.” Governor John Carney, Sen. Chris Coons, and Sen. Tom Carper are all quoted as being against the Trump policies. Carper is scathing in denying that the policy change could bring back the coal industry. The coal industry’s problem is not the Clean Power Plan, it is “market forces.” Carper has a point about the coal industry; the fracking boom has created a lot of cheap natural gas, which has created an incentive to phase out coal-fired power plants. But that does not mean the CPP was a good idea, because it sets carbon emissions targets in the name of fighting global warming that would have very little effect on global temperatures.Top
3/27/17, Climate inaction’s steep price – Editorial (from Washington Post) attributes death of the Great Barrier Reef of Australia to “the measured warming of the planet” that is “happening now, not decades from now.” A spike in ocean water temperature in 2016 is said to have caused a massive “bleaching event,” and scientists reportedly believe “the reef will never be the same.” A “major new study in the journal Nature” is cited. Bad Trump, who is pushing to cut EPA and NOAA budgets, rolling back Obama administration climate rules, and “thinking of pulling the country out of the landmark Paris deal, which took decades to strike.” Eventually, even Republicans will have to admit these are bad ideas, but what price will the nation and the world have to pay because “our leaders were negligent in the meantime.” Compare Australia’s Great Barrier Reef doing just fine, breitbart.com, 8/25/16. Top
3/24/17A, Gov. [John Carney]: Tax hikes, spending cuts, Matthew Albright – To close an estimated budget hole of $386M, the governor proposes a “balanced approach” with equal amount of spending cuts and tax increases. Personal income tax, corporate franchise tax and tobacco taxes would go up. School districts could raise property taxes without referenda. Schools would lose some operating funds, state employees would pay more for their state-provided healthcare benefits and “state departments would eliminate 200 vacant positions.”
3/24/176B, Cost to Delaware can’t be a factor; PJM executive says federal rules can’t consider allocation on power line, Jeff Mordock – The cost for a new transmission line from an Artificial Island nuclear facility to a substation in Red Lion, DE is now said to be $165M vs. a previous estimate of $272M [which may have included associated upgrades at the nuclear facility]. Most of the power will be consumed on the Delmarva peninsula, 60% in Delaware, yet Delaware interests claim that Delawareans will receive “only about 10% of the benefits for a power line that will largely improve power output in New Jersey.” The governor’s office and certain DE legislators, e.g., Sen. Harris McDowell, are very critical of this proposal, but a PJM executive says FERC rules won’t permit a cost allocation, i.e., DE and other states on Delmarva peninsula must absorb the cost. Doesn’t sound like this long-running controversy will be settled any time soon.Top 3/16/17, Ramifications of constitutional convention, Reid Beveridge (Broadkill Beach) – Comment on Jerry Martin’s letter published on March 13. The writer expresses concern about a runaway convention, which might – for example – repeal freedom of speech or gun rights, even permit presidents to serve more than two terms (imagine Trump or Obama serving for life). “The only thing the convention could not do (why not?) would be “to eliminate the requirement for two senators per state in Congress.” Top 3/9/17A, How America got Del. Democrat Stephanie Hansen elected to Senate, Matthew Albright – Hansen reportedly received donations from all 50 states, and “so many volunteers came from Delaware and the region that her campaign had trouble finding enough doors to knock on and phones to call.” Internet aps like Flippable, which connect donors with candidates, helped to generate this level of support. The underlying idea: Democrat voters in “safe” districts want to make a difference, so they support Democrat candidates in tight races elsewhere. If Hansen had lost, after all, “Republicans would have [shudder] broken the Democrats’ complete hold on [DE] state government.” Flippable raised $130K for Hansen, about 1/3 of the $380K in direct donations to her campaign. In addition, a PAC spent more than $570K to support Hansen. That brings the cost for Hansen’s campaign to $950K vs. $750K reported in the NJ’s 2/24/17 story and nearly $1M that was reported in its 2/22/17 story. So was the race decided by “outside money,” as Republicans contend? Hansen argues that her campaign talked extensively about local issues, e.g., heroin addiction, education, jobs, etc. And as Democrats say, “outside political money is nothing new.” Consider the influx of money for Christine O’Donnell’s ill-fated Senate campaign in 2010.
3/19/17B, Data doesn’t support letter writer, Roger Reinicker (Hockessin) – This letter responds to John Greer’s 3/7/17 letter that “Sea level rise has not changed” by contending that a NOAA chart shows the rate of SLR is “obviously changing” and “is highest in the last decade.” Also, “what part of the scientifically accepted scenario” for manmade global warming does he reject – “that carbon dioxide from human activity is increasing in the atmosphere (it is) or that CO2 is not a greenhouse gas (it is)”? Top
3/1/17A, Trump outlines his path forward, Molly Murray & Jeremy Cox – Perhaps the most notable aspect of this story is the visual presentation. Readers see a big headline (“Trump outlines his path forward”) extending across the entire front page right above an across-the-page picture - Holly Niederwriter. a DNREC biologist with long blonde hair, wading through a wetland area in the Blackbird State Forest area with a big net in search of tadpoles. The implication is that the president’s “path forward” resembles this image, as demonstrated yesterday by his signature of an order “mandating a review of the rule aimed at protecting small streams and wetlands such as this one from pollution.” There is also an editorial arguing that the “clean-water repeal effort” is “misguided.” The emphasis on an issue that wasn’t even mentioned in the president’s address is puzzling, and the visual presentation seems disrespectful. Also, the thrust of the order is not to turn a blind eye to pollution. The real issue is the limits of federal jurisdiction, which covers navigable waters but doesn’t necessarily extend to every “wetland” area in the entire country. Trump signs order to roll back Obama’s “waters of the US role,” Michael Bastasch, daillycaller.com, 2/28/17.
