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Carney proposes site investment funds – again

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Gov. John Carney delivers his State of the State address on Jan. 26. | PHOTO COURTESY OF JASON MINTO/GOVERNOR’S OFFICE

WILMINGTON – Call it a redo, but Gov. John Carney is reviving his proposals to create investment funds for advanced laboratory space and site readiness for economic development in his upcoming Fiscal Year 2022 budget.

The proposals were among the first priorities that the governor announced in his annual State of the State address made Tuesday before an empty Legislative Hall. The speech, typically made before all state legislators and a number of Cabinet secretaries, judges, dignitaries and more, was instead broadcast online in another nod to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Delaware General Assembly has not met in person since the 151st session began earlier this month and the governor has largely avoided in-person events in recent months.

In his address, Carney touted the fact that Delaware was able to balance its current year’s budget without raising taxes, laying off employees or borrowing money amid the economic crisis unfolding during the pandemic. Many other states had to resort to more drastic measures, but Delaware’s conservative budgeting, combined with the Budget Stabilization Fund backed by Carney early in his first term, helped it stave off such moves while retaining a Triple AAA bond rating.

“This year, I will again propose a budget that links state spending to the growth of our economy. We’ll invest one-time money in one-time infrastructure projects. We’ll focus on the future and rebuild our reserves,” he said of the operating budget that will likely top a record $5 billion.

In the most notable business-focused proposals, Carney is reviving the Site Readiness Fund and Graduated Lab Space Fund, both of which were cut from last year’s budget as lawmakers sought to close an unexpected pandemic-spurred deficit. The former would have allowed the state to quickly convert existing properties to meet the needs of prospective employers. The latter aimed to incentivize colleges, universities, and the private sector to develop lab space for startup companies to move into and keep jobs in the state.

Although it’s not yet known how much the governor will propose for each, last year both were proposed at $10 million.

“We have a number of start-up science and tech companies here in Delaware, but we have a shortage of lab space for them to use as they grow their business,” Carney said in his address. “We want to help the private sector build more lab space; we want companies that start here to stay and grow here; and we want to attract companies from the region to come to our state.”

The state’s economic development agency, the Delaware Prosperity Partnership, received approval in December to use a portion of the state’s taxpayer-backed Strategic Fund to support the building of lab space. It’s unclear whether the fund proposed by Carney would supplant that measure or simply bolster it.

Meanwhile, Carney also said that he would propose expanding the 2-year-old Encouraging Development and Growth Expansion (EDGE) grant program, which has awarded nearly $1.5 million to 20 developing startup companies to date.

In other spending measures, Carney announced that he will renew a push for $50 million in a Clean Water Trust Fund for water quality-focused projects and a plan to get body cameras for every police officer in the state.

He also announced his support of Senate Bill 33, which would set a new renewable energy goal of 40% for the state by 2035. The bill, first championed by Carney’s friend and former State Sen. Harris McDowell before his retirement last year, has already been approved by the State Senate and was to be heard by a House committee Tuesday. The bill has not come without its critics though, including conservatives who worry that it could lead to price increases for cash-strapped constituents and liberals who feel that the goal doesn’t go far enough.

“We made a lot of promises before the pandemic last year, and I intend to keep them,” Carney said.

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