Commentary: SB 50 is an ‘unprincipled slippery slope’

Delaware’s Senate Bill 50 would grant authority to the Delaware Technical Community College (DTCC) to impose a new statewide tax to endow a DTCC infrastructure fund. If that isn’t enough to get your attention, it would also grant them the authority to raise this tax as their “unelected board” deems necessary. An unprincipled slippery slope!

In a letter late this week to legislators, DTCC President Mark Brainard said, “After meeting this week with a few of our most ardent supporters in the General Assembly, I have decided to ask Senator McDowell and Representative Osienski not to seek passage of Senate Bill 50 at this time.”

Bill Bowden

While this is a step in the right direction, SB50 is simply bad government at any time. They have tried to get this passed in many sessions before, and I fully expect them to try again.

As taxpayers, we have a contract with our government in a democracy. The contract is a two-way agreement: we pay the government taxes to run things, and the democracy gives us a say (a vote) in how they run things. To break this contract, by approving SB50, would be un-American. If passed, this would be a yearly pot of taxpayer money(millions) set aside for DTCC use. In principle, this is the same type of government action that Americans fought against over 200 years ago.

Every year the Joint Finance Committee (JFC) and the Joint Committee on Capital Improvement (Bond Committee) labors through the difficult task of deciding what we can afford to do compared to what we want/need to do.

These are “elected officials” who we can hold accountable if they are not representing our views. Apparently, some feel that DTCC is “special” when compared to the many needs in running our state government. While I believe DTCC is a huge asset to our state and deserving of the support we can afford, I don’t find them any different from the many other agencies, organizations, and courts funded by our state of Delaware’s budget.

While the immediate threat of SB50 is probably going away, they still need to focus on three areas: how can we protect our infrastructure investment and overcome this 100 million dollar mess that DTCC is in, what management actions/inactions caused this huge problem in the first place, and we need to explore opportunities to make DTCC more efficient and effective.

DTCC needs to show more resourcefulness in how they spend their allotted budget, along with tuition fees, to meet their ongoing needs. They should compete for available budget dollars, based on the merits of their needs, and not given a free pass to tax and spend as they see fit. I can’t think of any other entity that would not like this deal and could make the case that they need a special tax as well.

Our legislature should consider three steps to get this in control:

1. Our legislature should fulfill their oversight responsibilities and put DTCC through the Sunset Committee process (or special committee) to understand how they are managing their money. They need to determine where the DTCC board has been as this mismanagement of their budget has evolved into such a huge problem for infrastructure maintenance. Mandated improvements are required.

It seems pretty simple to me, as a homeowner, that if you need a new roof, your heater is broken, and you have leaky pipes causing mold, you don’t spend the only money you have building a new addition or to take your family on a cruise. By ignoring these fundamental needs, it is essentially what they have done.

Last year DTCC got almost 90 million dollars from the state budget. This amounts to over a BILLION dollars since 2006 when they say their deferred maintenance problem started escalating. What have they been spending their money on?

It is reported that when previous president Lonnie George retired, his state pension for life would be about $356,000 a year – which was 78 percent of his annual compensation of $455,000 at the time. It seems to me that this board is out of touch and needs help.

2. Legislators should explore the idea that DTCC should be brought back in-house as another agency? Would they function better by having all the checks and balances provided to state agencies? Could their operation be more efficient and effective by eliminating redundant services like Facilities Management, Human Resources, Management and Budget, and Information Technology?

3. Through the existing JFC and Bond committees or other legislative action, develop a phased-in plan to overcome the $100 million mess DTCC is in. This must include controls to ensure this doesn’t happen again.

While the Delaware Technical Community College is a vital asset to our state, we should not fix their problems by promoting taxation without representation that SB50 represents.

If my memory of American history is correct, I believe Thomas McKean, Caesar Rodney, and even George Read would take an exception to this bill. You should as well! Let your representatives in the legislature know how you feel.

Bill Bowden is a retired Verizon Delaware executive, past president of the Delaware Quality Award, and served for eight years in state government as the executive director of Delaware’s Department of Technology and Information.

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