3/1/17B, A less-divisive speech from the president, Adam Duvernay – The three members of Congress from Delaware reportedly had low expectations of the president’s address to a joint session of Congress. “All Democrats, [they] were prepared for partisanship, attacks and insults.” But “what they got were policies on which they still have reservations, but a professionally delivered address that challenged both parties to bridge the divide.” Their reactions: REP. LISA BLUNT ROCHESTER – Liked proposed infrastructure spending and improving access to childcare, thought that it sounded like the president wanted to preserve big parts of GovCare. “The reality will be in the actions *** and question of where does the money come from for many of these things.” SEN TOM CARPER – Better speech than the Inaugural Address, the president should stick with the new speechwriter. I hope he meant the focus on unity. As for the things the president wants to do, such as beefing up the military and rebuilding infrastructure, “talk is cheap” – let’s see the president’s budget. SEN. CHRIS COONS – Trump’s best speech to date because of the positive tone, but there were discrepancies and a lack of detail over some of the most contentious points. Does the president’s willingness to embrace “new alliances” mean closer ties to an adversarial Russia? Re healthcare and other subjects, “he needs to provide more specifics about proposals that could [potentially] win bipartisan support in Congress.”
3/1/17C, Sea levels rising quickly, Chad Tolman – Re a recent news story that the sea level may “begin to accelerate amid a warming climate,” the writer asserts that “sea levels are already accelerating.” His data: “Global average sea level rose about 8 inches during the past century” but “was protected to rise [sic] by as much as 78 inches by 2100. The relative sea level rise for Delaware will be more than the global average because the land [in this region] is sinking.” Now comes a January 2017 report from NOAA, which indicates a “worst case” scenario of sea level rise of “as much as 98 inches by 2100.” Accordingly, Tolman advocates measures to “put an increasing price on carbon emissions” [e.g., impose a carbon tax or at least hike gasoline taxes] and faults the president for promising “to pull the US of out of the Paris Climate Agreement.” These claims re rising sea levels around the globe are wildly exaggerated, as are projections of SLR in this region. Making sense of the debate about sea level rise, 10/18/14.Top
2/28/17, Republicans dropped the ball, Jim McHugh (Middletown) – Leaders of the state Republican Party “were outmanned, outsmarted, outsourced and exposed as to why they are the secondary party in Delaware. They had a strong candidate in John Marino, who outworked his opponent and had a clear message on how to improve the lives of citizens in the 10th District and all Delawareans. But instead of rising to the occasion and working to leverage any and all resources for getting the message and votes out, the Delaware GOP leadership either chose not to try and match the Democrats in their efforts or they felt the odds were stacked too heavily against them and made a poor strategic decision to marginally support their candidate.” Accordingly, “it’s time to . . . look for fresh leadership that can bring our Republican party back to relevance in Delaware before the next general election.”
2/26/17, Hansen wins, preserves Dems’ control of Senate, Molly Murray & Matthew Albright – As of 5 p.m., 11,203 votes (31.4% turnout) had been cast; Hansen received 58% of the total votes. Latest spending numbers (including PACS): Hansen: $750K (over $100 per vote received); Marino: $137K (some $26 per vote received). Quoted comments include the following: STEPHANIE HANSEN - “This was the first swing election in the country since the inauguration. It was the first chance for voters to rise up with one voice to say we’re bigger than the bullies. It was the first chance for voters to declare with one loud voice that we’re better than the politics of fear and division. What we accomplished together will have implications for our entire state and country, and I think tonight they’re hearing us loud and clear in all corners of this country – and certainly in DC and in Dover.” CHARLIE COPELAND – “It’s been truly amazing to watch this grassroots effort come together to work for a common cause in an effort to make our state better. This evening, Delaware’s citizens have been able to see just how politically bankrupt Delaware is. Delaware Democrats administratively changed Delaware campaign finance laws in the middle of this campaign so that they could go on to raise $1 million to buy the 10th Senate District seat.” GREG LAVELLE – “John and his family ran a great race. We knew it would not be easy. [It was even more challenging because] from their perspective, it was absolutely a national race.”
