COMMENTARY: JFC, Delaware General Assembly leadership dropping the ball

I am getting very sick of the political games in Dover. Very sick. We have the Joint Finance Committee cutting programs left and right, with House and Senate leadership on both sides of the aisle continuing to bicker over raising taxes or having more cuts. We elect these people to do what is right for Delaware, not to kick the can until the next election. They continue to use the most vulnerable citizens of Delaware in their political football games: the students, those who are sick or rely on state assistance, and those who live in poverty. Enough.

In a Delaware State news article, JFC Co-Chair Melanie Smith brags about needing only $60 million in “soft cuts” while Speaker of the House Pete Schwartzkopf says further cuts would be “drastic“. Do these two even talk to each other? They are in the same damn party. Meanwhile, we have Senator Greg Lavelle preaching from his pulpit wanting the state to have even more cuts. But both sides are not giving serious thought to State Rep. John Kowalko’s bills which would raise taxes on the wealthy of Delaware. Hell, they spit in our faces in the House by passing the very ridiculous estate tax appeal last month.

Delaware Republicans, let’s get one thing straight: prevailing wage will NEVER happen as long as the Democrats hold power in the House and Senate. It is a pipe dream. Delaware Democrats, the Republicans will NEVER allow you to raise taxes on the wealthy. Delaware citizens, we are screwed.

I believe they are making these “drastic” cuts in the JFC to cut to the heart of Delaware. By going after the most vulnerable of Delaware citizens, they are hoping the legislators will cave and come up with some sort of short-term compromise to fix the budget. Governor Markell left the station, but not without spending our way to prosperity. But guess what, the bill came in for that spending and we have treated the state wallet like an ATM without any limits.

In Delaware, we have this insane tendency to vote the SAME people into office every election. While there are some very good State Reps and Senators filling the halls in Dover, I fear we have reached a stalemate in Dover. For far too many of our legislators it is about one thing: holding on to power and the next election. The Delaware Way has become a steaming pile of horse manure.

Gov. Carney and his office have shown no sign of getting rid of this stink in Delaware. My recent FOIA complaint against Carney’s office over the Family Services Cabinet Council generated a response from his office. Because the Attorney General’s office is still working on the legal opinion for this, all I can say is the response is one of the most insulting things I’ve read in my entire life. It reeks of corruption and deals made behind closed doors. The solution, which is Carney’s way of saying “Don’t mess with me Ohlandt, cause I will do what I want no matter what” screams of the very thing I have grown to expect in Delaware. It evaporates hope and replaces it with a bad taste that no mouthwash could replace. I can’t wait until this legal opinion comes out to the public so they can see firsthand what I am talking about.

In the State News article, Matt Bittle discussed the decision by the JFC to hold off on meeting until later in June.

Bittle writes: “The move, an atypical one, minimizes public backlash and concern in response to spending reductions and gives the caucuses more time to come to an agreement on tax increases.”

I disagree with this. The public backlash is just beginning. I see more discussion about what is going on with the budget this year than I’ve seen in years. The very ugly move by the JFC yesterday on not allowing the cut sheets from yesterday to be released to the media or the public is the shadiest thing I’ve seen in my entire time blogging.

In response to cuts already made, I’m sure their phones and emails were lighting up like a Christmas tree. Get over it. It is your job to listen to your constituents, not to stifle their voices. When you play games with people, don’t get upset when they voice their concerns over it. Last I heard, freedom of speech was still a real thing. Last I heard, we elected you to balance the budget, not to keep it from us.

Because of loopholes in state code, there are no-brainer ways to raise revenue in this state that are impossible because of budget allocations. We could raise the gas tax but that would only go towards the transportation fund. How about shifting that in state code so it would go to the general fund? I would support a ten cent raise in the gas tax if it would dig us out of this mess that the General Assembly created in the first place.

It is things like that which make it impossible for me to give the General Assembly more than a shrug when this time of year comes around. They need to think outside of their very small boxes and get creative. Because I am sure they will get the same salary, benefits, and pensions. Meanwhile, I know I am going to have to pay more for getting less in Delaware as will every single citizen in this state. Except some of those really rich people who will bully legislators into making sure their shared sacrifice is palatable to their over-stuffed bank accounts.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Kevin Ohlandt, of Dover, runs the Exceptional Delaware blog.

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