COMMENTARY: General Assembly Democrats misusing fiscal policy

By the start of the new fiscal year on July 1, the state of Delaware must have a new budget plan in place.

The good news is that in the early morning hours of Wednesday, we will enact a balanced spending plan, and we will have done it without a new tax increase.

The bad news is that this budget, along with the state’s other two “money bills” — Grants-in-Aid and the Bond Bill — contain cuts that will create needless hardship on some of our state’s most venerated organizations.

In a recent opinion piece, Speaker of the House Pete Schwartzkopf patted himself and his fellow Democratic legislators on the back while pointing an accusatory finger at House and Senate Republicans.

It is disappointing the leader of the one of the General Assembly’s two chambers has chosen to take this provocative, partisan stance.

While political ideology can inform decisions, it should not dictate actions. We have engaged in months of talks with other House and Senate leaders to resolve differences over budgetary issues and to find long-term solutions for funding needed transportation projects. Those discussions proved fruitless. Time and again, prudent actions we advocated were termed by our Democratic counterparts as “non-starters” and dismissed without discussion or consideration.

One such non-starter was our call to reform the state’s prevailing wage system — a mandated minimum wage that varies by occupation and location for all projects receiving state funding. The methods the state uses for. setting these wages are so inaccurate that using prevailing wage can increase the cost of public works projects — like school and road construction — by 30 to 100 percent. Democratic leaders refused to consider even looking at ways to set these rates to reflect the actual wages paid in the private sector because of opposition from their political allies in organized labor.

Another idea we proposed was to form a bipartisan commission to recommend ways in which state government could cut costs or otherwise become more efficient. Again, Democrats balked. In fact, they violated House Rules by bottling up a bill (House Joint Resolution 3) to create such a group without giving it the hearing it was due.

Now, House and Senate Democrats — who control both chambers of the General Assembly, as well as the budget-writing Joint Finance Committee — have crafted funding bills cutting money for state police, senior centers, volunteer fire companies, municipalities, counties and non-profit organizations helping Delawareans. They have done this while sitting on nearly $37 million in surplus cash they refuse to appropriate.

Instead, Democrats have chosen to inflict pain on some of our most respected organizations in a funding crisis they have manufactured with the apparent intent of demonizing Republicans.

Two years ago, General Assembly Democrats made permanent a package of “temporary tax hikes” instituted in 2009 to deal with a recessionary shortfall, placing a continued burden on taxpayers of more than $150 million annually.

Last year, they enacted higher business taxes, taking an additional $50 million from those organizations. This year, they’ve introduced a bill seeking to raise the state income tax, demanding another $100 million annually from Delawareans.

Even with this history, Speaker Schwartzkopf’s column takes Republicans to task for “refusing to consider any revenue measures.”

General Assembly Democrats are using our state’s fiscal policy to fight a political skirmish, at the cost of the welfare of the people they are pledged to serve.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Minority Leader Daniel Short, of Seaford, represents the 39th Representative District. His district contains the incorporated areas of Seaford and Blades.
Minority Whip Deborah Hudson, of Wilmington, represents the 12th Representative District. Her district contains the unincorporated area of Hockessin.

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