2/24/17, Delaware Senate control up for grabs, Matthew Albright - Special election will be tomorrow. “For all the statewide and even national significance of the race,” according to this report, “the outcome falls to the 35,673 voters who live in the district" (Middletown, Glasgow, southern Newark). Turnout for special elections is typically light, which “means both parties are scrambling to fire up their voters.” And while Democrats have a distinct registration edge (16,165 Democrats, 10,113 Republicans, 9,395 all other), “Republican voters are generally seen [by whom?] as more reliable in low-turnout elections. That is one reason [what are the other reasons?] why Democrats have spent more than $750,000 [previously said to be nearly $1M] barraging the district with fliers and advertisements on TV and the internet.” Oh, and “voter participation could be affected by the weather,” with rain and falling temperatures forecast for the afternoon and evening on Saturday. We were curious as to who the News Journal would endorse in the race, but so far they haven’t come out one way or the other on the editorial page.
2/22/17, Election spending nears $1M; Democrats have outraised and outspent Republicans, Matthew Albright – The Special Election battle “is barreling toward its Saturday finale amid mudslinging, immense get-out-the-vote efforts and unprecedented campaign spending.” DOLLARS: Updating previous reports, Hansen’s campaign plus the Dem PAC is “poised to spend a record-shattering $1 million,” of which $306K was raised by Hansen’s campaign directly. In contrast, Marino’s campaign plus a GOP PAC have spent roundly $100K. The obvious disparity prompted Marino to comment that “it’s pretty gross the amount of money they’re spending. This is supposed to be a state of Delaware Senate race and she has money coming from all over the country.” Democrats say that this is just sour grapes and the two sides are on an equal footing when it comes to raising money. MUDSLINGING: Two examples are cited: (1) Republicans claim that Hansen wants to raise the state gas tax (this is denied, although she did advocate a gas tax increase in 2015) and eliminate a property tax break for senior citizens (as was previously advocated by Governor Jack Markell). (2) A Dem PAC mailer says “John Marino keeps losing elections because his proposals hurt the middle class” and that he “favors taking money out of public schools.” Marino counters that his prior election losses were by a narrow margin, against candidates with a big registration edge, more campaign funding, and the incumbency advantage, and that he has consistently advocated spending more money on teaching in the classroom (albeit criticizing growth of the educational bureaucracy). GET OUT THE VOTE: “ . . . the campaigns claim to have knocked on every likely voter door at least once.” Also, there has been a blizzard of campaign flyers, etc., and former Vice President Joe Biden “was out on the stump with Hansen over the weekend.” Whatever the Democrats have been spending money on, it seems to us that they have been out-hustled by Marino and his supporters in many respects. The outcome on Saturday remains very much in doubt.Top 2/20/17, Carper, Coons get an earful; Voters sound off on Trump cabinet picks, Matthew Albright – Sens. Carper & Coons “say they have been inundated with phone calls, emails and letters from Delawareans urging them to vote against President Donald Trump’s cabinet nominees.” Thus, Carper’s office received 14,145 contacts (1,992 calls, 150 faxes, 60 letters, and 11,943 e-mails) from Delawareans between Jan. 20 and Feb. 14. This compares to 2,497 constituent contacts during the same period last year. And there’s said to be a similar surge of contacts in Coons’ office. The most common complaint by far according to staffers was opposition to the new Education secretary, Betsy DeVos. EPA Director Scott Pruitt was another top target; Senator Carper has been one of the leaders in the fight against him. Both Carper and Coons claim that “they have not blasted all of Trump’s nominees,” and Coons apparently voted in favor of 2 (Defense Secretary James Mattis and SBA Administrator Linda McMahon) of the 14 nominees confirmed thus far. Senate Democrat delays in confirmation have been almost across the board and compare quite unfavorably with the generally expeditious confirmation of the initial appointments of previous incoming presidents to get the government up and running. Trump won, get over it,2/20/17. Top 2/19/17, Big bucks help drive special campaign; Race determines party control in state senate, Matthew Albright – A lengthy story, starting on the front page, is all about campaign finances and controversies stemming therefrom. The latest figures show spending has been as follows:
