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Carney touts economic wins, game plan in final address

Katie Tabeling

Gov. John Carney addresses Delaware legislators during his annual State of the State address at Legislative Hall in Dover on Wednesday. | DBT PHOTO BY KATIE TABELING

DOVER — For the last time, Gov. John Carney delivered a State of the State address Tuesday that celebrated major economic wins during his time in office. But it also marked a rare sight: protestors interrupting the governor’s speech.

Delayed from January, Carney’s speech before senators and representatives outlined his support for top federal research projects at the University of Delaware to continue to lift the state’s workforce and innovation, as well as continued investments in grant programs and projects used to support new or growing businesses.

But five minutes into Carney’s speech, two activists spoke from the balcony in the Senate chambers, each speaking on the Israel-Hamas war. One told lawmakers that 29,000 Palestinians were killed in Gaza since the war started, and others urged action. The governor was interrupted twice more toward the end of his speech, including shouts of “Free Palestine,” before being escorted from the chamber.

The state of the state address serves as a time when the governor speaks to lawmakers about key initiatives to be expected in the upcoming spending plan — and during Carney’s tenure has often passed with little controversy.  This year, Carney postponed his speech from Jan. 18 due to an undisclosed illness.

Even though the governor’s $6.1 billion spending plan was already revealed, Carney took the time to highlight the need for restraint when considering any additions to the spending plan. 

“It’s all pretty simple: Delaware can’t compete in the future if we don’t have our budget in order,” Carney said. “Right now, a future General Assembly, or a governor, could lead us down a path of uncontrolled spending. That would lead to higher taxes, and painful cuts.”

For Fiscal Year 2025, Carney proposed a $6.1 billion operating budget, which is more restrained than previous years when the state was buoyed by $1 billion in federal funds. But he also noted that the state is facing a struggle with the Medicaid and state insurance plan costs, with inflation driving the state’s share at $2 billion.

Carney had created the Budget Stabilization fund to help fill in the gaps through a 2% savings program. During the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, some were used to offset losses to not draw down from the “rainy day Reserve Fund.”

The governor celebrated “big strides on financial management,” but urged lawmakers to craft a bill that would codify “budget smoothing” into law instead of leaving it as one of his executive orders. In 2018, such a bill was proposed but never made it to his desk.

“I won’t be here next year. Some of you are happy about that,” Carney joked. “But most of you will [still be here]. Don’t set yourselves up for failure. I hope we can find common ground on this very important priority for every Delaware taxpayer.”

When it came to specific economic proposals, Carney touted the creation of the Delaware Prosperity Partnership, which supported the creation of 20,000 jobs. Grant programs like the Strategic Fund, Site Readiness, Graduated Lab Space and Transportation Infrastructure Investment fund were again funded. 

But he also stressed the importance of continuing funding for our higher education partners and landmark projects like the National Institute for Innovation in Manufacturing Biopharmaceuticals and SABRE Center to continue to create a workforce for the state’s  pharmaceutical sector.

He also pointed to projects like Delaware State University’s new Early Childhood Innovation Center to train future educators, the future Nylon Capital Shopping Center, $50 million in redeveloping Downtown Dover, $50 million to the Port of Wilmington as well as millions more in affordable housing projects on the east side of Wilmington.

But despite those successes, he noted that there are 31,000 jobs available, but only 21,000 people looking for work in the state. It’s a problem that “requires an intense focus on job training on the skills demanded by Delaware employers,” he said.

But to do that, the governor looks to continue funding education at substantial rates, including a plan to get teacher salaries to $60,000 in the next four years and $63 million in Opportunity Funding to low-income students. The state will also be building a new school on the East Side of Wilmington later this year.

In his final year in office, however, the governor made it clear he hopes to address a lingering issue: Delaware students flagging education progress. In 2022, 41% of Delaware students in grades 3 to 8 were proficient in English while 30% were proficient in math.

“Many schools fall short of that average. Imagine if your child went to school with that kind of result. None of us would tolerate that,” Carney said. “I hope that you will support me in funding a new team of literacy coaches.”

Carney also made it clear that he aims to see through major climate change initiatives before he leaves office. He will continue to work on an agreement with the U.S. Wind that would bring the wind farm’s transmission lines into Delaware – in exchange for $100 million in benefits to the state.

Those benefits include funding for workforce development initiatives, dredging projects and for projects to mitigate the effects of climate change in state parks

The governor also committed to working with Sen. Stephanie Hansen on upcoming legislation for the state to buy into wind energy, though he was not specific on what kind of structure that agreement will shape.

In his final thoughts, Carney called it a privilege to serve as the First State’s leader, where he could travel through every corner and meet its people. Tearing up, he also thanked his wife, Tracey and their sons, for the sacrifices made over his career in public service.

“For the rest of this year, we’ll continue to do the right thing. Working together, we’ll leave the state better off for generations to come,” Carney said. “I look forward to leaving it all on the field in this last year.”

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