The State of the State Address is usually painted on a large canvas with broad brush strokes – illustrated with accomplishments, concerns, and a vision for the future. Such was the speech given by Governor Jack Markell to the members of the Delaware General Assembly in a packed Senate Chamber on Jan. 20th.
Gov. Markell began his remarks highlighting the anticipated re-opening of the Delaware City Oil Refinery later this spring and the pending resumption of car manufacturing at the former General Motors Boxwood Road facility by Fisker Automotive.
The governor noted the need to expand Delaware’s economy and create new jobs. He said he’ll recommend “significant funding” for the Delaware Strategic Fund as well as the establishment of a new Job Creation Infrastructure Investment Fund “to seize the best opportunities for investing in future jobs.”
More emphasis will be placed on fostering growth in the state’s manufacturing sector in 2011. Gov. Markell said his administration is partnering with the Delaware Manufacturing Association to put “Delaware back at the forefront of making things again.” As part of those plans, the governor said the state will offer a tax credit to support new jobs produced by expanding existing manufacturing facilities or creating new ones.
“To those who create jobs: We will be your partner,” Markell said. “We must think like entrepreneurs and others who create jobs. Anyone who can create a decent job, whether they are already here or across the ocean, needs to know we are more responsive and more committed to their success than anyone else, anywhere,” stated Governor Markell.
While noting some educational success, the governor said more work is needed to improve Delaware’s public schools. Citing the examples of Astra Zeneca, Barclays, I-N-G Direct, and Evraz – all foreign-owned companies with operations in the First State, Markell said Delaware needs to raise its educational standards to be comparable to those in competing nations. He maintained that Delaware students need to embrace multi-lingual education to make the First State a more attractive place for international companies to do business.
“In the last two years, Delaware established itself as the First State when it comes to education reforms. Now, we’re working to make Delaware the First State when it comes to education results,” Markell said.
Delaware faces some stiff fiscal challenges, including the rapid rise in Medicaid costs. Gov. Markell said spending on the government-financed healthcare program has grown 143-percent over the last 11 years to $600 million annually and he promised “to instill common-sense reforms” to make it more efficient.
“Maximizing the return on every public dollar we spend must be a central goal during these difficult times,” said Markell. “Over the past two years, we have made tough cuts, we have implemented stringent efficiencies, and we have reduced the size of our state work force. Those efforts will continue.”
Past and present state workers are also on the governor’s radar screen, who said the costs of employee health insurance and pensions account for $453 million of annual state spending. Saying the escalation in these costs “is not sustainable,” Gov. Markell indicated he’s begun talking with the state employee unions for ways to reduce those numbers. He said he’s “open to any and all good ideas” to trim pension costs that have increased by 594-percent over the last 11 years, and a healthcare bill that’s jumped by 257-percent during the same period.
Some of the details behind the governor’s proposals will begin to emerge next week when he releases his proposed state operating and capital budgets on January 27th.