Republican complaint that Democratic PAC was “coordinating” with the Hansen campaign has been rejected by Commissioner of Elections Elaine Manlove, but Republicans say Manlove is biased and plan to pursue the matter in court. In addition to mocking the supposedly unsupported position of their opponents, Democrats have filed a parallel complaint about the GOP PAC. The distinction between issues ads that obviously favor a given candidate and support ads is basically esoteric rather than substantive, and it would be more honest to eliminate current restrictions on contributions directly to candidates for their campaigns. It’s not clear exactly where the Dem PAC money is coming from; they won’t have to disclose this information until months after the election is over when no one will care one way or the other. Republican Party Chair Charlie Copeland is quoted that “this ruling strikes directly at the root of our government [and] simply cannot be allowed.” Democrats dismiss this outrage as a political stunt. There are some indications that money to support Hansen is being raised out of state, e.g., in California. “If we lose,” says a fundraising e-mail of the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, “a new Republican majority will take power and rubber-stamp every single one of Trump’s hateful policies.” There is essentially zero connection between the John Marino campaign and the Trump administration, and all that is at stake in the special election is which party will hold a majority in the DE Senate, i.e., the Democrats will continue to hold a solid majority in the DE House and the governor’s seat.Top
2/14/17, Biden, Democrats pull out stops for state Senate race – Picture: Former VP Biden stands with Stephanie Hansen at a rally in Newark last night. “Delaware Democrats are flexing all their political muscle in the Feb. 25 special election, calling in party titans like [Biden] and spending hundreds of thousands of dollars.” Biden’s pitch: Hansen “gets it” that the action in the next two years will be for state level Democrats “to defend the rights of working people, the rights of women, the rights of minorities, the rights of LGBT people, people counting on Medicaid.” Also stumping for Hansen are Gov. John Carney and former MD Gov. Martin O’Malley. And it turns out that the $64K spent by the Hansen campaign thus far is substantially exceeded by a PAC called First State Strong, whose spending (nearly $200K) has “funded an arsenal of mailers, phone banks and digital advertising.” (On the other side, a 3rd party advertiser named First State First has spent about $30K in support of John Marino.) According to Hansen, “the support I’ve received has been extraordinary. At every event, if we expect 50 people we get 100; if we expect 100, we’ll get 200.” Republicans grouse, however, that the campaign spending represents a desperate bid to hang on to power – PAC is a sneaky way to circumvent the $600 cap on individual contributions to Hansen’s campaign – and First State Strong is illegally coordinating with the Hansen campaign (a GOP complaint to this effect has been filed with the Department of Elections; Hansen’s campaign manager dismisses it as “absurd on its face”). The goal of the campaign spending and high profile endorsements is reportedly to “get the parties’ [sic] voters to the polls.” Top 2/12/17, Battle for seat in 10th District; Contest is key for control of Senate, Matthew Albright – Basically a reprise of prior reports, despite a dramatic lead-in: “Delaware’s political universe is not focused on Middletown, Glasgow and southern Newark.” Democrats seek to recast their candidate (Stephanie Hansen) as an underdog, battling against “the rise of President Donald Trump” and “the intrusion of Washington-style, hyperpartisan gridlock.” Republicans see John Marino’s candidacy as a chance to tame a state government they believe spends too much taxpayer money and meddles too much with small businesses.” To date, the Hansen campaign has outspent the Marino campaign 2-1; both have about the same amount ($60K+) left to spend. The issues: Blocking Shawn Garvin (see 2/11/17 column by Greg Lavelle), if Marino wins; Democrats might be forced to consider some Republican ideas such as “right to work;” Hansen favors raising the minimum wage and Marino says no; pro-choice (Hansen) v. pro-life (Marino); otherwise the stated views of the candidates are basically the same, e.g., fiscal conservatives, no promises to raise taxes, would supposedly empower local school districts, etc. Despite all the fuss about control of the state senate, turnout in the special election is likely to be quite low and candidates are concentrating on reaching out to their respective bases. “It’s almost like a primary election” says Paul Brewer, Center for Political Communication at UD. Oh, and “Democrats have a decided registration advantage.” A related editorial: The debate over right-to-work, notes that Trump carried the voters in 24 of the 26 states that currently have RTW laws. “If RTW ever does become a topic of serious consideration in the General Assembly, it is sure to spur intense debate. We hope such debate would be thoughtful and comprehensive, for right-to-work, whether statewide or in zones, would represent a significant shift for Delaware.” It will be interesting to see who the News Journal endorses in the race, and how they justify the call.
