Microblog: SAFE monitors and responds to Delaware news and issues as reported by the News Journal, our comments in red. To keep up with Delaware Chatter and other important activity, follow SAFE on Facebook and Twitter. 12/23/17, Trump’s EPA law priorities draw concern, Maddy Lauria – The president campaigned on promises of “energy independence and reducing regulatory burden, especially rules imposed by the [EPA].” And what do you know, he’s trying to make good on the promises (some policy changes have been announced, others are under consideration). This report recaps some of the areas involved and quotes critics who don’t approve of what is being done. (A) Jeremy Firestone, UD professor– “The threat of climate change is quite profound. Given the present economics, it’s tragic we’re not going to do more.” Firestone is quoted that while companies will keep supporting wind and solar power, “cutting incentives could slow the switch from fossil fuel sources.” He goes on about how “people who live next to fossil fuel plants have a greater risk of dying, of illnesses.” (B) DNRECis hosting a meeting at 10:00 AM, Jan. 8, at the Chase Center on the Riverfront to collect input from area residents as the EPA prepares to repeal the federal Clean Power Plan. (C) Senator Tom Carper – “I applaud the states committed to supporting the Clean Power Plan to reduce the most potent greenhouse gas [CO2] and protect our shared planet.” (D) Scientists – Re the endangered species act, Trump administration has blocked the listing of more than two dozen species as endangered, including the Pacific walrus, “which scientists say is suffering from a loss of its Arctic sea ice habitat.” (E) Lawyers– Reductions in size of Utah’s Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments by about 1 million acres each “is already facing lawsuits.” (F) Governor John Carney, along with other state and local political leaders around the country, has reportedly “vowed to tackle global climate change” in the wake of the president’s announcement that the US will pull out of the Paris Climate Accord. (G) Experts in Delaware have reportedly released new sea level rise projections that show the Delaware coastal area “could see sea levels increase by as much as 5 feet by the end of the century.” There are plenty of facts and expert opinions to support the Trump administration’s stance on these issues, which were basically spawned by administrative power grabs during the Obama administration. See, e.g., SAFE’s analysis of the Clean Power Plan,6/9/14&6/16/14. Top 12/18/17, Delaware Dems take on president, Scott Goss – “Some of Delaware’s most prominent Democrats pushed back against the Trump administration this week . . .”. (A) Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester joined 59 female Democratic lawmakers in “a letter calling on the US House Oversight Committee to investigate claims of President Donald Trump’s inappropriate behavior before the 2016 election.” According to the letter, “at least 17 women have publicly accused the president of sexual misconduct, including forced kissing and groping.” Rep. Rochester added in an e-mail that “we cannot ignore these women’s stories.” Mr. Trump has denied these claims. The political motivations involved are obvious, and there have been reports of substantial cash offers to some women willing to make such claims. Prominent lawyer [Lisa Bloom] sought donor cash from two Trump accusers, John Solomon & Alison Spann, thehill.com, 12/15/17.(B) Sen. Tom Carper “dug in his heels” over the GOP tax bill, publicly lambasting Rep. Kevin Brady for the manner in which the conference version of the bill is being rammed through without Democratic input. Carper later released a statement calling the process being used “a farce.” Congressional Democrats drew a line in the sand against the Republican plan to cut taxes months ago, forcing Republicans to either drop the matter or pursue it unilaterally. The resulting bill has pluses and minuses, but on balance we think it will prove beneficial. Year-end frenzy in DC, section 1, 12/11/17.(C) DE Attorney General Matt Denn joined his counterparts from 17 other states in calling for the Federal Communications Commission to delay its scheduled vote on revoking the “net neutrality rule” that was adopted during the Obama administration. However, the FCC went ahead with the vote to dismantle the rule. Denn has since announced that he plans to join with other state AGs in filing a lawsuit against this action. “The FCC’s new rules make it likely that consumers who use the internet will face increased costs and practical restrictions on their choice of web-based services,” Denn stated in an e-mail. Others believe the “net neutrality” rule was a giveaway to a handful of big technology companies (Amazon, Netflix, Facebook, Google, et al.) to the detriment of almost everyone else. “Sit back, chill, and maybe watch a movie on Netflix. Don’t worry, you’ll still be able to.” Net neutrality ends – so click your mouse, don’t push the panic button, Washington Examiner, 12/18/17. (D) David Redlawsk, UD (heads political science department) attributes this “spurt of defiance by some of the state’s highest-ranking elected [officials]” to “a larger push among Democrats nationwide sparked by Tuesday’s defeat of Roy Moore in Alabama’s US Senate race.” GOP State Chair Michael Harrington suggests, however, that “Delawareans across the state do not agree with those liberal Democrats. I think they’re running scared and are trying to protect themselves against what’s coming for them in the next election.” Seems to us that the Democratic pushback against President Trump et al. started immediately after the election in 2016 and has been intense ever since. Look on the bright side,12/19/16.Top
12/17/17, Finding hope in Christmas lights, Matthew Albright – Christmas is coming at a good time for me this year. The holidays from the day after Thanksgiving until into the new year were always “a big deal in my family” and one of the observances was “lights, lots of lights.” Thinking of that ladder to bring the lights down from the attic is like a time machine, that takes me back to those happy times. And would that we really did have a time machine, that would take us back to an era when “everyone wasn’t so obsessed with what new fight the president was having today – when we weren’t constantly trying to find ways to hate each other *** a time before some monster slaughtered 50 people who were just trying to enjoy life at a concert *** every week didn’t bring news that some other famous man had abused his power ***” Of course, we live in the present, but we still have the Christmas lights and they aren’t just fun, they have religious significance – going back to the star over Bethlehem that signals hope. Personally, “I’m not counting on a great star appearing over Washington or Dover,” but “I’m going to hang up a few lights and hope” that “things will get better.” Bridging the divide between Delaware leaders and the Wilmington community about education so that “desperately-needed help” will be given to the kids that need it. And solve gun violence – sexual assault – global warming – refugee crises – famines. Merry Christmas. Although our priority list would be a bit different, the sentiments expressed in this column are commendable. Compare SAFE’s closing blog entry for 2017.Top
12/15/17, Offshore working group submits progress report – After several articles at the outset, the News Journal hasn’t seen fit to cover this story. But here’s the current status, based on a memorandum that the working group sent to the governor today. (download PDF) (1) The WG recommends against Delaware involvement in the offshore wind projects that “another state” (MD) is currently supporting. (2) The WG (a) recommends further study of several offshore wind power, etc. options including “the procurement of other renewable resources in lieu of offshore wind,” and (b) recites a laundry list of points that should be taken into consideration in the further study, from whether additional power generation capacity is needed to “how should an offshore wind subsidy be paid for” and what effect would higher electric power costs have on “economic development and jobs throughout the state.” (3) The WG “is constituted until June 30, 2018,” and the members intend to continue to meet in 2018, host more public comment sessions, and “further analyze and address these questions in anticipation of submitting a final report.” The one point that doesn’t seem to be addressed is whether there is any sensible rationale for Delaware participation in offshore wind projects. In our view, the answer is clearly no.Top 12/8/17, Improve information on school spending – “State auditor Tom Wagner has pointed one way to improve taxpayer’s trust in public schools. Overhaul the way spending is reported.” Just issued report concludes that accounting classifications are so inconsistent that it’s not possible to determine “which districts are doing the best job of keeping funds in the classroom.” Division of Accounting has responded that the problem will likely persist so long as the accounting functions are decentralized. But “we agree with Wagner that it ought to be possible to create a more streamlined and consistent system,” and if 19 districts can’t do it that would seemingly be “evidence for consolidating school districts in Delaware.” If districts don’t voluntarily improve, maybe the General Assembly should consider ways to get the job done. “Transparency and efficiency ought to be bipartisan goals, particularly in an era of tight state budgets.” 12/7/17A, Money spent on students puzzling, Jessica Bies – The state auditor’s office has made some efforts to audit DE spending on education, or at least the portion that is in the state’s budget. Otherwise, how would they have known about specific deficiencies in the ways that expenditures have been reflected in the books of various school districts? That being said, the online report that was posted yesterday apparently focuses on relatively minor expenditures. For example, “one school district reported spending $200 on ‘computer supplies’ when in reality [the money] was used to buy sticky buns for an employee breakfast.” Here’s an explanation from the report: “The original intent of this engagement was to perform a comparative analysis of expenditures across the 19 school districts. However, as we attempted to analyze the data, we found widespread inconsistencies in the way the school districts coded expenditure transactions in the State’s accounting system, First State Financials (FSF). Given the significance of this constraint, AOA shifted the objective of this engagement to reviewing payments that were not easily identifiable as benefitting students in the classroom.” Reportedly, the recommended path forward is for the “school districts” to “work with the state Education Department to correct the issue” by developing “a consistent accounting methodology across the 19 school districts [that] will lead to more uniform data and greater transparency.” Hmm, sounds a bit like motherhood and apple pie. Also, the Auditor’s Office will be publishing another report, which may prove more substantive than this one. Auditor Tom Wagner is quoted as follows: “We even found a lot of issues on the salary side, where school districts would actually slip around what was being paid for with federal dollars, state dollars and local dollars.”
