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Quality of life will depend on proactive legislators

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Leadership in the Legislative Process – in a generic sense, not just in Delaware – tends to be reactive more often than proactive. It’s the nature of the beast, any graduate student in public affairs learns.

Problems are put off, too often as they are in life and business, until finding a solution becomes so critically important that it’s unavoidable.

Cost of that approach is that creative problem-solving opportunities are surrendered, given up, ignored, simply because the issue has not moved from the back burner to the high-pain threshold of the front burner.

So, as the Delaware General Assembly returns in March, what are those issues that would most benefit from a comprehensive proactive longer-term strategic approach?

• Public Education–Arguably the most profound, because a well-prepared work force is at risk. Last week’s referendum defeat in Christina District showed how vulnerable schools really are, and the wrangling over the governor’s proposal to take back some of the seniors’ property tax relief are just the tips of the iceberg. Not to mention the state’s proposed takeover of some failing schools.

• Charter Schools – despite the reluctance of the teachers’ union because of its perceived difficulty in organizing charter school staff and teachers’ friends in the legislature – are a source of strength in Delaware, and, as Foster Friess recently told an audience, inner cities will benefit from more choice by charter and magnet schools, not less.

• Revenue–Is it time for Delaware to consider more user fees, perhaps even a consumption tax, e.g., sales tax? That is an idea being discussed by some. The sacredness of “tax-free shopping” should not stifle a full-throated discussion of the alternatives for building a healthy financing of taxpayer-paid public services statewide, although this is an appeal for creative problem-solving, not an endorsement of a sales tax.

• Comprehensive economic development planning is essential, because it’s that thoughtful process around which the state builds its own bulls-eye and allocates resources. It was encouraging to hear Gov. Markell tell an entrepreneurial gathering last month that the future of Delaware’s economic development may more often be found in a growing-your-own approach to incubating next generation technology-based business than by stealing the big company from some other state.

• Comprehensive and coordinated land use policies that provide a rational framework for development of our State, without handing a “NIMBY veto” to every citizen who happens to live across the road from pasture land that they prefer to be kept undeveloped on someone else’s nickel. That a handful of citizens and professors could effectively defeat the conversion of an auto manufacturing plant site to a data center, which enjoyed the support of the governor and of the president of the university, shows just how strong the NIMBY trump card in Delaware has become.

The latter is not a comment on the efficacy of the proposed Data Center – which had been defeated before the Delaware Business Times was launched – but rather on the inability of the leaders with responsibility for Delaware’s economic and land use development to even navigate the process.

As legislative leadership can sometimes get “long in the tooth,” in the sense that it’s hardened by the scar tissue of years of service, so can too “the Delaware way” which has been the tool that represented both parties working together “for the greater good.” Hopefully, as this General Assembly convenes over the next four months, that kind of good will can be nurtured.

As this Governor’s administration winds down, well into the fourth quarter of his eight years in office, his influence characteristically diminishes, leaving the General Assembly to do more on its own.

All of us as Delawareans can only ask that both sides will work together for the good of us all – as they did in 1981 under Governor du Pont in the development of the historic Financial Center Development Act (FCDA) that brought a generation of economic development and jobs to Delaware in credit card banking that buffered some of the decline in the State’s chemical industry! n

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