2/11/17, GOP has concerns about DNREC nomination, DE State Senator Greg Lavelle – For the record, the GOP caucus in the Senate is not opposing the nomination of Shawn Garvin to head DNREC for “no reason.” To the contrary, we have “numerous concerns about his nomination and how he would run this critically important department.” (1) DNREC has been “a rogue agency for many years.” Ignoring a judge’s ruling on storm water management regulations – questionable oversight of Delaware City Refinery – complete failure to oversee International Petroleum Corporation (IPC) in Delaware; (2) Garvin attended a meeting with the GOP caucus, at their request, and was questioned on a range of subjects. Coastal Zone Act – storm water regulation – septic tank regulation – Bloom Energy – recent litigation eliminating 2nd Amendment rights in state parks. He “came off as uninformed, unaware and/or unwilling to discuss specific issues or policy initiatives that he might pursue as secretary of DNREC. (3) We didn’t get into these and other questions at the confirmation hearing due to the request of the governor’s office to “keep it short,” OK, but in the ensuing two weeks Garvin has made no attempt to follow up with us on questions that have been raised. “It appears to me that Mr. Garvin and Gov. Carney simply expect to get 11 votes and not have to be specific about how they plan to manage DNREC.” The calculation may be that if Democrats win the special election on Feb. 25, they can approve the nomination without any Republican votes. But however that election comes out, “our questions and responsibilities will not go away as we were not elected to be rubber stamps.” Top
2/7/17, Carper worries about state under Trump; Loss of federal money is key issue, Molly Murray – Sen. Tom Carper visited Seaford last week to tour the Invista plant and hold forth on “the key environmental issues he sees facing the state.” The starting point is a concern that when Donald Trump was making campaign promises to rein in the EPA and other regulatory agencies, he may have meant what he was saying. This is worrisome for Delaware because the First State is (1) in the pathway of “air pollution that drifts in from coal-fired power plants in the north and west” (so far without being blocked by the Environmental Protection Agency, which sets federal pollution standards), and (2) exceedingly vulnerable to sea level rise (supposedly because “the temperature of our planet continues to rise and the water continues to rise and encroaches on our land”). Compare: Don’t panic about sea level rise, 8/27/12. And now President Trump has appointed Scott Pruitt as head of the EPA, who says he intends “to run this agency in a way that fosters both responsible protection of the environment and freedom for American businesses.” And the president wants to beef up military spending, build a border wall with Mexico, etc., yet also balance the budget. Can’t be done, “but to get even close you have to eliminate discretionary spending, which is for education, for clean air, clean water and treating wastewater.” Carper says he has never seen anything like it, even in Republican administrations, and goes on to disparage President Trump’s comments at the National Prayer Breakfast about Arnold Schwarzenegger’s ratings on The Apprentice. Top 2/2/17 – Crowd provides fireworks at Middletown Senate debate, Matthew Albright – WDEL (Alan Loudell) hosted a candidate debate last night in the Middletown High School. Not discussed: Large room (the gym?), audience probably exceeded 500 people including many from outside the 10th Senate district, may be the only debate in a special Senate race that will be decided by a vote on Feb. 25. Candidates: Stephanie Hansen (Democrat), John Marino (Republican), and Joseph Lanzendorfer (Libertarian). HIGHLIGHTS: (1) Abortion: Marino booed for saying he was staunchly pro-life, Hansen took some heat for saying abortion was a terrible thing albeit insisting that it was no one’s business except “a woman and her physician.” (2) Right to work: Marino said state needed to bring jobs back and RTW was not anti-union. Hansen said the real label would be “right to work for less,” and RTW was so aimed at the unions. (3) Budget: “All three candidates, including Hansen, identified as ‘fiscal conservatives’ and said now is not the time to raise taxes.” Hansen claimed she showed how budgets are fixed in her previous post with the New Castle County, which starts with a “top down assessment.” She seemingly implied that tax reform could raise revenue without tax increases (wishful thinking). Marino said there are plenty of people in the legislature who know how to cut spending so no need for outside consultants; also, people can’t afford to keep paying more and more taxes. Lanzendorfer wanted to cut spending by homing in on the 40% other category of spending (not education, healthcare, pensions, etc.) and envisioned savings and revenue enhancement from legalizing marijuana. (4) Candidates agreed that “parents should able [to] “opt-out” of standardized tests, the death penalty should not be reinstated, and the Coastal Zone should be protected, though some existing industrial sites could be redeveloped.” OTHER TOPICS: (A) Hansen’s admission that the Markell administration’s support of the Bloom Energy deal was a big mistake. Her suggestion that the deal should be renegotiated is a nonstarter, however, due to the “poison pill” provision that was embedded in the legislation. In effect, the only way out would be to prosecute Bloom for fraud, a point Marino failed to make effectively. (B) Discussion of Marino’s argument that the Democrats have controlled the Senate for 44 years, things haven’t been going terribly well under one-party rule, and it’s time for a change that could lead to more constructive solutions. Hansen response: status quo is fine as Republicans control the state legislatures in some 38 states and are currently ascendant in the political firmament on a national level. Also, Democrats work across the aisle as a matter of course, not caring where the