12/7/17B, Taking tax bills from worse to bad, Washington Post editorial – Neither the House nor Senate tax bill represents “an improvement over the status quo, and we’d be delighted if the conference collapsed and everyone agreed to start from scratch to craft a bipartisan, fiscally responsible bill.” But since “that’s not likely,” let’s consider how this legislation could be made “less-bad.” (1) Restore GovCare individual mandate. (2) Kill the provision re drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife refuge. (3) Close House campaign cash loophole based on “religious freedom” that “would enable people to funnel vast amounts of dark money into politics and claim a tax deduction for it.” (4) Keep the top rate for individuals at 39.6%. (5) Either keep the estate tax or “pare it back temporarily.” (6) Keep the individual Alternative Minimum Tax so “wealthy wage earners cannot use loopholes to entirely escape paying a fair share.” (7) Leave the state taxes deduction in place, and maybe further limit the mortgage deduction. (8) Drop all the provisions in both bills that “would slam universities and their students.” But even if all these changes were made, “the product would still be an expensive tax cut bill that a country in the midst of an accelerating economic recovery does not need and, over the long term, cannot afford.” This critique seems rather one-sided; not a single provision in the proposed legislation is cited with approval.Top
12/3/17, GOP extremism on taxes broke Congress, Ted Kaufman – The writer presents the following version of fiscal gridlock history: (1) During his presidential run in 1988, George H.W. Bush famously vowed “no new taxes, read my lips.” But he also wanted to reduce the deficit, and he discovered in the 1990 budget debate that “taking taxes off the table was a nonstarter with Democrats.” Accordingly, he agreed to a “modest tax increase” and Democrats went along with his PAYGO proposal to reduce spending. This program worked, according to Kaufman, but it probably resulted in Bush 41 not being reelected. The third-party candidacy of Ross Perot was the decisive factor; it split the Republican vote. (2) Enter Grover Norquist, the 1985 founder of a group called Americans for Tax Reform, who used Bush’s broken promise as the basis for pressuring politicians around the country into signing the Taxpayer Protection Pledge to oppose any effort to raise income taxes on individuals or businesses. (3) Clinton 42 was able to raise taxes in 1993 via passage of the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act. Republicans warned of dire consequences, but the economy boomed while inflation and interest rates stayed low. By using PAYGO, moreover, the federal government balanced the budget and a bit more by the end of Clinton’s second term. (4) Bush 43 then ended PAYGO and pushed through “generous tax cuts,” leading to a state of perpetual gridlock about the budget with Republicans insisting there could be no discussion of tax increases. Consider an 8/11/11 interview of 8 GOP presidential candidates. Bret Baier asked whether they would consider a spending cuts $10, tax increases $1 deal with congressional Democrats and all 8 of them said NO. Just try negotiating with “people like that,” and you will understand gridlock. Is this a partisan column? Maybe, but “I’ll be glad to admit that Democrats haven’t always been faultless, and there are a few other, far less significant causes of gridlock.” And “I’d like to hear someone try to explain how [gridlock] would have happened without the Norquist pledge.” The ATR pledge was rolled out in 1986, supposedly with the endorsement of President Ronald Reagan, and remains a factor in GOP politics to this day. ATR statement, accessed 12/3/17. Also, the reinstatement of PAYGO in 2007 (rules)/ 2010 (legislation) has not been accompanied by improved budget discipline. Top 11/28/17, Offshore wind study is muddling along – The first of two scheduled public comment sessions took place at the Appoquinimink Training Center in Odessa, starting shortly after 6:00 PM and lasting about 90 minutes. Officially presiding was DNREC hearing officer Linda Vest (equipped with a big wooden gavel). Ms. Vest and a stenographer were sitting at the front of the room, facing the audience (probably around 50 people in total) who were seated behind four or five long rows of tables like students in a classroom. There was no microphone. A sign-in sheet was circulated asking for names, e-mail addresses, and whether attendees wished to speak. Ms. Vest explained the ground rules for the meeting. The purpose was to obtain public comment for the record on participation by Delaware in such offshore wind projects as might be proposed by the working group. All present could address the meeting if they wished, but comments were to be limited to the subject matter at hand and held to a maximum of three minutes. Also, bearing in mind that there are differing views about the subject, all concerned should be respectful of statements by those with whom they might happen to disagree.
DNREC’s Tom Noyes ran the meeting from there, beginning with Governor Carney’s order appointing the working group and an acknowledgement of the other working group members who were in attendance (public advocate Drew Slater, PSC executive director Bob Howatt, UD professor Jeremy Firestone, and DNREC Secretary Shawn Garvin).
In due course, a transcript of this evening’s session would be posted as well as any follow-on comments that attendees might wish to submit. [The offshore wind website that has been set up is only moderately useful. Minutes of the working group are maintained, not transcripts. Written statements submitted are hard to locate aside from briefing materials of official presenters to the working group. Query: Is there a serious interest in serious public input on the offshore wind project?]
The planned order of business had been to have brief presentations by representatives of two offshore wind power firms (not to be construed as an endorsement of their services in any project that might be endorsed by the working group), followed by a public comment session. However, the meeting went straight to public comments because the company representatives had not yet arrived.
PUBLIC COMMENTS - A total of 13 people commented, of whom 8 supported offshore wind, 3 spoke in opposition, and 1 (despite being a wind power supporter) slammed the meeting design as providing no opportunity for informative give and take. A somewhat similar mix of views, with an apparent plurality in favor of offshore wind, was reflected in an 11/25/17 story in the News Journal (scroll down).
#Supporters of offshore wind waxed enthusiastic about alleged environmental benefits, health benefits, and the “green jobs” that could be created. Other countries are getting ahead of us, science tells us we have to do this, bird kills can be minimized by siting facilities in an optimum fashion, etc.
As for the impact of offshore wind on electric power costs, several different arguments were offered. Ancillary benefits (quantified by one speaker as 14.3¢ per KWH) outweigh any cost disadvantage. The current differential will disappear in a few years as the cost of natural gas rises while the offshore wind technology keeps improving. And by the way, offshore wind power isn’t that much more expensive than conventional power right now.
#The three naysayers (Geoffrey Pohanka from Bethany Beach, John Nichols of Middletown, and a representative of Calpine) painted a different picture.
The cost differential was substantial and would not magically disappear, the alleged environmental and health benefits of offshore wind power were illusory, and there was no excuse for using government mandates or subsidies to put such systems into use. By the way, how come large industrial power users were to be exempted from costs of the arrangements while consumers might bear the burden.
Also, said Mr. Pohanka, visitors to the Delaware beach area wouldn’t relish the sight of offshore wind turbines. Although it was planned to site them some 20 miles off shore, these facilities would be higher than the Washington Monument and they would be clearly visible from shore (copies of a photo rendering were circulated which showed what this would purportedly look like.)
OFFSHORE WIND PRESENTATIONS:
#Paul Rich of US Wind – Under the agreement with MD, US Wind is to provide power at a levelized cost of $131 per KWH over 20 years. No up-front subsidies would be provided, i.e., this arrangement is not “like Bloom.” He didn’t acknowledge that the wind power would not be dispatchable, and therefore would have to be backed up by power from more reliable sources. He slammed the photo being circulated by Mr. Pohanka (in a post-meeting discussion) as “garbage,” but may or may not send Pohanka a US Wind picture of what the offshore skyline would look like.
#Jamil Khan of Deepwater Wind – His company already has an offshore wind power facility near Block Island, with five turbines in operation. In addition to reducing carbon emissions, he claimed, the offshore wind project (Skipjack) with which his company is involved would result in lower wholesale prices for electric power for the entire Delmarva service area as a result of eliminating the “congestion fee” that is being imposed by Maryland.
