Smyk, Vaughan and Ayotte offer answers in 20th District

20th Representative District

The 20th Representative District serves the Milton area.

Steve Smyk, Republican

Age: 51

Occupation: Full-time legislator (Former Delaware National Guard, retired Delaware state trooper)

Family: Wife Judy, children Leah, Sydney and Gabe

Elective experience: State representative since 2012

Barbara W. Vaughan, Democrat

Age: 87

Occupation: Retired

Family: Three children and six grandchildren

Elective experience: Elected to four terms on Lewes City Council from 2004 to 2012 — stepped down in 2012 because there had been no challengers in 2006, 2008 and 2010 hence no real discussion of the issues.

Donald Ayotte, Independent Party of Delaware

Age: 69

Occupation: Retired journalist

Family: Married with a 28 year-old son

Elective experience: None


1. What would be your top priority in this office?

Smyk: Making sure I am available to my constituents ensuring their needs are met and that I take their voice to Dover, not mine or any special group. It is one of the reasons I hold a monthly constituent coffee meeting, giving the people living in our district an easy, predictable way to speak with me face-to-face.

Steve Smyk

Steve Smyk

Vaughan: To find effective and common sense solutions to the budget deficit.

Ayotte: To enter legislation for the formation of an elected office of inspector general. The mere presence of this office would eliminate at least 50 percent of the current level of corruption.

2. If you could change one state policy or law, what would it be?

Smyk: Although the economy has been gradually strengthening, it remains fragile. Through this time we have spent tens of millions of dollars annually during this administration to construct bike paths throughout the state. Bike paths are a great investment for a future Delaware has never really had and worthy of funding, yet many other parts of the commerce, as well as state services provided to our public, have been underfunded to the point of failure. Our most vulnerable populations suffer most. We should reprioritize our spending to ensure our vital needs are met before diverting taxpayers money to desires and unproven investments.

Barbara Vaughn

Barbara Vaughn

Vaughan: The death penalty. I realize that the Supreme Court found the current law unconstitutional but I am quite sure that there will be an effort to remedy the problem and thereby reinstate the death penalty. I believe the Legislature should directly prohibit it

Ayotte: Establish constitutional amendments for the creation of the rights to initiative, referendum and recall.

3. Do you support raising the minimum wage?

Smyk: I voted in favor of increasing Delaware’s minimum wage to $8.25 per hour. That hike was fully phased-in just last summer. I supported that measure only after speaking with dozens of small business owners in my district to gauge their opinions. However, those same business owners have since related that they do not support any further increase so soon as they continue to manage the last increase. I pride myself on representing my constituents and the overwhelming opinion of my district does not currently support another hike in the minimum wage.

Vaughan: Yes, by 50 cents a year to $15.

Donald Ayotte

Donald Ayotte

Ayotte: Yes, with a rising cost of living, wages should follow suit.

4. How can the state best create jobs?

Smyk: We can take steps to reduce electricity costs, which are higher than most other states in the nation. I’ve tried to pass a bill that would allow power companies the authority to manage their investments to better serve the customer by decreasing the government regulations that mandate their involvement in unsound alternative power sources. The regulations of permitting from several layers of town, county and state governments have slowed the process of start-up businesses and the growth of successful businesses to the point of discouragement for many entrepreneurs. These regulations may be necessary or merely well intended, but paramount is the cooperation of all these regulatory agencies to expedite the process of permitting and inspections.

Vaughan: Improve transportation, streamline state permits and laws, support the Delaware Technical and Community Colleges in their support for entrepreneurs through the Million Cups program.

Ayotte: The state doesn’t create private sector jobs. It simply creates a more favorable environment for businesses to thrive and hire people.