good ideas come from, and the Republican holdup of the DNREC appointment of Shawn Garvin is an outrage. Lanzendorfer suggested that the Senate balance should be Democrats 10, Republicans 10, and he would wield the tie breaker vote as a Libertarian; at another point, he stated that his election was highly unlikely. (C) School Board referendums. Marino objects to idea that school tax increases should be automatic to some degree and blames the frequency in School Board referendums to cutbacks in state level funding for regular school programs (vs. mandated special initiatives). Hansen didn’t seem to have a clear answer to this. (D) Opioid use – Marino agreed this was a crisis, which should be attacked based on a recognition that the problem is addiction. Hansen took a similar position, except that she wanted to call opioid use a mental health issue. ASSESSMENT: Debate lasted about an hour, covered some 15 questions plus closing statements. Participation of the libertarian candidate detracted by taking up about 1/3 of the available time without adding much to the discussion. Moderator should have told audience not to applaud (or in some cases boo) during the debate, but he failed to do so. Most of those in attendance were Marino and Hansen supporters, apparently about evenly divided. Few if any minds were changed by the debate. Election outcome will probably come down to turnout.Top
1/30/17 – Delaware US senators tee off on Trump nominees, Matthew Albright – Both Sen. Tom Carper & Sen. Chris Coons have been highly critical of the president’s nominees, only a handful of whom have been confirmed at this point. Both senators are said to say that the nominees are “unprecedented.” COONS: “It is a stunning number of nominees who either lack government experience, have dedicated their careers to undermining, suing or challenging the agency they’re being charged with running, or have . . . very complex conflicts of interests." CARPER: His office has received 4,600 emails, phonecalls and letters from Delawareans, and “fewer than 100 were urging support.” In his experience, “we haven’t seen this much interest in the workings of government since the Affordable Care Act.” Only two of Trump’s nominees are discussed in specific terms: Betsy DeVos (Education) and Scott Pruitt (EPA). There is also discussion about how DE Republican senators are blocking the confirmation of one state official, Shawn Garvin to head DNREC. By slowing up the nomination confirmation process, Senate Democrats (Carper and Coons included) are playing an obstructionist role. If they want to attempt to block one or two nominations, so be it, but at this point Senate Democrats will reportedly oppose at least 8 major nominations. Schumer to oppose 5 more of Trump’s cabinet picks, Al Weaver, Washington Examiner,1/30/17. The Delaware situation, where a single nominee is being held up while all the others sailed through, is not comparable.Top
1/29/17 – Harsh reality of Trump’s 1st week, editorial – After the president’s first week in office, according to the News Journal, “it is uncomfortably clear to us and much of the rest of the world that the new president has substituted preparation with an in-your-face approach to ‘governing’ that is at best ineffective and at worst a threat to our standing as one of the most advanced and respected countries on Earth.” And worse, he does not respect the need for “a free press” as “a vital safeguard so that all of our leaders, regardless of political affiliation, adhere to the law and act in the best interests of their constituents.” Evidence cited: His conspiracy theories about the media – obsession with inauguration crowd size – insistence that the election he won was corrupt and demand for a major (i.e., expensive) investigation – impressed some people by signing several executive orders, but many of the president’s ideas are plagued with questions – example: would a border wall even work, “what symbolic impact will it have on our country’s centuries-old history as a bastion of freedom” - who wants to pay the $14 billion cost, and how does he propose to secure Mexican agreement to do so? Does the president know that Mexico spent $236 billion on imported US goods in 2015, and “even if he does, evidence so far shows that he is not beholden to facts. How can we have a president for whom reality is anything but?” So much for the openness advocated in the News Journal’s 1/24/17 editorial. Top 1/26/17 – More of Carney’s cabinet confirmed, Matthew Albright – Governor John Carney’s appointments have been confirmed by the state senate, with one important exception: Shawn Garvin for Secretary of DNREC. None of the 10 GOP senators favors Garvin, who was previously a regional administrator with the EPA, and Sen. Dave Lawson (R) missed the session due to a family emergency. If Lawson had been there, the 10-10 tie could have been broken by a vote of the lt. governor – but without him there was no tie to break so this wouldn’t work. Accordingly, the vote was deferred. Gov. Carney is quoted as expecting Garvin to be confirmed, “even if that vote has to wait until after next month’s special election to fill the senate vacancy” created by the resignation (to be sworn in as lieutenant governor) of Bethany Hall Long. It’s hard to imagine Senate Democrats won’t attempt to schedule another vote on Garvin’s confirmation.