11/25/17, Public to weigh in on offshore wind, Gray Hughes (Salisbury Daily Times) – Two public “workshops” are coming up “to discuss bringing offshore wind power to Delaware and its potential benefits.” Appoquinimink Training Center in Odessa on Monday, 11/27; and Lewes Public Library on Tuesday, 12/5. The meetings will feature “a briefing” re status of the Offshore Wind Working Group appointed by the governor in August. Pictures of Governor Carney signing the executive order and the first meeting of the working group underscore the serious nature of this project. The article is written in the vein that offshore wind is obviously the way to go, and the main issue is whether Delaware should do its own project or piggyback on one of the two Maryland projects that are planned. Almost all of the statements quoted are positive, and there is no discussion of the impact of this or other “renewable energy” initiatives on electric power costs. #Ted Spickler of Dagsboro – “The risks are worth the potential benefits from becoming a national leader in offshore wind energy generation.” #Bonnie Ram, senior researcher at UD – Delaware’s commitment to solar energy is paying off, and offshore wind will contribute “significantly” to a new energy economy along the Atlantic coast. “The calculations of dollars and cents in the traditional manner today” overlook the reduction of greenhouse gases, public health benefits, and advantages of being a leader in the clean energy transition – thereby “disregarding the voices of many Delawareans.” #Kit Zak of Lewes and the Citizens of Clean Power - “We desperately need a new industry in Delaware, and these jobs would be high-paying jobs, not retail’s low-paying jobs.” #Geoffrey Pohanka of Bethany Beach was the lone dissenter. He said offshore wind facilities could detract from property values in a tourist mecca. Top
11/22/17, Plastic bottles from sugar? Yes, says DowDuPont, Karl Baker – DD scientists are racing to commercialize a plastic that is derived from sugar (corn and/or sugar cane) rather than crude oil – an innovation that could be a key win for the conglomerate’s forthcoming Delaware spinoff (specialty products). The plastic can be formed into soda bottles, car parts and even polyester fiber, said chemist Paul Pagan, who leads the company’s research for sustainable polymers. The advantages: (1) Process has “a less harmful impact on the environment” due to lower carbon emissions; (2) “unlike oil, sugar will never run out;” (3) sugar-based plastic may be more readily recyclable. The new plastic is not currently cost competitive, nor is a case made that it will necessarily offer a cost advantage in the future, yet an objective of completely replacing oil-based plastics over the next 50 years is mentioned. Will government mandates and/or subsidies be sought to support this product? If so, we would vote no!Top 11/21/17, Tax-reform plan is not an improvement, editorial (Bloomberg View) – Republicans appear to agree that tax plan should: (l) Add to the budget deficit; (2) Contain countless gimmicks to disguise its true fiscal effect; and (3) Make an insanely complicated tax code even more so. Fortunately, the outcome remains uncertain and almost anything is possible in the reconciling of the House and Senate versions of the bill. Here’s a preliminary assessment: (A) Lower corporate taxes is a “good idea.” But as the change “favors the richest taxpayers,” there should be “offsetting changes elsewhere,” e.g., higher individual top rate, closure of the carried interest loophole, and tax “capital gains at death.” What we actually see is a half-hearted change re carried interest, and a tax rate much lower than normal for “pass-through” income. (B) The emerging plan would add between $1.5 and $2 trillion to the budget deficit over the next l0 years. (C) Plan is riddled with phase-ins, phase-outs and assorted gimmicks meant to disguise the real fiscal impact. To comply with the principles of fiscal conservatism that fiscally conservative Republicans say they uphold, “their own reform would have to be scrapped almost as soon as it is passed.” Republicans are right in saying “the US tax code needs radical improvements,” but that’s not what this plan would deliver. Top 11/20/17, Here’s what the GOP tax plan does, Ted Kaufman - This column pans the Republican tax legislation that is taking shape in Congress, making three basic points. (A) The House & Senate bill are “quite different,’’ and the “one thing” Republicans seem to agree on is that “they have to do something” because their major donors [and lots of other people] are demanding action. “Anything is better than nothing,” and that isn’t much of an argument for “passing a bill that will affect the lives of every one of us.” Oh, and “all the work on this tax plan has been done in secrecy,” under the leadership of two former executives at Goldman Sachs (Steven Mnuchin & Gary Cohn). [Why, then, are the House and Senate bills so different?] Remember what Donald Trump had to say about Goldman Sachs while he was running for president, and now he’s put GS in charge. Republicans like to say Obamacare was drafted in secret and passed without a single GOP vote, but let’s not forget that there were months of regular order debate and “a number of Republican ideas ended up in the bill.” (There weren’t enough Democratic votes for a “single payer” bill.) (B) The GOP tax plan is aimed at the wrong target; “the goal of any rational change in tax policy should be a reversal of the accelerating trend toward income inequality.” One might think the fundamental goal of tax policy should be to raise revenue for the government in an efficient and reasonably fair manner, not redistribute wealth and further other social goals. (C) The GOP tax plan is not designed to redistribute wealth, at least to the extent desired by the writer, so it’s a bad plan. #Fails to eliminate the “carried interest” loophole, with the result that “very wealthy Wall Street hedge fund and private equity managers [are] taxed at a lower tax rate than even other wealthy people.” This issue has reportedly been mitigated by instituting a 3-year holding period for investments qualifying for capital gain treatment. Not eliminate but fixed – the carried interest loophole, Steve Sherman, townhall.com, 11/14/17. #Alternative minimum tax is paid by some 5 million Americans, nearly all of whom are earning over $200K per year. Clearly, therefore, the AMT shouldn’t be eliminated. Eliminating loopholes is a good idea; requiring some taxpayers to calculate their income tax liability in two different ways and pay the larger amount is not. #Estate tax is primarily paid by the estates of wealthy decedents, so again it should not be eliminated. And if the argument is that most of the tax burden is avoided by setting up foundations, etc., that just suggests that true reform would mean closing the loopholes. Estate tax represents a form of double taxation, which is wrong in principle. And if the loopholes should go, why didn’t Democrats see to this while they were in the majority? #Pass through income provision would permit highly paid individuals to incorporate themselves and pay tax at a lower rate, thereby cutting the top rate from 39.5% to 25%. The argument that the “pass through” provision would be a tax cut for small businesses and entrepreneurs is “nonsense,” because only people who make more than $470,700 a year are taxed at that 39.5% top rate. Based on our understanding of the provisions under consideration (which vary substantially between the House and Senate bills), this tendentious explanation is inaccurate. #Reduced corporate tax rate will also benefit the “very wealthy,” at a time when “corporate profits are at their highest level ever.” Also, many corporations aren’t reinvesting their profits, but rather using them for stock buyback programs and padding CEO salaries and bonuses. The alleged benefits for middle class workers are based on the “trickle down” tax cut theory that has been disproved again and again. Consider, for example, the recent tax cut disaster in Kansas. This case does not show tax cuts cannot have positive economic effects, as the writer seems to suggest. It does demonstrate the folly of overdosing on tax cuts while (a) neglecting to broaden the tax base by eliminating tax preferences, and (b) failing to slow the growth of government spending. Tax cutting may be a good idea, but don’t overdo it,6/19/17. 11/19/17, Try bi-partisan tax reform, it worked for Ronald Reagan, Sen. Chris Coons – The conventional wisdom these days is that “bipartisan tax reform is too hard” because “the parties are simply too far apart to come together to make the tax system better for working Americans.” The writer disagrees, citing the bipartisan tax reform bill in 1986. President Reagan, House Speaker Tip O’Neill, and members from both parties rolled up their sleeves, worked together, and got the job done. Lengthy public debates – compromises on both sides – eventually passed “a major tax reform bill that was bipartisan and did not add to our deficits and national debt.” 31 years later, the tax system is once again in need of a major overhaul. Complicated and full of loopholes – business tax laws are making us less competitive – “middle class is overdue for a tax cut.” But rather than acting like Reagan, the GOP is trying to do tax reform on its own “without any consultation or conversation with Democrats.” Thus, following the lead of House Republicans, Senate Republicans plunked a “several-hundred-page tax bill that impacts every single American” on the table. “I have serious concerns with this bill, and I think you should too.” It’s based on the false premise that “tax cuts for the richest Americans and corporations will somehow trickle down to help the majority of working Americans,” and “that’s just not how it works.” Rather than simply saying “no,” however, here are “a few ideas I have for bipartisan, revenue-neutral tax reform.” #Take tax giveaways to the wealthiest Americans off the table.” #Expand the Earned Income Tax Credit, “which is one of the most effective tax programs ever implemented.” #Add conditions for reducing corporate income tax rates: the corporations must buy American, hire more Americans, pay better wages, and invest in our communities. #Increase tax incentives for manufacturing and innovation in the US. So, reach across the aisle, GOP, and work with Democrats to pass something that all Americans can get behind.”Comments: (1) Sen. Coons is not on the Senate Finance Committee, but he will presumably have an opportunity to participate in the floor debate. He was also among a group of Democratic senators who were invited to the White House to discuss tax reform including a discussion with the president. calling in from his Asia trip. Dem. senators get surprise call from Trump on taxes, Elana Schor, politico.com,11/7/17. (2) Republicans had to reach across in the aisle in 1986, as Democrats controlled both houses of Congress in that year. (3) Far from representing true tax reform, the suggestions enumerated would further complicate the tax law and add or expand loopholes.Top
11/17/17, Talk by state Rep. Michael Ramone to the Retired Men’s Luncheon Club – In Ramone’s view, one-party rule doesn’t work because the hard questions don’t get asked and problems are kicked down the road rather than being intelligently addressed. Thus, let’s take a look at some issues in Delaware. A. EDUCATION – Wilmington has more schools than it needs, operating well below capacity, which ensures high costs. Statewide, having 19 school districts is ridiculous – although the task force reviewing this matter isn’t likely to recommend corrective action. And there are 270 people in the State Department of Education, who perceive their role to be dreaming up reporting requirements for the school district staffs (the resulting reports rarely get read). B. HEALTHCARE – Too many people, too much turnover, at state hospitals. Should raise pay rates and reduce overtime. C. GAS TAX – Tax increases can be a mixed blessing. New Jersey did DE a huge favor by raising the gas tax; our annual tax take increased by $10M. D. PRISONS – Keeping criminals off the streets is important, but rehabilitation was allowed to slide and now there’s an opioid epidemic. E. AMAZON’S 2ND HEADQUARTERS – With a little imagination, DE could make a solid bid for this stellar investment. 60% of US population lives within 3-1/2 hours; in the wake of the revolution at DuPont, there are many smart, competent people available to hire; UD is a pretty decent university. F. REDISTRICTING – With the current system, primaries are the real elections. Let’s cut out the gerrymandering. The surest way to do this is to computerize the process, draw electoral lines based on algorithms versus politics. G. RES. 225 RE TRANSGENDERISM– Ramone has talked to the governor, thinks Mr. Carney was listening. A balancing of interests is needed; parental rights can’t simply be ignored. Top
