State Legislators Look Toward 2015

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 Sen. Gary Simpson and his wife, Debbie, enjoy the Return Day festivities Thursday in Georgetown.

Sen. Gary Simpson and his wife, Debbie, enjoy the Return Day festivities Thursday in Georgetown.

Delaware state legislators returned to the capital on Tuesday, January 13, 2015 after their winter break. Senator Gary Simpson, as well as Representatives Harvey Kenton and Jack Peterman, who represent the Milford area, see several issues facing the Delaware legislature during 2015.

“Bills to repeal Delaware’s death penalty and decriminalization the possession of small amounts of marijuana will again be making their appearance, said Representative Peterman. “As controversial as these topics are, I expect the most pressing issues will be state spending and taxation. I anticipate several bills proposing higher taxes, including a hike in the state tax on gasoline. Governor Markell advocated a 10-cent-per-gallon tax increase last year, but it never came before the General Assembly.”

Senator Simpson said that he thought the economy, which still remains sluggish in the state, would have an impact on the budget as economic forecasters in the state were predicting a tight budget year. However, he also said that job growth appeared to be improving in Delaware.

“I predict that with lower oil and gas prices that we will see consumer spending increase, tourism will flourish and home-building will show healthy growth,” Senator Simpson said. Representative Kenton, who was just appointed to the Joint Finance Committee which consists of the 12 legislators tasked with crafting the annual operating budget, says that escalating costs are straining the state budget.

Representative Kenton said that health care and public education expenses combined with the state’s ongoing obligations make creating a balanced budget difficult each year. He said that the biggest challenges will be reconciling inflationary pressures with flagging revenue growth in the state.

Senator Simpson says that he hopes to promote the shift from a current public pension program for state employees to a 401k-type plan.

“In my opinion, this makes sense not only for Delaware taxpayers, but also for state employees. Union leaders have been against this concept, but I will be asking the Governor to consider a hybrid plan which would give state employees a choice between the two or a combination of both.” Senator Simpson also feels that Medicaid spending has reached stratospheric proportions and feels the state needs to address the problem in a meaningful way. He says that he often hears of fraud in the system and on over-dependence of costly emergency room services for minor problems. He also feels that the program may foster drug dependence rather than obtaining adequate treatment.

Recently, the state announced that they expected a fall in state revenues for 2015, and Representative Peterman said that it was too soon to say how that would affect residents of Milford and that revenue forecasts would need to be made several times before the budget is finalized in June. Representative Kenton said that, unlike the federal government, Delaware’s government is mandated by law to spend less than it takes n.

“Thus, the six revenue forecasts made during the year play a large role in the size of the state budget and what resources we will have available to allocate,” Representative Kenton said. “In our three major funding bills, the state sends money to Milford and other municipalities to help pay for law enforcement, firefighting and street maintenance. Any or all of these could be compromised if revenues do not recover. However, I would argue that this essential aid needs to be maintained.”

Representative Peterman said that if the economy continues to slowly improve, revenue figures could trend upward as the state moves into 2015, but says that regardless of what revenue predictions are, will continue to advocate that the aid to towns and cities remain at least at current levels.

One issue that continues to face Milford residents is the need for an overpass at New Wharf Road and Route 1. Senator Simpson says that he feels that DelDOT has failed in their responsibility to maintain a safe intersection at the location.

“Obviously, money considerations have played a major part in past discussions, and there have been many,” Senator Simpson said. “To allow other locations with lower safety concerns to be placed higher up in the priority process is inexcusable.” Representative Peterman agrees with Senator Simpson’s assessment.

Representative Peterman says that he has repeatedly advocated fast-tracking the project as it is extremely hazardous to residents of Woods Haven and other areas on the east side of Route 1. “It’s an unacceptable hazard, both to those families and to the thousands of motorists who use this section of the highway daily,” Representative Peterman said. “It needs to be addressed as quickly as possible. In the interim, I have asked DelDOT to suggest temporary actions that could help improve the situation until the overpass is completed.”

Representative Kenton, who pushed for the just completed overpass at Route 30 and Route 1, says that he strongly supports the recent decision by Milford City Council to notify DelDOT of their strong support of the overpass. “This overpass would eliminate what currently constitutes a dangerous traffic pattern for Milford-area drivers,” Representative Kenton said.

Senator Simpson said that he is currently arranging another meeting between officials from the city, Woods Haven residents, DelDOT planners and other elected officials to look at options that would help alleviate some of the safety concerns that exist at the intersection.

Representative Peterman said that he will help city officials with whatever plans they have to improve Milford. “I will also look for any beneficial opportunity that may present itself, such as did last year when I joined with Representatives Kenton, Outten and Wilson and with Senator Simpson, to secure the transfer of the former state armory to city ownership,” Representative Peterman said.

Senator Kenton says that he will continue to discuss with residents and city officials about concerns they may have and help them resolve those issues. “I am pleased to be able to work closely with Bobby Outten, Dave Wilson, Gary Simpson and Jack Peterman,” said Representative Kenton. “Together, we form a team dedicated to making sure the needs of the Milford area are met.

Senator Simpson said that the feels as if the future of Milford is very bright and that he is looking forward to the upcoming year with renewed vigor. “We are ideally situated to attract homeowners, we have a new hospital coming,” said Senator Simpson. “Our tourism attributes, both natural and man-made are enticing, and we have hard-working, honest people living among us. The future is indeed bright.”