1/25/17 – Crucial Senate election to be Feb. 25, Matthew Albright – The special senate election to fill vacancy created by resignation of Bethany Hall Long is billed as “one of the biggest Delaware political showdowns in years.” And now the date has been set, it is reported, for Feb. 25. (a Saturday). “Game on,” GOP Chair Charlie Copeland is quoted. “Republicans are ready to fight to take back the Senate for the first time in more than 40 years.” Democratic registration edge is substantial, but “that does not mean a Republican win is impossible.” Republican argument is that “it’s time for a change,” while “Democrats are framing the election as a way Delawareans can stand up to President Donald Trump’s brand of politics, which they argue has focused on dividing people by race, religion and gender.” Democratic candidate Stephanie Hansen tried out some of the rhetoric involved in a speech at the Women’s March on Delaware last Saturday. Why was the election scheduled on a Saturday, is that usual? And the tactic of trying to position Hansen as an underdog doesn’t fit the facts very well.Top 1/24/17 – Areas where Trump can succeed (editorial) – “We opposed Donald Trump’s election *** we thought [Hillary Clinton] offered better policy solutions and was better suited by experience and temperament for the job *** apologetics for Russia and tariff threats against automakers *** series of outbursts on Twitter.” Nevertheless, Trump’s election was legitimate, and his inauguration was inevitable. All of us have a duty to oppose Trump when he is wrong, but also remain open to supporting him when he and the Republican-majority Congress make worthy proposals.” Which may happen from time to time, in fact “we can identify a number of areas in which Trump and his fellow Republicans have ideas worth taking seriously.” TAX REFORM (“Trump appropriately seeks to encourage corporations to bring billions back to the United States and to discourage them from offshoring income in the first place”) – EDUCATION (indicated openness to providing school choice alternatives, ideally “targeted to poor families currently with no options other than a failing neighborhood school”) – MILITARY (proper emphasis on providing stronger military defense after years of cutbacks and the sequester, also not crazy to insist that defense contractors give the government a better deal) – INFRASTRUCTURE (provided the projects are good ones, forget Steve Bannon’s idea of throwing money at the wall “to see if it sticks,” and could be OK to borrow the money and reap resulting productivity improvements) – REGULATIONS eased, provided there is no watering down of the underlying goals, e.g., fuel efficiency and financial stability. “As full of risk for our democracy as the Trump presidency is, it would be folly to ignore any opportunity it presents, if and when it does.” Top
1/22/17A – Elevate national honor above art of deal, Sean Barney – Main thrust of this column is to attack Rex Tillerson, Trump’s nominee for secretary of State. Like Trump, Tillerson is said to be “transactional,” meaning that he’s all about making deals. There was a time, e.g., the Kennedy era, when other values were more important in American international policies than making deals. Then the threat was nuclear war, but in our time “it is the destruction of our shared ‘small’ planet through the uncontrolled of fossil fuels.” And what did Tillerson have to say at his confirmation hearing: why that he would commit “to participate in climate negotiations only for the purpose of safeguarding American competitiveness.” That from a former chieftain of the fossil fuel industry. which “has spent vast sums of money lobbying against climate change legislation and financing a decades-long misinformation campaign to create public confusion as to the reality of climate change and the threat it poses to humanity. There may be some real concerns about Mr. Tillerson’s nomination, such as his alleged chumminess with Vladimir Putin, but this one doesn’t make the grade.
1/22/17B, Trump chooses worst cabinet in history, Paul Waldman – This column suffers from exaggeration and lack of balance – as though not a single nominee was acceptable (with the possible exceptions of Gens. Mattis & Kelly, as Senate Democrats did expedite their confirmation). “While prior presidents have had some miserable appointments – James Watt and Anne Gorsuch in the Reagan administration, Michael “Heckava Job” Brown and Alberto Gonzales in George W. Bush’s [no Democratic examples] – never before has one president assembled such a remarkable collection of individuals who are either unqualified for their jobs, devoted to subverting their agencies, or both, not to mention the ethical questions that will continue to swirl around their administrations.” Herewith specific objections to various candidates; some give possible cause for concern but others seem laughable. RICK PERRY (ENERGY) – He didn’t know what DOE did, e.g., oversee nuclear policies, yet at one time advocated its elimination. ANDREW PUZDER (LABOR) – The CEO of a fast food company, this man is allegedly “hostile to the rights of workers.” Thus, he is “an ardent opponent of minimum wage increases and laws mandating things like break time and overtime.” BEN CARSON (HUD) – No experience in housing policy, and was “apparently appointed to lead this department because he’s one of the few African-Americans Donald Trump has met.” MIKE MULVANEY (OMB) – Was just revealed to have employed a nanny without paying payroll taxes for her to the tune of over $15,000. [Similar allegations have sunk nominees of other presidents, e.g, Clinton.] WILBUR ROSS (COMMERCE) – “The billionaire investor just realized that one of the dozen or so household staff he employs was undocumented.” RYAN ZINKE (INTERIOR) – While formerly serving as a Navy Seal, “he was caught repeatedly billing the government for personal trips which he falsely claimed were for the purpose of scouting training locations.” SCOTT PRUITT (EPA) – He “seems to have been chosen for his fervent opposition to the mission of the agency he’ll be leading. As attorney general of Oklahoma, he sued the EPA multiple times over its efforts to enforce [create?] environmental laws.” And when asked about lead poisoning, he said he hadn’t “looked at the scientific research on that.” MICHAEL FLYNN [NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER] – “An ardent Islamophobe and purveyor of lunatic theories, [he] was fired from his last job in government because of mismanagement.” REX TILLERSON [STATE] – No government or diplomatic service, “though he has been to many countries that have oil.” NIKKI HALEY [UN AMBASSADOR] – Her “foreign policy experience consists of going on a couple of trade missions as governor of South Carolina.”