11/15/17, Meeting of Offshore Wind Working Group, House Hearing Room (2nd floor), Legislative Hall – Bill Whipple accompanied John Nichols to this meeting, which wasn’t covered by the News Journal. Herewith some selective impressions. FIRST, the biggest objection to an offshore wind project is that it would be considerably more expensive than other new power sources, e.g., combined cycle natural gas or even onshore wind in western Pennsylvania, and wouldn’t add capacity for the grid due to intermittency. Several participants found ways to make these points indirectly, e.g., by saying wind power would “displace” (rather than replace) fossil fuel power plants. SECOND, the slide show presentation by Bob Howatt of PSC was seemingly contradictory. One slide purported to show how wind power plants could bring about power cost savings, e.g., “50 megawatt plant saves $1.54 per megawatt-hour per year.” But another indicated that legislation would be needed to set up a “cost recovery mechanism,” such as a new renewable energy credit (REC) requirement, power purchase agreement with Delmarva et al., or financing arrangement via a utility tax. If offshore wind was truly cost competitive, why would such legislative arrangements be required? THIRD, there was considerable discussion of how the public review sessions have been scheduled before the working group report will be available for review. This reflects the tight timetable for the working group which must submit its report to the governor by December 15. The apparent conclusion was that there will be further public review sessions after the working group report is prepared, i.e., the December 15 report will not be the working group’s final word on the subject. FOURTH: During the public comment session at the end, John Nichols rattled off a series of arguments against an offshore wind project. Costly – would not add to capacity – would lock Delaware taxpayers or ratepayers into wind power for 20+ years during which time new technologies might become available that would be clearly more attractive from an economic/environmental standpoint – more jobs would be lost due to higher average power costs than would be added by wind power – many sea birds would perish. FIFTH: Several female attendees attempted to refute Nichols, but they didn’t have much to offer in the way of specifics. CONCLUSION: Our presence at the meeting was constructive, and several members of the working group were probably pleased that someone made the case against offshore wind even though no one on the group is disposed to openly question the wisdom of this project.Top 10/26/17A, Bloom Energy repays state $1.5 million for missed goals; firm failed to hit its hiring payroll targets for the fourth straight year, Scott Goss – This was a partial repayment of the $12 million state taxpayer grant that Bloom received to locate a fuel cell plant in Delaware. Under the agreed terms, Bloom was supposed to spend $108M on total salaries by the end of September 2017 with 900 employees by that date; they actually spent $64M. Its annual payroll is now $19M, an average of $63,000 per employee (vs. the forecast of $40K per employee) for 302 employees. If Bloom continues to lag its targets, there will be additional amounts clawed back in the future. Several persons are quoted about what has happened. #MATT ROSS, BLOOM’S CHIEF MARKETING OFFICER – “We’re obviously disappointed, but we still believe we can meet our targets in the years ahead.” #JEFFREY BULLOCK, DE SECRETARY OF STATE – “We’ve known for several years that Bloom was lagging behind its benchmarks. While these revelations were not completely unexpected, they are no less disappointing.” #JOHN NICHOLS, MIDDLETOWN RESIDENT (identified as having gone to court twice against Bloom, only to have the proceedings dismissed for lack of standing) – “Anyone who has been paying attention would have seen this coming. I predicted they wouldn’t hit their job goals after the first public hearing. Every time you subsidize the over-market cost of power generation, it costs jobs. If you can’t learn from history, you’re an idiot.” #DAVID STEVENSON, CRI also predicted Bloom wouldn’t meet its job targets from the start. “Bloom Energy simply could not sell as many Bloom boxes as predicted and wouldn’t create as many jobs as advertised. CRI predicted only 270 jobs would be created, not the 900 advertised.” Story goes on to recite various additional facts, including the far larger amounts paid to Bloom via the Delmarva tariff arrangement - $166M to date and an ongoing obligation “through 2033.” Originally estimated to add 65¢ per month to customer bills, vs. an expected $5.83 in November. “Delaware’s handout to Bloom is frequently criticized as one of the worst economic development deals approved by the Markell administration, particularly given the company’s shaky financial future.” Bloom has also received more than $400M in subsidies in California, but “state officials there are now turning their focus away from fuel cells and towards batteries.” One of the excuses that Bloom cites is that “Congress voted to extend a 30 percent investment tax credit for solar energy, but neglected to include fuel cells.” Seems to be a pattern here: the company is dependent on subsidies for commercial success. No mention of issues re generation and disposal of hazardous wastes. No recognition that Bloom would be a spectacular failure even if it had met or exceeded its employment targets, since it simply does not produce electrical power on a cost-competitive basis.
10/26/17B, RISK OF GOVERNMENT BETS SHOWN – Cites Bloom Energy payroll shortfall as “a sobering reminder to state officials [that] when you’re betting with taxpayer’s money, be careful of how much you risk.” And the direct incentives are dwarfed by the ratepayer tariff, which has caused many utility customers to be “justifiably irate.” Of course, state leaders should be encouraged to exercise bold vision, but “most taxpayer dollars should be channeled into workforce development, regulatory reform and tax policies – not trying to pick winners with taxpayer cash.” Delaware is a small state, which “needs to know its limits – and limit its risk.” Another lesson might be to avoid imposing burdens on electric power customers; that was the true disgrace in this saga although it’s only mentioned tangentially.
10/26/17C, Project would double state’s solar capacity; 400 acres may become home to Delaware’s largest array of panels, Xerxes Wilson – Freepoint Commodities (Stamford, CT) has contract to lease or purchase more than 400 acres of mostly farmland in southern New Castle & Kent Counties. Plan is to turn that land into the state’s largest array of solar panels. Lots are not contiguous, but solar power would tie into a common substation. Complex would dwarf the largest solar facility now in operating, an 80-acre setup near Milford, and generate some 100 MW of power. Previously, NCC rules have restricted large scale solar facilities to land zoned for industrial use, which tends to be more expensive and often comes with environmental issues. Matt Meyer has just signed revised rules, opening up this sort of activity. “The bottom line is we are taking a major step forward in something public officials like myself have been talking about for years.” Tom Noyes of DNREC is quoted that this type of development will be instrumental in meeting REPSA goals of taking solar power from 1.5% currently to 3.5% by 2025. This project is driven by government policies versus economic merit. Solar power is intermittent, so it must be backed up by conventional power sources. Another example of ill-advised government policies at work.Top 10/18/17, District consolidation draws few comments, Jessica Bies - Article provides a read out of a meeting last night at William Penn High School of the school district consolidation task force. Only a handful of sources are cited, and they don’t seem (with one possible exception) to have much interest in school district consolidation. #Mike Matthews, president of the Delaware State Education Association (a teachers union): Hoped that the TF would look beyond potential cost savings. “Saving money I don’t think should be the goal of what this group does,” he said, going on to suggest that the state should be focusing on better using resources (translation: spending more money) to serve students with special needs or from low-income families. #Rep. Earl Jacques (D-Glasgow): “If you think our purpose is to save money, you’ve really missed the boat. I say we’re here to try to improve education for every child across the state.” It’s further stated that Rep. Jacques who was instrumental in getting the TF formed, hopes to conclusively establish whether or not redistricting would save money (translation: bury this disruptive notion once and for all). #Governor John Carney is cited as skeptical that reducing the number of school districts would make a big difference. #Kevin Carson, a TF member and former school district official, said his subcommittee was considering five options: (1) maintain status quo; (2) leave districts but consolidate services such as payroll and purchasing; (3) same number of school districts, but change feeder patterns so none cross county lines; (4) include a county-wide revenue base for all 19 districts; (5) Create three county-wide districts. The order in which these options are listed seems telling, as does the fact that 4 of the 5 options would include no change in the number of school districts. #Mary Schorse, president of Christiana’s PTA council said she wanted to know how these five options were decided on, considering that a much broader range of options had been proposed by the public, e.g., consolidate only the Vo-Tech school districts, create school districts based on 6,000-7,000 students per district, separate NCC school districts for “above” and “below” the canal. A lengthy website address is provided for sharing “ideas for consolidation” on line.SAFE member Jack Wells followed up with a letter to the governor. It began by referencing Mr. Matthews’ comments and agreeing that “we should be focusing on using our resources better,” but went on to say that “this is impossible, because our Department of Education has failed to establish program codes, as required by law, which would allow us to determine where the $2.6 billion expended annually is being used. Our Department of Education has also failed/refused to implement expenditure reporting by program at the school level. *** I ask that you require DOE to comply with state laws.” We would add that there is no way to draw firm conclusions about the potential cost savings from school district consolidation without taking a deep dive into the numbers, and so far as we can tell the TF has no plans for doing this.Top 10/15/17A, [DE Treasurer] Ken Simpler, Looking for a “grand bargain” on state budget – This column criticizes the current approach to budgeting in Delaware, which combines a tendency to overspend in good economic times with a perverse tendency to cut back and look for “silver bullet” revenue increases when the economy is weak and the revenue stream dries up. And while the “rainy day fund” could theoretically be used to provide countercyclical balance, this has never been done in practice so the RDF might as well be eliminated. There will be another budget crunch next year as “just enacted tax and fee increases” that boosted revenues by “as much as 5.5 percent this year” are expected to yield “as little as 1 percent” (why the disparity?) while annual expenditures could grow by some 5%. So now is the time for a “grand bargain” that “addresses our long-term revenue problems and institutes new spending disciplines in one fell swoop.” #Comprehensive restructuring of taxes, fees and other income: See recommendations from a DEFAC Advisory Council and proposals from Governor Carney’s Budget Reset for “some credible and actionable ideas.” #Limit state spending to “an index of economic indicators: gross state product, personal income, inflation and population” that would “produce steady and sufficient growth of 3-4 percent each year.” Of course, “these reforms alone will not fix our policy challenges in healthcare, education, safety and infrastructure,” but they will “provide the certainty and clarity to our annual budgeting process that allows policymaker to study these issues in greater depth, analyze our resource allocation with more care and develop benchmarks for both setting expectations and measuring results.”The spending problem can’t be solved by “benchmarks” – this would require an attitude adjustment. And the only source of leverage for conservatives is to resist up front tax increases.
