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VIEWPOINT: New Year, New Possibilities for Delaware

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WILMINGTON — As we look forward to ushering in the new year, the team at A Better Delaware has been hard at work developing our 2023 New Year’s resolutions. There’s a lot of work to be done to create an environment where Delawareans and their businesses can thrive — but with a new year comes new opportunity, and we’re excited to lead the fight in 2023 for A Better Delaware.

Kathleen Rutherford | PHOTO COURTESY OF A BETTER DELAWARE

Better Health Policy
To create A Better Delaware, we need smarter health care policy that puts patients first and removes barriers to access that impede innovation and increase costs. Delaware ranks 5th highest in the nation for health care costs per capita. According to Forbes, 10.1% of Delaware adults chose not to see a doctor in 2020 because of costs. One recent study shows that Delaware has the second-longest emergency room wait time in the country at 195 minutes. Certificate of Need (CON) laws, which require health care organization to seek permission from the state prior to making acquisitions, expansions, or creations of new healthcare facilities, hinder growth, limit capacity and raise costs on consumers. States subject to CON laws suffer an average of five percent higher spending for physician care.

In 2023, A Better Delaware will advocate for reforming the Health Commission, the Health Resources Board, and all CON laws in the state. Such a change would drive down costs to both consumers and health care providers and increase access to affordable healthcare in Delaware. We’ll also encourage the state to enforce existing regulations requiring hospital billing price transparency and expand options for health insurance plans by including plans offered across state lines that include essential health benefits.

Better Tax Policy
While Delaware has built a global reputation as a business-oriented state, it’s still one of a few states to employ the harmful and costly gross receipts tax. The state taxes products at each step of the supply chain rather than at the point of sale, which is why many refer to it as Delaware’s “hidden sales tax.” The gross receipts tax causes prices to soar, harming businesses and consumers alike. That isn’t the only burdensome tax that makes Delaware an expensive place to live and do business. According to The Tax Foundation’s State Business Tax Climate Index, Delaware ranks as having the 44th highest individual income tax burden in the nation and leads the country with the highest corporate tax. At 4%, Delaware’s realty transfer tax remains the highest in nation. Recent attempts in the legislature to reduce the realty transfer tax, individual income taxes, and corporate taxes have stalled.

In 2023, A Better Delaware will advocate to reduce the gross receipts tax to improve business competitiveness and grow local employment, use record surpluses to give individuals relief on their individual income taxes and unleash private investment in the economy, and reduce the realty transfer tax and corporate tax rate.

Better Government Accountability and Transparency
Delaware has a serious problem with accountability and transparency, as noted by The Center of Public Integrity, which ranks Delaware 48th in the nation for transparency with a score of “F.” In 2021, a bill proposed in the state Senate would have granted public bodies the power to deny FOIA requests they deem unreasonable, cumbersome, or abusive. While that bill failed, other efforts to increase transparency in the First State didn’t make it any further. One bipartisan effort to create an independent Office of the Inspector General was blocked by the House Administration Committee — a common tactic to kill unwanted bills.

In 2023, A Better Delaware is committed to advocating for a nonpartisan Office of Legislative Ethics and Inspector General. These offices would solely exist to hold elected officials accountable and give citizens recourse when they witness or fall victim to waste, fraud, abuse, or misconduct. A Better Delaware will also advocate expanding Delaware’s FOIA laws to include communications between and with Delaware legislators, allowing citizens to serve as a check on those they choose to represent them. The state’s FOIA system should also be updated to the 21st Century, and many basic documents should be made available electronically and preemptively, negating the need for FOIA requests altogether. The state must also enforce Medicaid compliance by ensuring ​​Medicaid applicants are effectively screened before their benefits are approved or denied.

Better Budget Controls
The United States is in the midst of a recession with an inflation rate at a 40-year high. Delaware, meanwhile, has a budget surplus exceeding $1 billion. Unlike 24 other states with similar surpluses, Delaware has failed to enact any meaningful tax cuts for its citizens or businesses. Despite several bills being proposed in 2022 to cut taxes, none passed.