5. Would you vote for legislation reinstating the death penalty?

Smyk: Yes. All of Delaware’s police and corrections organizations strongly support the death penalty. They maintain — and I concur — that capital punishment is an effective deterrent against the worst crimes and that it helps to protect the welfare of our men and women who regularly deal with the extreme predators of society. Delaware repealed the deaht penalty once before. When the price paid by several victims, whose families still live today with unspeakable pain of the knowledge of the horrific torture their loved ones suffered before losing their lives to the pleasures of sadistic madness, it brought back the penalty of death. However, Delaware adopted strict measures then and again several years later to ensure the process leading to the use of this punishment was judiciously sound.

Vaughan: No.

Ayotte: NO, I believe that not one innocent person should die. If a person is found to be not guilty after they are executed, it is already too late.

6. Should the state make changes to its laws on marijuana?

Smyk: I am interpreting this to mean: “Should we legalize marijuana?” First, we cannot confuse the medical uses of this plant with recreational use. I have assisted our compassionate care facility in New Castle County and have supported the second location to begin operating in Kent soon. We have only just begun to learn of the benefits of this plant, most of which do not contain the intoxicant THC. However, we have the advantage of observing the experiences of Colorado post-recreational legalization. The national movement for recreational use is in haste. We would be better served to observe the mistakes of others before introducing another intoxicant into society at large. Although not all marijuana users graduate to harder drugs, many often do. These are the loved ones that now share their struggles of addiction with their families or lurk for unsuspecting victims to steal or con just enough to support their next high. Colorado has seen a dramatic rise in impaired driving incidents and fatalities, adolescent use, increased public costs and overdose leading to psychosis. Evidence presented to me by our firemen, emergency physicians and our neurosurgeons alone lead the prudent person to believe the societal costs of legalizing recreational marijuana outweigh any financial benefit the state would reap from such an action.

Vaughan: Before changes, I would like to monitor experience implementing the decriminalization law.

Ayotte: YES, it should be taxed and legalized in small amounts and for medical use.

7. Should the state lower the tax rates on the casinos, do nothing or take some other step to provide relief?

Smyk: I am willing to consider cutting taxes on the casinos’ slot machine revenue. Currently, the state takes 43.5 percent of those proceeds. Sussex County does not have a casino and there are several people employed by them from my district. However, Delaware’s three casinos employ about 2,500 people directly and hundreds more working for companies with casino business or those tied to horse racing. The Delaware Lottery — of which casino operations are the largest component — generates about $200 million annually for taxpayers. In the face of falling revenues and increasing competition from Pennsylvania and Maryland, it would be shortsighted to continue taxing the casinos at an unsustainable rate and jeopardize a major source of jobs and revenue

Vaughan: Cautiously provide aid.

Ayotte: Casinos are a private business and should survive on good business practices. The state should not tax casinos at 43 percent of their gross revenue, causing them to fail.

8. What changes would you make to the Department of Education?

Smyk: There are many theories of how to better educate our children and adults. The greatest concern I’ve heard from my teachers would be to seek greater authority vested in the local level allowing the teachers in the classroom the chance to address the needs of the pupil instead of mass education of national or state standards beyond skills of reason. Luckily, I’ve observed Cape Henlopen’s Consortium as a standard bearer of success and have enjoyed a close relationship with Cape Henlopen and Indian River school districts.

Vaughan: I would start the conversation about reducing the number of boards of education. There are 19 in the state that is much too small to support such a large number.

Ayotte: I would introduce legislation to consolidate school districts by counties, or in the case of Wilmington create a school district for the city of Wilmington and a separate school district for the rest of New Castle County. I would also strive to get rid of Common Core and raise academic standards.

9. Does the state spend too much, too little or the right amount?

Smyk: Our state is mandated to enact a balanced operating budget each year, including a 2 percent buffer between expected revenue and spending. Having said that, there are signs of fiscal trouble looming and we need to prepare by prioritization of spending to control growth — starting with the next budget, our state leadership should meet regularly with the finance committee before the next session begins while other legislators commit themselves to respecting fiscal responsibility in proposals for the remaining sessions.

Vaughan: Some spending is unnecessary. I believe the John Carney administration will energetically review programs for efficiency and effectiveness.