10/15/17B, Get rid of the US debt ceiling, [Sen.] Chris Coons – The writer begins this column with an analogy. “Imagine going to a restaurant, eating a meal, getting the check, and then simply refusing to pay the bill.” We ourselves have likened the debt ceiling to “locking the barn door after the horse has been stolen,” which puts more emphasis on the irresponsibility of chronic deficit spending. But either way, one arrives at the same conclusion: the debt ceiling is no longer serving a useful purpose, if it ever did, so let’s bin it. We recently contacted Sen. Coons to express appreciation for his position on this issue. SAFE letter,9/21/17. Top
10/7/17, Struggles loom over wind talks, Scott Goss – Front page story about the first meeting of the governor’s working group on offshore wind power. Paints a picture of offshore wind power being quite expensive, and notes statements by some of the working group members that it would be wise to proceed carefully and ensure that there is no replay of the Bloom Energy fiasco. For further discussion, see Assessing proposal for offshore wind power projects, 10/9/17. Top
10/6/17A, Obamacare rates to rise 25%, Meredith Newman – Highmark BC/BS had requested premium increases for individual HCI policies averaging 33.6%, increase approved was 25%. “Any rate increase is too much,” said DE Insurance Commissioner Trinidad Navarro. “Highmark could have said, ‘Take it or we’re leaving,’ but they didn’t.” Detailed info re the new rates not yet available, aside from some illustrative examples. Some individuals may wind up paying less, at least after government subsidies. Take a 40-year-old, non-smoker with annual income of $30K enrolled in lowest cost Silver plan: After subsidy, 2017 premium of $264 will be cut to $186. Overall, Highmark premiums for marketplace HCI policies in Delaware have roughly doubled during the lifetime of the ACA. Currently, there are about 27K of these policies in DE. Delaware Democrats are blaming the president for the latest premium hike, e.g., failing to enforce the individual mandate on grounds that GovCare was going to be repealed, “all but eliminating ACA outreach efforts,” etc. Meanwhile, Delaware Republicans say the problem is the failure to “repeal and replace” GovCare thus far.
10/6/17B, Will Trump tax plan benefit him? Washington Post editorial – “President Donald Trump probably was untruthful when he insisted last week that his tax plan ‘is not good for me.’ [But] we can’t be certain because Trump . . . won’t release his tax returns.” Still, “Trump’s tax reform outline contains several specific proposals that could help the wealthy.” A study by the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center is cited showing that the GOP tax plan would “provide massive benefits to upper-income taxpayers even as it smacked large sections of the middle class with a net tax hike.” Repealing the AMT for example, which apparently had something to do with Trump’s tax liability in 2005 (but we can’t be sure because only a segment of that tax return was leaked). Accordingly, “a Congress with integrity would agree to consider his tax proposal only after he published his tax returns.” Clever argument, but Republican tax plan should be assessed on the merits without regard to the president’s tax returns (which he declined to release based on an ongoing audit). Odd that nothing is said about the estate tax, which would provide a more obvious connection of the tax bill to his personal tax situation.Top
10/5/17, Cirrus mum on future of $350M project, Jerry Smith – Photo of room of people listening to DNREC’s Paul Foster “talk about a proposed data center for Middletown. In front row, looking rather dispirited if not bored, are four “representatives of Cirrus Delaware LLC.” It’s been over a year since Middletown residents have heard news about the data center/power plant project, which was proposed in 2015 by a group of investors led by Milford-based developer Dennis Silicato, so this report sets stage by noting that the project “has raised concerns about air pollution in the area and the impact on property values.” For prior coverage (which apparently is representative of where the environmental issues currently stand), see Proposed data center process grows, Jerry Smith, 9/4/16. Project has the support of Middletown Mayor Kenneth Branner, who apparently has been getting some encouragement from the governor and lieutenant governor. However, Cirrus still hasn’t lined up enough “companies interested in leasing space in the proposed 228,000 square foot facility.” Why are physical tenants required for a data center, as opposed to dedicated subscribers for the service? And could it be that the reluctance of companies to sign up reflects the relentless and overwrought environmental objections that operation of the data center power plant in combination with all of the other air pollution in Delaware could bring the state close to federally imposed limits on microscopic particulate matter, etc., which limits were sharply reduced based on dubious studies of the alleged health costs of such emissions. Heartland, download PDF, 8/28/12.Top 10/1/17, How to fight for racial inequality in schools, [DE Supreme Ct. Chief Justice] Leo Strine – According to this column, 1996 lifting of federal court order forcing busing to achieve racial balance in city/county schools has left Wilmington students with the “worst of both worlds.” On one hand, they don’t have local control of the schools since there are four school districts with jurisdiction over various areas of the city. On the other hand, “we have resegregated our schools – by both race and poverty. There are 13 elementary schools in Wilmington. More than 73 percent of the students at each of these schools are minority and over 60 percent are low income.” Where’s the recognition that “if kids who had less were all put in the same school, they and their teachers would need more days of learning? More hours in the day? More experienced teachers? More school activities?” And it all spills over in higher black crime rates – lower graduation rates - higher incarceration rates. Strine’s answer is to create a Norther New Castle County school district, that “would be geographically compact, take in the entire city, the Red Clay and Brandywine districts and part of the Colonial district. This new district “would be one of the wealthiest in the state with nearly $10 billion in assessed property value,” and it would be “established as an innovation zone with the flexibility to address the special needs, and raise the revenue it needs.” Extra help: “how about a 220-day school year, a full day, including an early arrival option with breakfast, after-school homework time, nutritious snacks, and activities and a requirement that students grades seven and up engage in an after-school activity year-round? City middle and high schools should be restored to foster community pride, parental participation, and student involvement in extracurricular activity. And creation of vocational schools to ensure kids would have “a pipeline to a job” if they weren’t college-bound. And by the way, this model could be used statewide to “serve all kids well, regardless of race, income level or county they live in.” How can we pay for it? Well, we’re already paying – in dumber ways – through youth detention centers, prisons and demands on police. Statewide, the writer envisions cutting 19 school districts to 7: New Castle (3), Kent (1), Sussex (2), statewide vo-tech. And if tax rates have to be raised a bit, so what, because they were higher “during the two-term tenures of three of the most effective governors in our state’s history: Governors DuPont, Castle and Carper.” But to be complete, let’s also wish for a government that “spends money wisely.” In sum: “The time for excuses, delay, and lack of action has run out. It’s time we do something, and something big.” Should judges weigh in on political issues like this? Why so many school districts, versus, say four (New Castle, Kent, Sussex, and statewide vo-tech)? Eroding personal responsibility for parents and students, is one of the basic causes for current problems of the public-school system; isn’t it possible that this top-down system would make things worse instead of better? And for historical perspective on the court school busing order, see “Collateral damage” (talk the late Jim Venema gave to the RMLC), SAFE newsletter, Fall 2012. Top
9/21/17A, Three Democrats in US Senate propose scrapping ceiling for national debt, Nicole Gaudiano – Photo of Senator Chris Coons at a podium. “Debt limit showdowns have become far too routine. That must change.” Delaware’s junior senator has introduced legislation to repeal the debt ceiling, acting in concert with Sens. Brian Schatz (Hawaii) and Michael Bennet (Colorado). The bill is attributed to a previous conversation between Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and the president, in which Schumer reportedly suggested the elimination of the debt ceiling and Trump responded that “I like that idea.” Speaker Paul Ryan is also quoted as subsequently telling reporters that he is opposed to scrapping the debt ceiling because “I think there’s a legitimate role for the power of the purse Article I powers, and that’s something that we defend here in Congress.” SAFE supports elimination of the debt ceiling, and we so advised Sen. Coons and other members of the Delaware delegation in a6/29/17 letter.
9/21/17B, Climate change denial is irresponsible, Gerald Moeller (Newark) – “Since 1880, the Earth has warmed a total of 2 degrees Fahrenheit *** If greenhouse gas emissions continue unchecked, the average temperature increase could exceed 8 degrees Fahrenheit, which would not support life on the planet.” The ensuing elaboration includes two claims that we don’t recall seeing before; (1) In the distant past, CO2 levels rose and fell naturally, but these changes took thousands of years and geologists say “human activity is pumping the gas at a much faster pace than nature has ever done.” (2) “Studies that use radioactivity to distinguish industrial emissions from natural emissions show that the extra gas is coming from human activity.” As “shepherds of the Earth” it is our duty to guard against this danger. Fie on the “climate denialists,” who are “ignoring the effects of climate change and being unwilling to seek viable solutions to the climate changing issue.”Comments: CO2 produced by burning fossil fuels is not radioactive, so we don’t understand how the studies mentioned in point two could work. As for how fast CO2 levels can rise due to natural causes, huge amounts of CO2 are emitted due to volcanic activity – which can happen very quickly and is sporadic in nature. Volcanoes, earthquakes and carbon dioxide by Professor Dr. Ian Pilmer, carbon-sense.com,4/1/11. Top 9/17/17, Hate speech – This year’s Constitution Day series in the News Journal features inputs of: (A) Prof. Alan Garfield, Delaware Law School, Survey of what type of public speech or expression should be subject to limitation by the authorities under various circumstances: Public demonstrations, wearing shirts with provocative messages at public universities, ditto at public schools, and do you agree or disagree with Martin Luther King’s dream of a society where people would be judged without regard to the color of their skins. Please answer based on what you think the law should allow the government to do, not what you think the current law allows the government to do; (B) Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester, “We must face hate with justice, equality” seems to be focused on slamming President Trump and his supporters with remarks about a rebirth of hate speech over the “past few months,” widespread condemnation of the “violence in Charlottesville” implicitly attributed to white supremacist groups, etc. No discussion of the possibility that a lot of the current violence come from the left.; (C) Dean Rodney Smolla, Delaware Law School, “Hate speech debate has roots in US history” discusses precedents for the “marketplace” of ideas theory versus the “order and morality” theory, which have both gained ascendancy at times in US history. (D) Heidi Beirich, Southern Poverty Law Center, “What happens when online hate speech turns deadly,” says that Dylan Roof was self-radicalized by reading racist propaganda on line, which arguably justifies regulation of permissible content on line; (E) Henry Kolchin, UD professor emeritus, “Debate over Confederate statutes a solemn reminder,” says there is some merit on both sides of the argument. Statutes are not history, but an interpretation of history which may be subject to change over time. On the other hand, destruction of the monuments may be “more likely to provoke fury than encourage commitment to equal rights.” Comment: As usual, this series is slanted in a “progressive” direction. See, e.g., 9/12/16, A quiz on federal power and states’ rights, Alan Garfield (Delaware Law School), and Sept. 13-17, 2015, Does “We the People” matter any more? Some questions: (1) Why was there no NJ editorial on this subject? (2) How does the label “hate speech” add to the discussion of what forms of expression are/aren’t protected by the 1st Amendment? (3) Who decides what constitutes “hate speech,” and why are so few examples of left wing expression mentioned? (4) Isn’t Professor Garfield implicitly assuming an evolving Constitution (what the law should allow) versus a Constitution for the ages (even here, he refers to the “current law,” which may differ from what the words in the 1st and 14th amendments were originally thought to mean)? Top
9/8/17A, Permanent Delaware River fracking ban in works, Michael Rubinkam (AP) – The Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) is set to begin process of imposing a permanent ban on fracking near the Delaware River to replace the moratorium imposed in 2010 (a resolution to adopt draft drilling regulations in 2011 was successfully blocked). Environmental groups are pleased; they claim DRBC drilling would inevitably taint water supplies for 15 million people. However, the Susquehanna River Basin Commission has cleared SRBC drilling and oil & gas industry groups oppose a DRBC ban.
