Markell makes last State of the State Address today

DOVER — When Gov. Jack Markell steps to the dais this afternoon, it will mark his final State of the State Address.

Previous speeches have served to unveil key priorities for the next year, highlight past accomplishments and assure citizens the state is on the right track.

While many topics have been covered, job creation, business growth and education reform have been perhaps the three most enduring themes in Gov. Markell’s past seven addresses.

He has used the annual speech to unveil programs for education, infrastructure, economic development, public safety and criminal justice.

The speech, lawmakers say, helps set the agenda for the rest of the legislative session and provides key insight into executive branch priorities.

“The governor kind of paints a picture,” said President Pro Tempore Patricia Blevins, D-Elsmere. “He tells a story at each of his States of the State.”

This year, lawmakers, cabinet officials and other guests will gather in the House chamber to hear the state’s chief executive, and the speech can be viewed on A link will be placed on shortly before 2 p.m.

Gov. Markell typically saves the details of his speech for the big reveal, and true to that, he declined to reveal specifics last week.

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Gov. Jack Markell enters the House chamber in January 2015 to deliver a State of the State address that focused on job creation and economic growth. Today’s speech, Gov. Markell’s final State of the State Address as Delaware’s chief executive, can be viewed on A link will be placed on shortly before 2 p.m. (Delaware State News/Dave Chambers)

Some lawmakers caution the annual address belongs to the executive branch, not the Legislature, meaning details can be hard to come by in advance.

Despite that element of uncertainty, leading members of the General Assembly say many of the same ideas and objectives, as well as the usual new initiatives, figure to be included.

Lawmakers also expect an element of reflection to be present. With Gov. Markell in his final 12 months, lawmakers think he will use the speech as an opportunity not only to point to future goals but to detail his tenure.

Speaker of the House Pete Schwartzkopf, D-Rehoboth Beach, believes the speech will be a bit more informal and lighthearted, with broad highlights of the past seven years under the current administration.

That’s a sentiment shared by others.

“Obviously, we all want to feel that we’ve made a difference in the state and certainly after … seven years he’ll want to point out the things that he feel have changed under his leadership,” Minority Leader Sen. Gary Simpson, R-Milford, said.

His counterpart in the House, Minority Leader Rep. Danny Short, R-Seaford, said this year’s address will show what Gov. Markell “thinks is a recap of his two terms” and what he aims to accomplish in his last year.

But while a retrospective could be a central part of the speech, there remains a plethora of issues in Delaware, some of which Gov. Markell surely will seek to tackle today.

The governor’s office has been releasing briefs on different subjects in advance of the address. The six sent out so far focus on government responsibility and transparency, helping the youngest students, improving schools, creating jobs, reforming the justice system and providing more government services.

“In laying out his priorities for the year in his final State of the State address, Gov. Markell will talk about building on the progress Delaware has made by ‘expecting more,’ even during challenging times,” a spokesman said in the initial release last week.

Major themes

Every one of the four caucus leaders expects the economic picture to remain a central focus, especially after chemical giant DuPont announced in December its merger with the Dow Chemical Co. and subsequent cutting of 1,700 positions.

Sen. Blevins hopes to hear reasons to have confidence that the state can continue to attract companies and boost its economic picture.

“I think we’d all like to see some light at the end of the tunnel with regard to state revenue,” she said, noting the governor has “more of an insider’s view” of revenue trends and expectations.

Citing past speeches, Sen. Simpson anticipates education being a major topic. With the General Assembly raising vehicle fees last year to generate money for infrastructure, he also expects the governor to detail the road and bridge improvements made possible as a result.

The clean water initiative, first pitched in 2014, could make a comeback as well, he said. The plan would have created a fee to be used to clean Delaware’s waterways, a goal the governor has mentioned at several points in his second term.

Several lawmakers predict legislation overhauling the corporate income tax will be mentioned as a sign of what Delaware is doing to compete in the global economy.

The bill passed the House with ease last week and could be voted on by the Senate today.

Previous iterations have covered a wide range of topics, and Sen. Blevins said she expects that to continue this year.

“He’s talked about just about any topic that’s related to state government,” she said of the governor.

Rep. Short wants to hear Wilmington’s plight discussed.

The city has been marked as one of the country’s most dangerous, with more than two dozen murders last year.

Meanwhile, conflict with Mayor Dennis Williams and the legislature’s budget-writing committee has held up the appropriation of $1.52 million approved by lawmakers last month to combat crime.

“As goes our largest city, sometimes goes our state,” Rep. Short said.

Republicans have not always been receptive to all of the governor’s talking points. Sen. Simpson said he “has no hopes at all that he’ll bring up any of those issues that are important to Republicans,” such as prevailing wage reform and right-to-work laws.

Casting several past proposals, such as the water tax, as being overly general, he said he would prefer to hear more “substance” in some cases.

While the governor has dealt with a wide range of matters and concerns, the economy almost always has been front and center.

Gov. Markell’s tenure, in contrast to his immediate predecessors’ years in office, has seen a great deal of financial uncertainty, from taking over in the midst of the Great Recession to finishing his term confronted by the DuPont merger.

Many of his past speeches have centered on budget woes and the importance of economic development, themes several lawmakers believe will continue.

How much time the governor spends looking back at time in office today is unknown to all but a few at this point.

Sen. Blevins, for her part, is hoping there is a reflective element.

“It’s sentimental to many of us to know that we’re hearing his last State of the State,” she said.

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