Ayotte: The state spends too much of issues of less importance and far too little on issues that are very important. We need to cut pork and frills and concentrate on essentials.

10. What should be done, if anything, to increase revenue for the state or cut spending?

Smyk: Two separate groups — analyzing state spending and state revenues — delivered reports and recommendations earlier this year. Recently, revenue growth has lagged behind anticipated budgetary needs. We need to bring the two into balance, first looking at ways to improve state government and reduce expenses with the greatest emphasis on economic welfare and business growth.

Vaughan: See previous answer. The taxes in Delaware are ridiculously low. I would support increasing the taxes on those with over $250,000 annual income and I would increase the gas tax (see below).

Ayotte: A friendlier business environment would increase Delaware’s employment situation at the state and county tax level. When people are working at “living wage jobs,” they also pay more taxes.

11. Do changes need to be made in the state’s employee health care structure?

Smyk: Health care has been one of the leading drivers of higher expenses for private businesses and governments nationwide for the last two decades. We need to explore all options, including ways to flatten the cost growth curve, while trying to maintain the maximum level of benefits. Some of those solutions are knocking at the doors of those decision-makers and yet Delaware remains up to 30 percent higher in health care costs than surrounding states. Delaware has been blessed with excellent leadership in its many labor organizations. Those groups have come together to seek and provide assistance and solutions to many of those problems without financial burdens to the state. Let’s allow the partnerships Delaware has with these labor leaders to work for all its citizens.

Vaughan: I would task the new insurance commissioner to do a thorough review of the relationship of the state with health care programs and relationships. I believe that an overhaul is needed and possible.

Ayotte: Yes, we should get rid of Obamacare!

12. What should be done to impact the state’s heroin crisis?

Smyk: There is not just one single answer to this problem. One of the reasons that heroin is attractive is that it is relatively cheap. Higher interception rates will squeeze supplies and drive prices higher. We also need additional treatment options in Sussex County to help users break the cycle of addiction. The new Sun Behavioral facility will greatly assist in that goal. Treatment must be available to all those seeking help. We cannot forget to help those who enter the penal systems. Corrections has been severely underfunded to their breaking points. There are not enough guards and support staffing to fulfill their obligation of behavior modification with the programs they know are successful. Addiction is one of those responsibilities that corrections would love to address if given the support to do so and every Delaware citizen should demand that corrections be placed as a priority in financial support.

Vaughan: It is clear that incarceration for drug use does not work. We need more drug treatment and mental health facilities. It is far less expensive to treat addiction than it is to put someone in jail. It is also much wiser social policy.

Ayotte: Since we cannot stem the flow of heroin at the state level, the state should help addicts and their families. More widespread programs with professional services and community programs to help the families of heroin addicts recover and once again become productive members of society.

13. How can the state best continue to fund road and bridge projects?

Smyk: Currently, we are on the right path. Needed road and bridge projects are moving forward under the excellent leadership of Secretary Jennifer Cohan. Correcting the structural issue in the Transportation Trust Fund, which is being bled by about $250 million annually to pay for DelDOT and DART operations, would solve the issue over the long term, without increasing fuel taxes.

Vaughan: I would increase the gas tax to allow people from Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia to help with necessary projects.

Ayotte: Since a large percentage of road and bridge money comes from federal funding, the state should easily be able to raise the state’s share of funding to improve infrastructure. We would easily be able to improve bridges and road if we could cut down the level of waste and corruption and institute greater efficiency in construction management.

14. Anything else?

Smyk: I hope to continue my service to this state by representing the 20th district in all the pertinent matters they have so warmly invested in me to carry on their behalf.

Vaughan: There is a tsunami of retirees relocating to Sussex County. The social services necessary to support an aging population are not adequate. The Department of Health and Social Services estimates that the number of folks over 80 will increase over 170 percent by the 2030s. The requests for services already exceeds the capability of responding, resulting in waiting lists. Attention needs to be paid now.

Ayotte: No.


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