9/8/17B, Delaware launches effort to rein in healthcare costs, Meredith Newman – Governor Carney signed legislation yesterday that “will allow Delaware to better control the growing cost of healthcare – which is eating up 30 percent of the state’s budget and [is] on track to double in the next decade.” The plan is to institute a benchmark to cap overall healthcare spending growth. The referenced doubling is in “total personal healthcare spending” (out of pocket outlays by patients?), e.g., projected increase from “$75 million in 2009 to $148 million in 2020.” Meanwhile, healthcare spending within the state budget has increased by $480 million in the last 5 years. The state will work with hospitals, insurers and providers to figure out the best way to determine and implement the Benchmark. Dr. Kara Odom Walker (DE secretary of Health and Social Services) sees the timing as follows: Year One: set the Benchmark, with the state using a $10 million grant from the federal government to “hire the right expertise,” and conduct a series of public meetings. Year Two: Establish a benchmark authority, “creating a formula to determine the rate,” and holding public hearings. Year Three: Benchmark goes into effect. One area Walker plans to look into: unnecessary healthcare costs, “such as a doctor ordering an X-ray or a patient staying an extra day at the hospital, when it might not be needed.” Situations like these can “make up 20 to 30 percent of healthcare costs.” Dr. Prayus Tailor, a nephrologist and the president of the Medical Society of Delaware, says the Benchmark has the potential to make Delaware a much healthier state. With “people being able to afford care, doctors can slow down the chronic disease process.” And by the way, doctors often don’t know how many tests they are ordering, so feedback and analytical data might help them. Jeffrey Fried, CEO of Beebe Healthcare, says there is no “silver bullet” but stakeholders need to work together to fix the cost structure and care model. Delaware hospitals have been working with payers [??] and [have] started “the preparation to assume more financial risk in addition to the clinical risk that we already assume in caring for our patients.” Walker: Highmark Blue Cross/Blue Shield is seeking a 33.6% increase in premiums for policies sold in the HCI marketplace. More people will probably elect to opt out and take their chances without insurance. Some will get sick and show up in hospital emergency rooms forcing Delaware [state government?] to pay for the uncompensated care. Accordingly, efforts to create a Benchmark and reduce spending should continue regardless of what happens about healthcare in DC. “We have to move forward.”
9/8/17C, GET SERIOUS ABOUT HEALTHCARE – The Benchmark for healthcare costs is a good idea, and “Secretary Kara Odom Walker deserves Delawarean’s full support in implementing it.” After all, the state government’s healthcare costs rose by 42% between 2010 and 2016, and that’s “utterly unsustainable.” No wonder lawmakers have been forced to struggle to balance the state’s budget, and other priorities have suffered, such as investing in schools, battling the opioid epidemic and maintaining safety in prisons. If we don’t act now, the result could be “huge tax increases and more painful budget cuts” than have been seen already. Establishing the benchmark and making it a reality will be “a long and difficult process.” Let’s not allow this to “devolve into a political fight.” Remember that Republicans called for the benchmark before the House resolution was introduced, and that only 3 legislators voted “no.” Bending the cost curve will require some tough decisions, but things will be even tougher if we fail. Also, further actions may be needed, such as asking state employees to pay a bigger share of the cost for their HCI.
9/7/17A, Delaware must control healthcare spending, Gov. John Carney & Secy. Kara Odom Walker – DE is on unsustainable path re healthcare, spends more per capita than all but two states (AK & MA). We pay 27% more than the US average, but “do not see a corresponding benefit in health outcomes.” Total healthcare spending is on track to double over the next decade, handily outpacing economic growth and plavinh a growing strain on taxpayers. According, we will enact House Joint Resolution 7 sponsored by House Majority Leader Valerie Longhurst and supported by members of both parties. The resolution provides authority for “the state to establish a healthcare spending benchmark with a growth rate linked to the growth of the state’s economy.” BENCHMARK BENEFITS: (1) help us embrace concept of paying for healthcare outcomes versus “the number of services offered.” (2) save “tens to hundreds of millions of dollars per year through increased transparency, better efficiency and system-wide innovation.” (3) drive towards “higher standards of care” (DE currently ranks 31st in the nation by America’s Health Rankings, and research published in the New England Journal of Medicine indicates patients aren’t receiving recommended or appropriate care more than 50% of the time). GOAL: “Start rewarding healthcare providers and healthcare systems for keeping people healthy instead of paying for the volume of care they receive.” STRATEGIES: (1) Increase transparency around quality and health outcomes so patients can make better informed choices, employers can design better healthcare plans and better spend healthcare dollars; (2) Compensate HC providers for providing better quality healthcare, which encourages them to do exactly that and encourages HCI firms to steer patients to the best care. FOUNDATION: Work already done by the Delaware Center for Health[care] Innovation can serve as the foundation for the Benchmark. WE CAN DO IT: Delaware is a small state with a proud tradition of working together, so we should be able to get this done. Just send a strong signal that “the state is serious and committed to this effort.” Remember that improved healthcare at less cost will contribute to a better quality of life for our citizens, and furthermore that slowing growth of healthcare spending will allow us to invest more in education, environmental protection and public safety.Who decides what medical procedures should be recommended or appropriate?
9/7/17B, Want fewer school districts? Speak up – This editorial suggests that readers who complain that having 19 school districts is a waste of money should show up at the task force meetings (next full meeting at 6:30 on Sept. 18, Woodbridge High School in Bridgeville, subcommittees will hold their own open meetings, schedules posted on General Assembly’s website). Task force organizers are supposedly looking for ideas, and Rep. Earl Jacques is quoted that “we’ll consider everything.” If the task force determines that redistricting won’t save money (the answer in the past), “it should provide a thorough explanation to taxpayers, including a full breakdown of what cost would be incurred.” And if that happens, the task force should at least explore potential for consolidating support services like purchasing, transportation and building maintenance. Of course, if anything was actually to be done, that would be up to the General Assembly to arrange. For all the statements to the contrary, we don’t think this study is seriously intended to lead to affirmative action. Consolidating the school districts would be a complicated process, with many high-level jobs being eliminated. And the task force is primarily made up of representatives of the educational establishment.Top
9/3/17, David Stevenson (CRI), Carbon tax plan doesn’t work, raises costs – “If you like the Bloom Energy fuel cell project, a billion-dollar subsidy added to your electric bill, you will love the carbon tax plan; double the cost and no benefits!” Writer is referring to the RGGI/RPS, which will keep pushing up the cost paid by electric power consumers in Delaware for carbon emission allowances (since wind and solar power are neither economical or reliable). Governor John Carney just announced that the plan will be extended from 2020 to 2030, with a planned 30% additional reduction (price increase) in emission allowances. This year’s auctions are expected to cost consumers about $7M, but that’s projected to rise to $50M by 2021 and $67M in 2030. Additional costs for Delaware will result from growing importation of power from out of state because it’s so costly to produce it in Delaware, pushing all-in extra cost for DE consumers to over $100M per year in 2030. For those who may be interested, Stevenson has written a “refereed study” on the RGGI, which is posted on the Cato website. He also cites a lawsuit in which “I am a plaintiff,” challenging DNREC action to approve “the last RGGI allowance reduction plan” without legislative approval. This lawsuit is “scheduled for trial the week of October 16.” For background on the lawsuit, see “The wheels of justice,” Conservative Caucus of DE newsletter,4/1/16. Stevenson et al. deserve credit for getting this far with it; previous lawsuits against Bloom Energy, etc. have been dismissed based on procedural objections.
