Legislative Luncheon focused on wages, weed and taxes

Rep. Lyndon Yearick, R- Dover, responds to a question about raising the minimum wage as Rep. Jeff Spiegelman, R-Clayton, and Sen, David Lawson, R-Marydel, look on during the Central Delaware Chamber of Commerce Legislative Luncheon at the Rollins Center on Thursday. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

DOVER — The big talk of the Central Delaware Chamber of Commerce (CDCC) Legislative Luncheon on Thursday was, as one might assume, taxes.

The annual event that hosts over 200 business owners, dignitaries and community leaders at Dover Downs Hotel & Casino is an opportunity for chamber members to quiz Kent County politicians specifically about their legislative goals for the ongoing session. It’s usually topped with a brief address from the governor and followed by chamber members posing a handful of questions to a lawmaker panel.

In Gov. John Carney’s opening talk, he bemoaned the perceived skills gap much of the country is up against and stressed the importance of the state making investment in its workforce.

“Investments we make in education and higher education are more important than ever,” he said. “Most of the jobs in the future are going to be jobs that require more education than ever. I was in Washington a few weeks ago at a National Governors Association meeting and one of the things pointed out was that we have more jobs looking for people to do those jobs than we have people looking for work — 6 million people across the country are looking for work and there are 7 million jobs.”

The seven-politician panel included state Reps. Lyndon Yearick, R-Camden, Jeff Spiegelman, R-Clayton, Charles Postles, R-Milford, Bryan Shupe, R-Milford, William Bush, D-Cheswold, William Carson, D-Smyrna and Sen. Dave Lawson, R-Marydel.

Minimum wage

The first topic at issue for the panel was HB47 which would remove the training and youth wage minimums established last year. Seven months after a fight over the minimum wage almost completely derailed the final day of the 149th General Assembly, Democrats are attempting this session to undo a key part of the compromise.

Gov. John Carney was the keynote speaker at the Central Delaware Chamber of Commerce Legislative Luncheon. . (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

Introducing the topic, the CDCC asked that the legislators not support the bill in committee or on the floor. The organization sees it as damaging to the state’s ability to be a competitive, fair and cost-effective place to do business.

Agreeing, Rep. Spiegelman railed against the minimum wage.

“We put in the training wage last year and one of the reasons we did that is because 70 percent of people making minimum wage were under the age 18 and so as a result, the vast majority of people making this wage are people for whom a training wage would be appropriate,” he said. “Yesterday in the Economic Development Committee, we actually passed a much better idea for helping out the working poor — the earned income tax credit. It does a much better job of assisting the same people that, in theory, the minimum wage is designed to assist and importantly it creates incentives for getting out of the situation where someone is earning a low wage. It’s a better way of doing it. The welfare safety net was supposed to be a trampoline, you were supposed to hit it and bounce back up not stay on it for extended periods of time. By increasing the minimum wage, you’re really just encouraging staying at that wage.”

HB47 is expected to face its first test in committee some time next week.

Property Tax

The next item on the CDCC’s punch-list was the proposed statewide property tax to create a Community College Infrastructure Fund that would address extensive deferred maintenance at Delaware Technical Community College campuses throughout the state.

SB50, sponsored by Democratic Sen. Harris McDowell, stalled in late February as supporters withdrew from the idea in the face of push back from constituencies.

Scott Kidner with the Central Delaware Chamber of Commerce asks Delaware Legislators a question. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

The panel of seven legislators at the luncheon were unanimous in their aversion to the bill as well.

Condemning the proposal, Sen. Lawson noted that a new property tax to fund a one-time expense would set a bad tax precedent, but did say that the maintenance needs of the colleges were dire.

“Where would it stop?” he asked of the new proposed tax. “If we do it for DelTech, would we do it for Polytech? Would we do it for New Castle? That’s a door we don’t need to open. But, this is something we need to fix. This maintenance has been deferred and deferred so many times — now it’s so bad something has to be done.”

Also in strong opposition, Rep. Yearick suggested that the college look into implementing fees to fund the needed infrastructure repairs.

“I would encourage DelTech to look at impact fees, service fees or user fees for the students that the state could find a way to match that on a yearly basis,” he suggested.

Marijuana

Comically drawing from a fake “joint” during his question, Dover city councilman William Hare asked the panel where they stood on marijuana legalization for recreational use.

Legislators are expected to file a measure that would allow recreational marijuana use in the coming weeks. A similar attempt failed in the House last June.

The panel was mostly in opposition to the prospect, but some had a wait-and-see approach. Calling last year’s attempt a “terribly written bill,” Rep. Spiegelman said that if the state were to consider legalization, lawmakers should carefully consider the mistakes and successes other states who have already legalized it have experienced.

Bob Mooney and Pamela Martin with Delaware Crime Stoppers explain the importance of their organization. News/Marc Clery)

“We don’t have a bill in front of us yet and we have two competing ideas in the General Assembly of what that final bill is going to look like,” he said. “I’m not going to vote for a terrible bill just because people want to smoke weed. At the same time, I’m not going to ban the idea of voting for it if, indeed, it is a bill that will bring in as much money as other state’s have.”

Claiming that it was well-known that marijuana use “permanently damages” the developing brains of anyone under 25, Rep. Postles was strongly against the idea.

“For the life of me, I cannot understand why we want to take a young, promising segment of our population and permanently shortcut what their potential is down the road,” he said. “Not only in terms of employment, but in terms of their lifestyles and ultimately what the social cost to the rest of society will be to make up what those people have lost in productive capacity.”

Taxes

The CDCC also expressed concern over two new proposed personal income tax proposals and a water tax proposal being floated in the General Assembly. Again, more or less in agreement, the panel rejected the idea of onerous new tax schemes.

“I’m opposed to the new taxes mentioned because I think there’s a fundamental flaw in the thinking that if we have more money, we can solve the problems that we have,” said Rep. Shupe. “As you can see, in a lot of our infrastructures including healthcare and education, we are among the top ten in spending for these institutions, yet our return on that investment is lower than 20 percent of the states out there right now. So, to suggest that more money is going to fix our problems, I think is wrong. We need to go back to the drawing table and take a look at what we’re actually getting for our money.”

Believing that the “key to long-term growth is small businesses,” Rep. Carson also pushed back hard on the notion of more taxes.

“Leave the tax base alone, let’s work on businesses,” he said flatly.

Budget smoothing

Last on the CDCC’s list of concerns was a question concerning any upcoming legislation that would establish a Budget Stabilization Fund to “smooth” out budgetary deficits and surpluses. For instance, the state faced a $400 million deficit in 2017 and followed it with an over $400 million increase in spending in 2018.

HB 460, the first leg of a constitutional amendment that supporters said would put and end to “boom and bust” negations among lawmakers, was released from committee last year but stalled shortly afterward. Another similar bill is expected to be put in front of legislators again this session.

Again speaking with one voice, the panel all expressed support of the “common sense” policy that would limit year-on-year budget volatility.

“It’s an opportunity to hold your elected officials accountable,” said Rep. Yearick. “Unfortunately it takes a constitutional amendment to force us to live within our means.”

Staff writer Ian Gronau can be reached at 741-8272 or igronau@newszap.com

You are encouraged to leave relevant comments but engaging in personal attacks, threats, online bullying or commercial spam will not be allowed. All comments should remain within the bounds of fair play and civility. (You can disagree with others courteously, without being disagreeable.) Feel free to express yourself but keep an open mind toward finding value in what others say. To report abuse or spam, click the X in the upper right corner of the comment box.

Facebook Comment