In 2023, A Better Delaware will continue to advocate liberating Delaware’s citizens and businesses from burdensome, unfair, and regressive taxes. The state should use its surpluses to pay down the outstanding public pension debt, invest in the rainy-day fund, and smooth the budget. Without change, people and businesses will undoubtedly leave Delaware for more tax-friendly states.

Better Energy Policy
Delawareans pay the 12th highest energy rates in the country. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, Delaware produces less energy than any other state. In 2020, the state used nearly 70 times more energy than it produced. Delaware’s renewable portfolio standard requires that renewable energy sources generate 40% of electricity retail sales in the state by 2035, with at least 10% coming from solar energy. But in 2021, just five percent of the state’s total in-state net generation came from small- and large-scale solar-powered facilities. To meet the lofty goals, the state has thrown its support behind several multi-billion-dollar offshore wind projects being developed off Delaware’s coastline. While the projects face stiff opposition from coastal residents and those who doubt offshore wind’s long-term efficacy, the state should be front and center in any discussions affecting the state’s power systems.

To achieve this, A Better Delaware will advocate that the state creates an Energy Advisory Council, which should generate a realistic, science-based energy plan to be approved by the General Assembly. The legislature should oppose any delegation of legislative authority to executive branch agencies, and DNREC’s plan to ban the sale of new gas-powered cars by 2035 must be stopped in favor of a free-market approach to automobile innovation — especially as the average electric car price sails above $66,000.

Better Education Policy
In 2022, just 30% of Delaware students in grades three to eight met grade-level math requirements, while 42% were proficient in English language arts. During the same period, students’ SAT scores ranked 43rd in the nation. This news comes as the state faces a shortage of more than 500 teachers — a number that’s expected to grow. To improve Delaware’s education system and ensure students are prepared for the future, we must be able to determine what works and doesn’t work in our schools. To do this, we need to be able to track outcomes.

A Better Delaware will advocate that the Department of Education provide a web page that lists average test scores for all students at individual schools so parents and policymakers can easily compare school performances. The Department of Education should also provide more robust and easily digestible information and financial incentives for school choice options and transportation. In light of the state’s teacher shortage, Delaware should expand pathways to becoming a teacher, accept out-of-state certifications and ease its restrictions on educator licensing. Despite extreme disparity in performance among Delaware public school districts, many are unaware that the state allows for school choice. A Better Delaware will work to ensure that parents understand the options available to their children.

Better Workforce Development
Delaware’s unemployment rate is the 48th worst in the nation. As Delaware’s trades rebound from the pandemic and billions of dollars come to the state in federal infrastructure funds, it’s time for lawmakers to free businesses from the strict regulations that prevent them from filling jobs, including apprenticeship ratio requirements. Apprenticeship programs train skilled workers by combining classroom instruction with on-the-job training under experienced journeymen. Many employers in Delaware want to hire and train new apprentices but are restrained from doing so because current regulations require multiple journeymen or full-time workers to also be hired — a cost many small businesses can’t afford.

To unleash the potential of Delaware’s economy, the state should reform business regulations that place undue burdens on small businesses. Licensing fees for specialized fields should be reduced to remove barriers to work, and apprentice ratios should be increased to create a faster pathway to licensing in the trades.

Happy New Year!
While this list is far from comprehensive, implementing even one of these simple, common-sense policy proposals would go a long way toward creating A Better Delaware. Throughout the next year, we will continue to fight for your bottom line, for freedom and opportunity, and for responsive, accountable, and transparent government.

Our overarching New Year’s resolution is simple: We will continue to do all in our power to advocate for Delaware taxpayers and businesses and make Delaware a better place to live, work, and start or own a business. We wish you and your family a safe and prosperous New Year as we continue fighting for you in 2023.

ABOUT A BETTER DELAWARE
A Better Delaware is a non-partisan public policy and political advocacy organization that supports pro-growth, pro-jobs policies and greater transparency and accountability in state government. A Better Delaware can be found on Facebook @abetterdelaware and at www.ABetterDelaware.org.

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