8/29/17, Governor launches effort to explore offshore wind farm, Scott Goss - "Delaware once led the nation in advancing carbon-free off-shore wind," but Delmarva Power's contract with NRG Bluewater Wind went awry. So "one of the first questions" for the 17-member working group now being appointed by Governor John Carney - he has named Bruce Burcat, former executive director of the DE PSC as chairman, stay tuned for other names - would be "how to avoid the missteps that caused the undoing of " the Bluewater Wind project. The announcement of the task force comes less than a week after the governor publicly opposed the Trump administration's plan to allow oil and gas drilling in the Atlantic Ocean on grounds that such drilling would threaten "more than 60,000 jobs supported by the fishing, tourism, and recreation sectors." The rationale for supporting offshore wind development is twofold: (1) create new jobs, and (2) provide a source of "renewable energy" to reduce carbon emissions into the atmosphere and thereby "address global climate change." It seems to be recognized in the article that offshore wind power would be very expensive and require even higher subsidies than solar and onshore wind power (which already require subsidies to compete with conventional power sources). Thus, "some estimates have put the cost of offshore wind at three to four time that of other renewable energy sources, such as solar and onshore wind - both of which enjoy federal tax credits that have not been extended to onshore wind." Talk about a solution in search of a problem! 8/22/17, [former Sen.] Ted Kaufman, Tax reform isn’t going to happen – “With Republicans in total control of Congress and the White House,” conventional wisdom predicts “tax reform, including healthy tax cuts for corporations and the top one percent.” Wrong! (A) Kaufman was a staffer for Sen. Joe Biden back in the Reagan era, when he saw “how incredibly difficult the [tax reform] process was and what it took to get a law passed.” Sen. Bill Bradley and House Majority Leader Dick Gephardt had “literally spent years crafting legislation and getting support from members on both sides of the aisle.” President Reagan was satisfied with the compromises that had been made by both parties to achieve “a revenue-neutral bill that eliminated a lot of loopholes in order to reduce overall tax rates.” Where’s the bipartisanship this time around? (B) Failure of the GOP healthcare bill made things more difficult, because that bill included “a massive tax cut for higher income individuals” that would have made it easier for GOP to come up with a tax reform bill that looked evenhanded and still get where they want to go. Doubtful that the tax bill now contemplated would survive scrutiny of Senate parliamentarian re requirements of the reconciliation [which Kaufman labels rescission] process, and they surely can’t get 60 votes to pass it the regular way. (C) The fractured GOP caucus won’t be able to line up 50 votes for anything really controversial. And before they even get to tax reform, they will have to surmount the “debt ceiling crisis,” which will be tougher than it was during the Obama era because the Democrats won’t lend their support. They will also need to pass a budget (a prerequisite for the reconciliation process), which is not something the GOP seems very united about, witness Sen. John Cornyn pronouncing the president’s budget proposal as dead on arrival in May. “Just sum it all up as a shambles and don’t expect any budget at all to pass this fall." (D) Finally, we get to the many policy questions inherent in tax reform discussions. For example: #Just why is a corporate tax cut so necessary when corporate earnings are way up and a recent study (World Economic Forum’s 2016-2017) ranks US corporations third in international competitiveness, lagging only Switzerland & Singapore? ## Why do we need cuts in the capital gains tax, coupled with repeal of the alternative minimum tax, estate tax and 3.8% surtax on high earners investment income, when “even Republicans” have come to acknowledge “the income inequality problem”? According to “best estimates,” over half of all the benefits from the “Trump proposals” would go to “the top 0.1%” percentile. Fine, let’s have real tax reform, which is “desperately needed,” but “we must first somehow survive this fall, this Congress, and this president.” A tax bill is highly likely, although it’s more likely to take the form of tax cuts instead of true tax reform. Tax cut odds may be going up, Patti Domm, cnbc.com,8/21/17. It might be of greater interest to offer ideas as to what should go in the bill.Top
8/20/17 JUSTICE MEANS MORE THAN TEARING DOWN STATUTES – It would be fine to eliminate the state grant (some $11,500 per year) for the Georgetown Historical Society to maintain an obelisk honoring Confederate dead, as has been urged by the local NAACP chapter. Just don’t do it retroactively, that would set a bad precedent, wait until next year. But what’s really needed is to tear down inequality in all its many forms. This “means acknowledging that some communities deserve more help than others, from the government and from citizens at large.” Among other things, we need: (1) additional school funding for at risk kids (only 39% of black children scored proficient on the state reading test, and 31% of black children lived below the federal poverty line in 2015 vs. 9% of white children); (2) saner drug policies that don’t hammer the most vulnerable, and (3) policing and criminal justice reform (almost 60% of Delaware prison inmates are black, vs. 22% of the population). Providing equal opportunity is fine, but attempting to ensure equality of outcomes for defined factions of our population is dubious. A good case can be made that some of the disparities that are cited (assuming the statistics are valid) have arisen due to government initiatives, including mandated school busing that undermined the Wilmington public school system and welfare programs that reward idleness.Top
8/19/17, “I needed to do something,” Jerry Smith – Photo: “Delaware Sen. Stephanie Hansen (D-Middletown) established the Statewide Ecological Extinction Task Force with an eye on introducing legislation in the 2018 legislative session to [protect] native plant and animal species from extinction in Delaware.” This idea reportedly came to Hansen (an environmental attorney by trade) on hearing UD Professor Doug Tallamy say at a presentation that more than ¾ of the state’s freshwater mussels are gone and so are 1/5 of our fish species. Similar changes have occurred re bird species that depend on forest cover, reduction in population size (over the past 50 years) of many bird species, and loss of dragonfly, reptile and amphibian species. The goal of the task force would be to reverse this trend. One of the big problems, according to Tallamy, is that protected natural areas in Delaware are not large enough. And there’s federal grant money to be had, e.g., the Dept. of Interior has awarded $500K to Delaware which is part of a $48M program nationwide to support endangered species. The task force is being called on to develop a report of its findings, hopefully including specific recommendations, by Dec. 1, so that the General Assembly will have plenty of time to address the subject in 2018. The action program should not be “punitive,” says Hansen. Let’s determine what the state, local and county governments can do, and educate the public on why action is needed. One idea mentioned is to plant grass along highways that doesn’t need to be mowed and will supposedly be attractive to native species. The task force is heavily populated by “people who have skin in the environmental game,” e.g., members of DNREC, Delaware’s Nature Center, Delaware Center for Inland Bays, and the Nature Conservancy. Also represented: various state legislators, including Delaware Sen. Bryant Richardson (R-Laurel), representatives of the Kent and New Castle County governments (not Sussex?), the Home Builders Association of Delaware, and the Delaware Association of Realtors. Comments: (1) What’s the reason to prefer local species to invasive species – isn’t that contrary to Darwin’s theory of evolution? (2) Do other issues exist that are more in need of government action than this one?Top
8/17/17, Trump’s America is for whites only – Here are the highlights of this editorial re the recent violence in Charlottesville: (1) To the president: “The Alt-Right, neo-Nazi and white supremacist groups that descended on Charlottesville want millions and millions of Americans, including your daughter and son-in-law, to surrender all their rights, leave the country, or simply die in order to ‘purify’ the United States of America.” This is an opinion rather than, as stated, “the facts.” (2) The president stood before the world on Tuesday and stated that “very, very violent counter-protestors shared blame for what happened at Charlottesville." True, violence was perpetrated by both sides, “but the president has still refused to directly blame the one side responsible for [Heather] Heyer’s death.” Compare this description: “Charlottesville wasn’t a play date. It was a pitched battle between two organized mobs— the white nationalist groups on the right and the badly underreported Antifa, or “antifascist,” groups on the hard-as-stone left. Stories about Antifa’s organized violence are trickling out now, but there is no conceivable journalistic defense for having waited so long to inform the public about this dangerous movement.” The politics of pointlessness, Daniel Heninger, Wall Street Journal, 8/16/17. (3) Don’t talk about moral equivalence, when “nationalist and right-wing terrorists have killed about 10 times as many people as the ‘Alt-Left’ since 1992. Source: Terrorism deaths by ideology: Is Charlottesville an anomaly? Alex Nowrasteh, Cato Institute,8/14/17. This comparison omits 92% of the terrorism deaths on US soil during this period, which are attributed to Islamists. (4) As usual, President Trump is trying to blame the media and play the victim. Attacking the president is the real point of the editorial, rather than presenting an informative view of what’s been happening. Top
8/16/17A, Government healthcare works, Bernard Reilly (Chadds Ford) – References 8/6/17B column by Re Vanella, agrees that “every first world nation provides basic healthcare for all its people except the US.” The basis: “a commitment from governments based on human empathy.” Just by taking “lessons from Switzerland, we could easily cut a trillion dollars” from our national healthcare bill. Note these figures attributed to the World Economic Forum: “Norway, Switzerland and the US pay $9,715 per person (9.6% of GDP), $9,276 per person (11.5% of GDP), and $9,146 per person (17.1% of GDP, respectively. Europeans save by avoiding payments to private insurance companies and having liability systems that don’t force doctors to pay hefty premiums for malpractice insurance. Americans do pay a hefty price for healthcare (including government and employer subsidies), and the % of GDP data look like what we’ve seen before. If the per person dollar figures are right, however, they would seemingly undermine the writers’ point.
8/16/17B, Urge Congress to fight climate change, Marty & Pat Hopkins (Newark) – The writers laud 8/11/17 editorial for urging “congressional action," reprise several of the talking points, and then lay out a bipartisan proposal of the Citizen’s Climate Lobby for a “carbon fee and dividend.” (1) Place a fee on fossil fuels (rate and other details not specified). (2) Return all money to every US household as monthly dividends. According to “independent assessments” (by whom?), this plan would not only combat global warming but “also grow the economy and create jobs.” So, citizen must urge all of Congress to work together. Seriously?
