[caption id="attachment_223617" align="aligncenter" width="1024"] Senate President Pro Tempore David Sokola said that while Delaware is enjoying a windfall, the average business and resident still face record setting inflation and high gas prices. | DBT PHOTO BY KATIE TABELING[/caption]
DOVER — With the end of the legislative session just days away, House Speaker Pete Schwartzkopf and Senate President Pro Tempore David Sokola offered Delaware’s top business leaders a measured message of the state’s economic recovery and policy issues.Chief among them: the FY 2023 budget and the bond bill that will be aided by the state’s projected $6.4 million budget limit, aided by a more than $800 million surplus expected at the end of this fiscal year on June 30.“Thanks to careful planning here in Dover, my colleagues and I are investing a sizable portion of the state’s record surplus in ways that will strengthen Delaware's workforce for years to come,” Sokola said.Delaware’s Democratic party leadership was invited to speak before the Delaware State Chamber of Commerce’s End-of-Session Policy Conference on Tuesday morning. The luncheon was held at Delaware State University and brought scores of legislators, government officials and business leaders together for networking.Gov. John Carney had introduced a record $4.99 billion budget and $1.18 billion in bond projects and capital spending earlier this year. While marking up — or debating and sometimes cutting or adding measures to the bill — can take lawmakers weeks to complete, this year it was done in less than five days.But Schwartzkopf noted this year “we have the money to address long-term programs.” That includes a pay increase for all state employees, ranging between 2.3% to 9% and a $500 bonus for part-time and full-time staff. More than $33 million would be used to address the state’s share in employee health insurance premiums.
[caption id="attachment_223606" align="alignleft" width="300"] House Speaker Pete Schwartzkopf, right, said many of his colleagues focus would continue to be gun control legislation, racing to pass a package of bills by the end of the session. | DBT PHOTO BY KATIE TABELING[/caption]
The General Assembly already fast-tracked the stimulus bill that granted every adult Delawarean $300, and plans on adding $115 million to the Budget Stabilization Fund created by Carney to smooth rough financial patches.Looking at initiatives targeted to help private sectors, the General Assembly plans on adding $19 million to increase purchase of care payments up to 85%, in hopes to aid the state’s child care providers. Another $1.8 million was set aside for Medicaid to increase the hourly rates for private duty nurses. The current budget bill includes $4.7 million to restore the full Senior Citizen Tax Credit, valued at $500.But on big picture items, Schwartzkopf stressed that he and many of his colleagues would be turning toward gun reform, in light of the shooting in Uvalde, Texas, that recently killed 19 children and two teachers. Carney and legislators introduced a package of gun reform laws late last week.The bills include banning the sale of assault weapons; limiting high-capacity magazines; strengthening background checks and raising the age to buy most guns to 21. Future bills would also hold gun manufacturers and dealers liable in the event of mass shooting and banning devices that can convert handguns into automatic weapons.There are plans to also spend $10 million on improving school security, Schwartzkopf said.“There have been well over 240 mass shootings in 2022 so far, and we're only in the first week of June. The world is standing still in terms of gun reform,” he said. “And our government has a terrible track record of passing meaningful gun legislation. The way we're going to move forward and put laws in place that will make more people safe, especially our kids in school.”Meanwhile, Sokola focused more on the state’s economic future. While COVID-19 persists, he said that Delaware families are more assured of their health than last year, and while it was not time to let the guard down, there is some light at the end of the tunnel.“Our future is more certain than at any point in the last three years,” the senate president said. “The next phase of economic prosperity for the great state of Delaware is within our reach. But I won't sugarcoat the headlines … [about] high gas prices and a historic hike in inflation. Some government intervention will likely be needed to get us back on track.”Sokola pointed to Delaware’s unemployment rate of 4.5% and corporate revenues that rose by 33%. More than two-thirds of Fortune 500 companies have incorporated in the First State and roughly 337,000 of new legal entities were formed in 2021. Last year, 93% of initial public offerings (IPOs) were established here as well.Delaware also remains a solid driving destination for pleasure, he added. Memorial Day weekend saw toll revenues increase by $1.29 million compared to the previous year. State parks pass sales are up 30% compared to 2019.Despite the state’s successes, Sokola warned against partisanship in the state and across the nation. As June 6 marked the anniversary of D-Day, the senator argued that post-World War II was when the country was the most united, while today “we are the most divided since the Vietnam War.”“The reality is our state depends on you to build stable companies that are capable of providing our communities with good-paying jobs,” he said. “You rely on us to make sure your workers are well-trained and have the support they need for a fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay.”“Together we have weathered one of the worst health crises our world has ever faced,” Soloka added. “And together we will build that road to a bright future for all Delawareans.”