1/22/17C, What now? It would be congressional malpractice on the part of Republicans to repeal the Affordable Care Act at this stage without true direction. Sen. Chris Coons, Sen. Tom Carper, Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester – This column starts by claiming that the Affordable Care Act has basically been a success: “Every year we’ve seen more Americans gain health[care] insurance, slower rises in overall healthcare costs and the ongoing implementation of vital consumer protections that put the American people before insurance companies. [And]. nearly twenty million more Americans . . . have gained access to high-quality, comprehensive healthcare coverage since 2010.” However, there has been “a steady stream of misinformation and obstruction from some Republicans in Congress. Rather than work with Democrats to improve the ACA or develop an alternative plan of their own, many Republicans have spent the last six years working to repeal it more than 60 times.” And now, “they want to try to repeal the ACA, yet again, without any plan to replace it.” Earlier this month, Sens. Carper and Coons joined in a letter to Senate Republicans “expressing our concerns with their plans to use a fast-track budget process to jam though a repeal of the [ACA].” Of course, we know that changes in the ACA may be needed, and “are ready and willing to work with anyone to improve the existing law.” This might include changes to “address the growing costs of health[care] insurance deductibles and making it easier for small businesses to offer affordable options to their employees, which Senator Coons has sought to do by increasing tax credits for small businesses and pursing common sense regulatory reforms. And we also need to make sure that there is more competition in the marketplace, especially for a small state like Delaware.” Here’s the bottom line: “We’re still committed to improving the ACA, and if [the Republicans] come to the table with constructive ideas that put Americans’ healthcare before partisan politics, we’re ready to roll up our sleeves and get to work.” Our read is that the Republicans have no plans to abolish GovCare without providing a replacement; on the other hand, we aren’t sure that Democrats are genuinely willing to work on the kind of changes in the ACA that are needed. An overhaul of GovCare begins, 1/16/17. Top 1/16/17 – News Journal plays up Donald Trump’s alleged insensitivity on racial issues, Adam Duvernay – This Martin Luther King Day story begins with a display that takes up about 2/3 of the front page. TOP: 6-inch high profiles of Martin Luther King, Jr., looking to readers’ left and President-Elect Donald Trump looking to readers’ right. MIDDLE: Large type quote by Ahnazya Moore, “who was only 9 when the first black president took office.” It’s going to reverse everything . . . We’re not going to be moving forward. We’re going to be moving backwards. Followed by a summary of the News Journal story: “The birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. falls days before the departure of the nation’s first black president and the ascendancy of one mired in racial controversy.” BOTTOM: First few lines of the story, which continues at length on page A-5. In a 1964 interview with BBC, MLK predicted that “we may be able to get a Negro president in less than 40 years.” Barack Obama – commonly considered to be America’s first black president (he’s actually biracial) - was elected 44 years later. And now, the election of Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton (who would have been the first female president) is seen by “people like Akwasi Osei (a Delaware State professor) as a step backward. “What do you think Martin Luther King Jr. would say about Mr. Trump.” Comments by others with a similar viewpoint are worked in, including Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) who last week was quoted as questioning “Trump’s legitimacy as president,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Wilmingtonian Victoria Bell, and Linwood Jackson (head of the Delaware NAACP). The story acknowledges Pew Research polling that 75% of black voters said in 2008 that Obama’s election would lead to better race relations, but eight years later only 51% of black Americans believed Obama had actually done so. Also, some of the president’s public comments about racial issues are mentioned, including observations about the arrest of a black professor at Harvard (Henry Louis Gates Jr.) that he “would later come to regret.” And Sherri Collins of Wilmington is quoted that (1) “I don’t really see where [Obama] did all that much for the whole country,” and (2) Trump “might be all right,” although “I think he’s a racist.” It’s hard to see how this kind of coverage contributes to improved racial relations; if anything one would expect it to have the opposite effect.
1/18/17 – News Journal published three letters slamming King/Trump presentation - (A) Anti-Trump article marred front page . . . Stephen Lehm, Wilmington; (B) Front page was reckless . . . Will Brown, Wilmington; (C) Dishonor to Dr. King . . . Kathy Jordan, Townsend.
1/19/17 – One more letter, entitled front-page low point – “Serving Delaware daily since 1871.” Well, you reached your low point in all those many years with your offensive front page on Jan. 16, Martin Luther King Day. Other readers have more than adequately put into words just how inappropriate your print and photo decisions were. But I would like to ask you why you feel so strongly feel the need to bash Mr. Trump that you would offend the memory of Dr. King in doing so? Isn’t the barrage of criticism Mr. Trump receives from your regular columnists [Dana] Milbank, [Ruth] Marcus and [Eugene] Robinson enough to make you comfortable that your message of disapproval of the president-elect is being communicated? Bill Iredale, Greenville.Top 1/2/17 – Bring back balanced power to Washington, [former Senator] Tom Coburn – Tea party folks kicked out Eric Cantor in 2014 because he didn’t get the message, and the Trump revolution was lesson two. Moral: agitators will only be ignored for so long, and then they push back. Establishment politicians in both parties have gotten the message, and they are scrambling to adjust to the “new political realities.” But based on former Senator Coburn’s political experience, “chances are good that they’ll get it wrong.” In Coburn’s view, the answer is an Article V convention convened to restore the proper balance of power between the states, the federal government, and the people. The people are “tired of watching a money-gobbling DC machine crank out policies that don’t work, don’t help, and don’t line up with what the Constitution says the federal government should and should not be doing.” Some specifics: impose fiscal restraints on Washington, restore the original meaning of constitutional limits on federal power, and discuss “the possibility of term limits for federal judges and other federal officials.” Washington DC is broken, and it can only be fixed from the outside. Ask yourself this: “Would members of Congress really choose to risk losing their seats by ending pork barrel spending or cutting funding for popular programs when they could instead just raise taxes or issue more unfunded mandates to the states?” What the people desire, therefore, is not simply to balance the budget; they want to balance power.