8/11/17, US can’t ignore climate change – Update: See8/29/17letter by SAFE member John Greer. This editorial comes in the wake of a New York Times report about a draft government report on global warming, which had supposedly been “leaked” to the press [it turned out the document had been publicly available for months] by government employees [not necessarily all scientists as suggested] in 13 federal agencies who feared the Trump administration might try to bury it. The report goes on to recite a litany about global temperatures rising with increasing rapidity, sea level rise, etc. “Unless you’re OK with the sea consuming the Rehoboth Beach boardwalk and swallowing Dewey Beach, then this report should concern you.” Ho hum, we’ve heard all of this before, including the supposedly overwhelming scientific consensus that “humans are contributing” [could it be that other factors are considerably more significant, e.g., fluctuations in the level of solar activity?] and therefore it’s imperative to “take steps [does the cost matter?] to limit the greenhouse gases [CO2 currently constitutes about .04% of the atmosphere] that are causing the problem.” Also, the suggestion that“Team Trump” might want to “throw monkey wrenches into theoretically non-partisan science” is inconsistent with recent events. It’s actually the climate alarmists who seem anxious to avoid fact-based, rational debate of this subject. Compare Regulatory rollback: energy policy, part 2,7/31/17. Top
8/9/17, Carper cast as governors’ lobbyist in debate over healthcare, Nicole Gaudiano – According to this story, Senator Tom Carper complained to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer that Democratic voices weren’t being heard in the “healthcare drama” and wound up being tapped in early July to lead outreach efforts to state governors. As a former governor of Delaware and chair of the National Governors Association, Carper was a logical choice for this assignment, which he reportedly performed very effectively. Calling, texting, e-mailing, attending the NGA meeting in Rhode Island, he made contact with “up to half” of the governors or their staffs and urged them to oppose proposals to “repeal and replace” GovCare. This legislation would hurt your states – put your opposition on the record – Senate should return to “regular” order, with hearings, bipartisan amendments, and input from governors. Now the GOP has apparently struck out, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions [HELP] Committee has announced hearings in September on ways to stabilize the individual healthcare insurance [HCI] marketplaces. Carper says (1) “the stage has been set” for better, more affordable HCI and, (2) although he does not serve on the HELP committee, he hopes to play a role in bipartisan discussions on healthcare. Is the real objective to improve the system, or simply to save it by providing more taxpayer money to support it?Top
8/6/17A, Can fired-up liberals take Delaware? Matt Albright – “Some liberals look at Delaware and ask: If we’re a blue state, when are we going to start acting like it.” To “progressive-minded activists, many of them in their late 20s or early 30s,” it seems that the Democratic Party should be pursuing a more ambitious agenda. Higher minimum wage, debt-free college, single-payer healthcare, more education dollars for “at risk kids in public schools" – for which “society, particularly the wealthy, should be willing to pay more taxes.” Dustyn Thompson of Delaware United (an offshoot of the Bernie Sanders campaign in 2016) says the sticking point for Democrats is not whether these goals are good, that’s obviously true, it’s whether they are politically saleable or Democrats must settle for less. And despite the incumbency advantage in Delaware (only one sitting state legislator was voted out in 2016), a sea change in Democratic state politics may be in the making. One sign is a new chairman (Erik Raser-Schramm) and new executive director (Jessee Chadderdon) of the state Democratic Party, who advocate “change in a positive way.” That means not just throwing out the old guard, but bringing in people and embracing “new ideas, new vision, new priorities.” To be competitive everywhere, including Greenville and the reddest areas of Sussex County, Democrats may need to accept some candidates that don’t toe the party line on everything, e.g., are pro-life, against gun controls, or skeptical of minimum wage increases. Query whether young and idealistic liberals will be disposed to support such candidates, and also how said liberals will react when Democrats lose some of the electoral battles that are coming. Finally, “it’s worth reflecting on whether you think these activists’ vison for Delaware is one you want to embrace.” The column below elaborates on the single-payer healthcare theme, but utterly fails to support it. And if Senator Carper’s plan to run for re-election in 2018 (AP wire story) and former Vice President Joe Biden’s desire to become president (full page story in today’s News Journal) are any indication, the old guard in the DE Democratic Party may not be ready to go quietly into the night.
8/6/17B, On healthcare, whose side are Coons and Carper on? Re Vanella – This column slams Sen. Chris Coons’ column (see below) for suggesting an effort to find bipartisan improvements for the healthcare system instead of advocating a single payer system. “Government subsidized single-payer healthcare plans work. This is a fact. They are the most efficient, cheapest system that also happens to get the very best outcomes.” Capitalism runs on the profit motive, which can “be quite handy for some systems” (determining who makes the slimmest mobile phone, tastiest burger, quickest tax or cutest shoes are mentioned) but “has failed clearly and abjectly to provide the basic health[care] services due to every human being. Only the obstinate ideologue can ignore this fact.” As for Senator Carper, he’s a kindred spirit who is cosponsoring one of the bills that Coons mentions. And according to a brief AP wire report, Carper has changed his mind and is planning to run for reelection in 2018, so perhaps someone with sounder views on healthcare should challenge him. Whatever one thinks of single payer healthcare systems, their purported superiority is an opinion rather than a “fact.” The writer cleverly refrains from identifying the healthcare system of any specific country as a model as most of them have well-known deficiencies. How is “basic” healthcare defined, by the way, and if BHC is regarded as a “right” doesn’t it follow that basic food, housing, clothing, etc. should be rights as well? At the end of the day, what would be left of the concept of personal responsibility? 7/31/17, A bipartisan prescription for fixing the Affordable Care Act, Sen. Chris Coons – The healthcare debate has been long on rhetoric and short on solutions. It’s time to change this. Although Coons staunchly opposed all versions of the Republican healthcare bill, he assures readers that his opposition was “not rooted in partisanship.” After all, the ACA isn’t perfect, so all concerned should want to pass provisions that will make it better. For example: #Give individuals and small businesses greater access to more affordable, more accessible, and higher-quality care. To this end, a bill being sponsored by Sens. Carper, Coons and Tim Kaine of VA, the Individual Health Insurance Marketplace Improvement Act, would create “a permanent reinsurance program for the individual health[care] insurance [HCI] market” and thereby bring “more certainty to the marketplace.” The plan is said to be similar to “the successful program used to lower premiums and spur competition in the Medicare Part D [prescription drugs] program.” #Also, let’s expand and simplify the ACA’s small business tax credit, and direct the Treasury Department to make the small business reporting requirements more workable and less burdensome for employers. #Stay tuned for a bill to incentivize insurance companies [like Highmark] to stay in states with only dominant insurer [such as Delaware] and encourage other insurers to come back. #Congress should look at ways to make the ACA’s tax credits more generous so that hard-pressed Americans have to pay less for HCI out of their own pockets. #Review why healthcare costs are rising in the US and healthcare is so expensive here, including “a serious look” at the soaring cost of prescription drugs. Let’s reform the system so “costs are directly tied to the value of the service, rather than the number of procedures.” #Bipartisan efforts can succeed, witness how Coons and Carter worked with Sens. Pat Toomey & Marco Rubio in 2011 to clarify how the ACA applied to expatriate HCI plans. And in each of these areas, following the advice of “my friend, John McCain,” Coons will “keep looking for Republican partners willing to sit down at the negotiating table” and work to improve the ACA. Regular orders – committee hearings – “a real debate on the Senate floor.” The key thrust seems to be bailing out the faltering individual HCI market. No concessions are indicated re the individual or employer mandates, the federal government’s power to define what HCI plans should cover, or Medicaid reform. Seems a bit like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.
7/29/17, Delaware’s senators are bullish on future of debate, Xerxes Wilson – This story was written during the immediate aftermath to the Senate vote that defeated the Republicans’ “skinny” repeal bill. Senators Carper and Coons are now described as confident that attention will shift to fixing the Affordable Care Act. “We tried working against each other,” said Carper, “now, let’s work together. Start out by stabilizing the exchanges.” Coons called the showdown vote “a finish worthy of a movie,” and described what he observed in the hour or so before Sen. John McCain cast the deciding vote. Both DE senators praised McCain for putting politics aside to do what he believed was right, and they expressed a desire to work with Republicans to fix GovCare. But if Trump continues to block efforts to stabilize the exchanges and puts them in some kind of death spiral, said Carper, Democrats should try to ensure that he takes the blame. Isn’t bipartisanship wonderful?Top
7/25/17, Don’t buy Democrats’ misdirection on prevailing wage, DE Sen. Gerald Hocker (R-Ocean View) – Writer responds to Democratic column defending prevailing wage rule, 7/23/17B. Among other things, he (A) slams the “this is the bond bill” argument, pointing out that “state spending is state spending,” and (B) notes that the 24% markup for prevailing wage figure came from a Sussex County report on individual bids for a recent EMS substation. Would we really save 24% with prevailing wage? Probably not, but “even a 5-10 percent savings means tens of millions of dollars for more roads and schools.” And then the “rogue Department of Labor attempted an unconstitutional extension and expansion of the prevailing wage program” right after the legislative session ended, which was never mentioned to us in six months of discussion of the existing program. “The people of Delaware deserve better. Yet with a government that doesn’t work and economy that is in a death spiral, all our Democratic colleagues want to do is raise your taxes and protect their union funders.” We [the GOP] aren’t going to allow DE to go down the tubes as IL and CT have done. Top
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.