Speaker Schwartzkopf & Pro Tem Blevins: Business report an exercise in advocacy, not analytics

By Senate President Pro Tem Patricia Blevins and Speaker of the House Pete Schwartzkopf

It’s not every day in Delaware that a lobbying effort garners so much attention, but that’s what happened last week when the Delaware Business Roundtable released a report that was critical of the way Delaware has managed its finances.

The report warns against a hypothetical doomsday scenario, where Delaware does nothing, spends recklessly, and ends up with a catastrophic structural deficit of more than $600 million in 2025. It’s a breathless, sky-isfalling view into the future, but not a realistic one. For one thing, doing nothing has never been an option in Delaware, as is evidenced by the balanced budgets we’ve consistently passed.

Dubbed an analysis piece, the 27page playbook strives to compare publicly available state data with national averages to make the case that Delaware’s state government spends more on public services than most other states.

But the report completely ignores the uniqueness of Delaware’s governmental structure – that a number of services provided at the county or municipal level in most other states are handled solely at the state level here. In Delaware, there are no county road systems, county school districts, or county correctional facilities. In fact, two of our three counties don’t have their own police forces, relying instead on Delaware State Police for coverage outside cities and towns. In total, Delaware provides more services at the state level than any state in the country other than Hawaii.

And that efficient, centralized structure has been good for our taxpayers.

Delaware is considered the most tax-friendly state in the nation by many analysts, including Kiplinger, which recently called Delaware “a low-tax oasis amid high-tax states along the Eastern Seaboard.” Delaware’s property taxes are the fourth lowest in the nation, according to the Tax Foundation, a non-partisan research group.

What the Business Roundtable report does get right is that our revenues have not kept pace with our economic growth. Since the low point of the Great Recession in 2010, we’ve added jobs at a faster rate than any other state in the Northeast. Today, our unemployment rate is lower than any state in the region. But even with those successes, our revenues are still declining while the cost of employee healthcare, public school enrollment, and other factors outside our control are on the rise.

Balancing last year’s budget was difficult. We had to ask our employees to pay more for their health care, and doing that after years of stagnant wages was hard. We had to make cuts to some important programs, and couldn’t fund others to the levels that were requested.

Balancing next year’s budget is an even bigger challenge, one that’s exacerbated when a group like the Delaware Business Roundtable arbitrarily proposes cuts to core services like public education, corrections, and vital services for our most vulnerable Delawareans.

What’s worse, they suggest we make those cuts in a vacuum; that we shouldn’t even consider asking the incredibly successful companies who have long enjoyed Delaware’s corporate hospitality to do a little bit more.

We hear from Delawareans every day – many of whom are employees at the very companies the Roundtable represents – who think a more balanced approach is in order. They don’t think fewer teachers, larger class sizes, overcrowded prisons and more expensive healthcare move our state in the right direction. We agree. Working families should not have to shoulder the burden of our budgetary challenges, as the Roundtable suggests.

Delaware is proud of its business heritage, and we know the significant role the business community plays in making our state a great place to live, work, and raise a family. We are in this together. We agree on the challenge ahead of us – that much is clear – but we must be honest with Delawareans about the steps we’ve taken in recent years, and be specific about the consequences of proposed cuts to core services.

This next year is an important one. We must come together to take a holistic view of our finances and put Delaware’s long-term fiscal health ahead of short-term political victories. Delaware has an impressive tradition of collaboration across party lines. If we can move forward in that spirit again, the sky is the limit for our great state. 

Patricia Blevins represents the 7th Senatorial District and is the President Pro Tempore of the Senate. Pete Schwartzkopf represents the 14th House District and is the Speaker of the House.