COMMENTARY: End the brinkmanship over Delaware budget and economy

For weeks leading up to the General Assembly’s budget deadline, Republican leaders like Greg Lavelle took great pride in boasting to everyone at Legislative Hall who would listen — especially reporters — that blowing past June 30 was somewhere between inevitable and part of their party’s master plan.

So it might have come as a surprise to Delaware State News readers when, last weekend, Delaware GOP Chairman Michael Harrington sought to revise history by heaping blame for this year’s budget impasse solely at the feet of Democrats. (“Delaware Democrats derailing state’s economy,” Opinion, Oct. 8)

For the Republicans, this was always a political game — one that Lavelle dressed the part for when he showed up on the Senate floor in shorts and sneakers on July 2. But at least he showed. With no intention of compromising in good faith, the Minority Whip was nowhere to be found for many of the budget negotiating sessions in the final weeks of June.

Jesse Chadderdon

The bottom line is nobody was thrilled with the final budget, but when one party prioritizes political theater over progress, we can see the results.

What Harrington conspicuously fails to mention is that no budget can pass in the Senate without Republican support, so from the beginning, Democrats had incentive to come to the table to make a deal. But that’s no easy feat when Republicans like Dover’s Colin Bonini and Ocean View’s Gerald Hocker are obstinate “no” votes on the budget every single year, regardless of how it’s constructed or what agreements are reached.

There is a litany of other accusations levied by Harrington that don’t pass the smell test, but one is particularly egregious: the cynical mantra that Democrats forced through tax increases without cutting spending. Roughly $200 million in state spending was cut from the budget in this fiscal year alone, while personal income taxes haven’t been touched since the Great Recession.

With that said, Delawareans deserve a more grown-up conversation around our budget and economy. We can’t continue to beat the drum about running our state like a business without acknowledging that businesses face rising costs over time. And we won’t reach our full potential as a state unless we stop thinking about our budget strictly as a math problem and truly hone in on the kind of place we want to live, work and raise a family.

What kind of schools do we want for our children, and how will that help us attract new industry and job creators?

What kind of transportation network and infrastructure do we want for our families, and how will that help create jobs and attract new employers?

What kind of health care do our citizens require, and what kind of services do our seniors and most vulnerable populations deserve?

As the state with the lowest individual tax burden in the entire nation — where a middle class worker earning $60,001 a year is paying the same tax rate as someone earning $600,000 — we must have these conversations. At a time when President Trump and congressional Republicans are proposing massive tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, Delaware must strengthen its resolve to stand up and fight for the working class.

Yes, we can and should work with the GOP on making sure our government is operating efficiently. That’s why there was b-partisan agreement on plans to better understand the cost-drivers in our health care system and in public education. And it’s why, when accounting for inflation and population growth, we’ve passed no-growth budgets over the last decade.

But we cannot allow critical conversations about serving our citizenry, balancing our budget, and growing our economy to be boiled down to back-of-the-napkin math that allows one party to protect its political interests at the expense of other Delawareans.

Pennsylvania, with a Republican legislature, is facing a third consecutive budget impasse that’s having real fiscal consequences. Years of austerity budgeting by Republicans in Kansas have led to an economic crisis in that state.

There is a mounting pile of evidence that clearly shows the Republican Party can’t be both the party of “no” and the party of “growth.” The question is, will Republicans in Delaware realize it and get serious about playing a role in forging a long-term solution, or should Delawareans resign themselves to another round of election-year obstructionism?

 

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