Carney emphasizes jobs, budgeting in annual address
DOVER – Gov. John Carney made job creation and fiscal prudence highlights of his annual State of the State address on Thursday, foreshadowing that state lawmakers shouldn’t expect a Fiscal Year 2023 budget awash in new spending.
The annual gubernatorial address to state senators and representatives was once again held virtually for the public due to the surge in COVID-19 cases that has limited access to the statehouse after the legislative session reconvened last week. In his major speech of the year, Carney aimed to strike a tone of optimism nearly two years into the global pandemic.
“Over the past two years, we’ve seen clearly that the people of our state are resilient. They’re innovative. They’re kind. They never give up. They’re focused on the present – but hopeful for the future,” he said. “I can tell you confidently today that the state of our state is strong. And we are eager for what lies ahead.”
Carney called expanding economic opportunity for all Delaware families “job No. 1” for his administration, saying that a “good job solves a lot of problems.” He highlighted the successes of the state’s public-private economic development agency, the Delaware Prosperity Partnership (DPP), that was created among his first acts as governor.
“Despite the pandemic, Delaware employers have added nearly 20,000 new jobs. The DPP helped them retain thousands more. Delaware’s economy has rebounded from the worst effects of COVID-19 more quickly than we could’ve imagined,” he said, noting the state’s unemployment rate is down to 5.1% from a high of 13.4% in April 2020. He didn’t mention that it’s still fairly higher than the national average.
Carney also spotlighted the DPP-assisted economic developments wins of financial technology startup Investor Cash Management, pharmaceutical manufacturer WuXi STA, cancer treatment research firms Prelude Therapeutics and Inctye, textile manufacturer Avalon Industries, and metal parts manufacturer Miller Metal.
The governor touted tourism successes scheduled for this year, including the Atlantic 10 Conference’s women’s basketball championship coming to the Chase Fieldhouse in Wilmington in March and the Wilmington Country Club hosting the PGA’s BMW Championship in August.
“Delaware is on the map – and the future is bright,” he said, adding that President Joe Biden’s connection to the First State only increased that attention.
In one of the most-watched bills by Delaware’s business community this year, Senate Bill 1 that creates a paid family and medical leave policy through a state social insurance program, Carney signaled that he would sign the controversial measure.
Arguing that younger workers are looking for jobs and places that support raising a family, Carney called State Sen. Sarah McBride’s SB1 “the right thing to do.” It was the first public show of support for the bill currently opposed by several state chambers of commerce over concerns about how the program would operate. Last year, the governor had called the debate over mandated paid leave for private employers a “complex issue.”
Meanwhile, Carney’s speech made few pronouncements for new spending initiatives in his budget due out by the end of January.
To address a deficit of about 7,000 more job openings than job seekers in Delaware right now, Carney said the state would invest more than $50 million in federal stimulus funds to strengthen workforce training programs. The state is also expanding the public schools’ Pathways program, which prepares students for post-secondary careers, by opening it to state middle schools.
In vague notes, the governor said that more support would be coming to “state employees on the lower end of the wage scale” while discussing the rise in Delaware’s minimum wage approved last year. He said that Delaware will invest federal dollars to revitalize and develop more than 1,200 affordable housing units in Kent and Sussex counties over the next three years.
Carney noted that federal stimulus funds would be used to build and upgrade libraries in every county, help nonprofits modernize their buildings, significantly increase resources for gun violence prevention programs in Wilmington and Dover, improve the state’s mental health services, supercharge the state’s largest infrastructure plan, and invest in environmental protections.
However, the governor said that all of those investments are not possible “without a long-term, sustainable financial plan.”
“Responsibly managing our state budget is more important than ever. And it’s what every taxpayer I’ve ever talked to expects,” said Carney, who will have the opportunity to present the state’s largest operating budget ever this year amid enormous budget surpluses.
Carney noted that Delaware has survived the pandemic without budget cuts, tax increases or state employee layoffs due to cautious fiscal planning in the years before the crisis. He has signaled in statements in recent weeks that he intends to retain a modest spending initiative while building the state’s reserves.
After two years of leading the state through the pandemic and enduring the inevitable criticisms through each turn of the crisis, Carney emphasized that he’s tried to be balanced in his decisions.
“Throughout this pandemic, I’ve had to make a lot of tough calls. I know we’ve not always agreed on every decision. And I respect those differences,” he said. “But I hope you know this. I have always put Delawareans first.”