Viewpoint: Carney’s 2020 budget has something for everyone

Sam Waltz
Founding Publisher

Next month, Delaware’s Generous Assembly — OK, that’s a journalist’s smug euphemism — will go to work on Gov. John Carney’s third budget.

They’ll find something for everyone in his $4.4 billion proposal.

For many of us — both Democrats and Republicans — who are fiscal conservatives, that’s both a “tip of the hat” accolade as well as some outrage.

Good news is that, with some unexpected largesse on the revenue side of the ledger, the governor is proposing to put $44 million, perhaps just a third of the $150 million in unexpected receipts, into a “budget smoothing account” that will be there to buffer the state on a “rainy day.”

To his credit, Carney tried last year to get a constitutional amendment setting up that provision. To its discredit, the leaders of his own Democrat Party turned their backs on his creative and taxpayer-sensitive initiative.

And despite the executive order that he signed after that legislative failure that would create “budget smoothing,” the General Assembly as an independent body is not bound by the governor’s laudable initiative.
Many of us would like to see much more of that surplus stashed away into the state’s “rainy day” savings, but, with not only this General Assembly but almost any of them, that’s a pipe dream. Profligacy is a way of life, where taking care of entitled groups — particularly State of Delaware employees — is seen as re-election insurance.

Speaking of state employees, taxpayers — most of whom labor in the private sector for modest market-driven wages without annual increases and without pensions, many without even 401(k) plans — have to look with envy at what increasingly seem to be the aristocratic nature of Delaware’s public sector work force, complete with gold-plated pensions that will carry them comfortably from virtually cradle to grave.

I heard my minister Sunday when he talked about the evils of envy, not one of the mortal sins, but certainly one that becomes a bedrock of bad behavior.

So, what’s a taxpayer to do when the people who work for her or him earn order-of-magnitude higher paychecks complete with attractive pensions, funded by the state’s extraction from the taxpayers’ own modest paychecks?

Well, today, the governor’s response is to even increase those public sector paychecks, by about $1,000 per employee, a $50 million increase in state spending, not even taking into account its impact on said pensions.
(And, in Delaware’s highly unionized environment, that appears to be taking place outside the negotiating process — although I can’t imagine that AFSCME’s Mike Begatto would turn down that largesse!)

Is it any surprise that Delaware’s teachers and public sector employees vote Democrat disproportionately often?

Economic development funding tends to leave most business readers here uncomfortable.

It doesn’t take a long memory to remember the state’s Fisker boondoggle. Or the painful taxpayer-paid (via utility rate surcharge) capitalization of the Bloom Boondoggle-squared. Both were so awful as to be embarrassing to the parties involved — except no shame or remorse ever was expressed.

Carney is doing the right thing in putting more money into public education, really this state’s essential infrastructure. By many measures, public education is perceived as having been in decline here for years, even decades, and its reputation is even worse — all of it bordering on tragic for Delaware.

What’s lacking in the piecemeal increases in funding for public education is a “turnaround plan,” a comprehensive and well-researched and creatively developed business plan to improve public education performance.

As I often tell business colleagues, “let’s put the ‘ready-aim’ in the ‘ready-aim-fire’ of organizational planning,”
and the state needs to own those public education issues in a comprehensive way.

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