Carney speech centers on economy, budget


Sen. Stephanie Hansen, D-Middletown, laughs with Gov. John Carney after she accidentally introduced him as Gov. “John C. Markel” during a special session for the General Assembly in the Senate Chambers at Legislative Hall on Thursday. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

DOVER — In his first formal address to the General Assembly, Gov. John Carney took a bipartisan tone as he focused on the economy and state budget, while also touching on education and substance abuse.

The governor, a Democrat who took office in January, echoed themes he has emphasized for months, pledging to boost the economy, counter a budget shortfall and make the state a better place to live.

“The best way to move beyond a fiscal crisis like the one we’re in is to grow our economy,” he said in prepared remarks. “Stronger economic growth and more and better jobs help Delaware families. And it helps us fund the state’s budget.”

The Delaware Economic Development Office will be reformed into a public-private partnership as part of a “new, more dynamic economic development strategy,” said the governor, who in January signed an executive order reviewing DEDO.

Thursday’s speech was not officially a State of the State, but it served much of the same purpose, allowing the governor to lay out his agenda for the legislative session and beyond. Lawmakers, judges, cabinet secretaries and other powerbrokers in the state gathered in the Senate chamber to hear the governor’s address, with frequent breaks for applause during the speech.

Very high on Gov. Carney’s list of goals is eliminating a $386 million gap between projected revenues and spending. The governor’s proposal, presented last week, used a mix of cuts and tax increases to balance the budget, although it is lawmakers who have the final say.

“We have a lot of elected officials in the room today. I think I can speak for all of us when I say that none of us ran for office so we could cut our constituent’s favorite program or ask them to pay more in taxes,” Gov. Carney said.

“I know that all of you in the General Assembly are tired of sitting here year after year talking about how we can climb out of another budget hole. Some things are beyond our control, but this one is not. It’s within our power, this June, to put ourselves on a more sustainable financial footing.

“My budget does that, and I look forward to working with each of you on your ideas to do the same. What I will not do is use budget gimmicks or one-time fixes to bail us out on June 30, only to be right back here next year giving the same speech.”

With its bipartisan themes, the speech appeared to be well-received by legislators, who have said they are committed to balancing the budget.

“These are not partisan issues,” House Speaker Pete Schwartzkopf, D-Rehoboth Beach, said afterward. “These are bipartisan solutions coming forward hopefully to handle these issues. I think it was a good message to everybody, they needed to hear it. I think it’s a rallying cry to everybody.”

House Minority Leader Danny Short, R-Seaford, welcomed the address, which he said was “very consistent” with previous comments the governor has made.

Doubling down on plans to promote economic development along the Delaware Bay and Delaware River, Gov. Carney said he hopes to update the Coastal Zone Act, which limits industrial activity along the coast.

“Our goal is to allow redevelopment in parts of our state that were once home to good-paying manufacturing jobs,” he said. “I believe we can make reasonable changes to this law that will protect our environment while allowing our economy to grow. I want us to work together over the next few months so that we leave here in June with reasonable reforms that will leave our state better off.”

Although Gov. Carney deviated little from his prepared comments, things went off-script at the beginning. Sen. Stephanie Hansen, D-Middletown, accidentally introduced the governor as “John C. Markell,” a combination of Gov. Carney’s and former Gov. Jack Markell’s names. The line drew gasps and laughs, but the governor played it off with a laugh.

At one point during his remarks, Gov. Carney recognized a correctional officer Joshua Wilkinson, one of four individuals taken hostage in an inmate rebellion at the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center Feb. 1. The incident resulted in the death of officer Steven Floyd, and the governor on Thursday reiterated promises to prevent another such occurrence.

“Officer Wilkinson: I pledge to you that we will make real improvements and we will make them quickly,” he said.

Other highlights from the speech included an expanded focus on opioid addiction, a more decentralized Department of Education and a new human resources agency.

Gov. Carney closed the 25-minute speech by calling for “shared sacrifice,” a term he has frequently used to emphasize his commitment to not placing undue burden on any one group.

“Delawareans are willing to chip in and help with our budget problem, as long as their neighbors are asked to do the same,” he said.

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