By Terry Rogers
Milford’s state legislators, Senator Gary Simpson, Representative Harvey Kenton and newly elected Representative Charles Postles say that the state’s finances will take center stage when the General Assembly reconvenes in January. Senator Simpson said that this has been a trend over the past several years as the legislature looks at sources to balance the budget.
“With estimated deficits from $150 to $300 million, the legislature will have to look at all sources in order to balance our budget,” Senator Simpson said. “This has been a continuing trend over the past several years with the General Assembly faced with yet another poor outlook for state finances.”
One area of the budget that has been proposed to be cut is Community Transportation Fund and Municipal Street Aid funding that municipalities need to complete many local projects. The funds are allocated to legislators for transportation-related projects in their district. Senator Simpson said that he did not expect the fund to be cut back in a meaningful manner, although he is unsure about Municipal Street Aid. Senator Simpson said that the Municipal Street Aid fund has seen “ups and downs” in the past in regard to funding, and he would not be surprised to see some downward adjustment proposed in the upcoming session.
“We will not know what fiscal challenges the state will be facing until the last four revenue forecasts of the current fiscal year are made in March, April, May and June. The early signs do not look encouraging,” Representative Kenton said. “This funding could be targeted if the numbers are especially bad. As a member of the Joint Finance Committee, I would argue against cutting this vital funding.” Representative Postles, who will replace the late Representative Jack Peterman who died last year, said that he maintained during his campaign that the state needed to make better spending decisions and he remains firm on that stance. He said that in a state budget that is a “whopping $4 billion” there should be places where costs can be trimmed other than comparatively modest programs that address local infrastructure.
Both Representative Kenton and Representative Postles say that they would oppose any cuts to the Real Estate Transfer Tax, a fund that Milford relies heavily on to support the police force. Currently, the rate is three percent with the state retaining half and municipalities receiving the other half of the tax. There have been suggestions by lawmakers to increase the amount of RTT held by the state, reducing the amount sent to municipalities. Representative Kenton said that he feels the current system is fair and he would oppose changing it.
“The state needs to get its own house in order before it takes revenue from local governments,” Representative Postles said.
The legalization of marijuana is another issue facing lawmakers in the upcoming session. Representative Kenton said one lawmaker has already indicated that a bill will be introduced in the upcoming session for legalization. He said that he is opposed to legalization for recreational use as the state already has a medical use policy and have decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana. He sees no need to go further at the present time. Representative Postles said that eight states have adopted laws legalizing marijuana, but he does not support enacting such a law here. He admits that Colorado, which has legalized marijuana, is seeing increased revenue, it has also experienced higher levels of criminal activity and a higher number of impaired driving accidents.
“In the last several months, I have been inundated with requests to legalize marijuana,” Senator Simpson said. “I voted for a bill to legalize the medical use of marijuana a couple of years ago because I thought it might relieve some of the pain of those going through tough chemo treatment. However, I have no intention of voting to allow the recreational use of this drug. This country and our state have spent untold billions of dollars trying to convince people to quit smoking cigarettes or never start, and yet some advocate for legalization of marijuana to increase our revenue. It just doesn’t make good common sense or sound medical advice. I fear we will live to regret our decision should legalization occur.”
Representative Postles sees protecting agriculture is one of the most important issues facing the Milford area in the upcoming session. He sees farming as the state’s top industry and one of the leading employers in his district. He anticipates measures to be introduced that will protect the rights of farmers and he intends to support those measures.
“Rural school districts, like Milford and Lake Forest, as well as inter-city schools often have significantly less per-pupil funding than their counterparts,” Representative Kenton said. “State financing for public education needs to be reformed so all students have equal access to educational resources. Exploration of this issue began in the 148th General Assembly and I expect it to continue in the 149th.”
Senator Simpson said that the election of Senator Bethany Hall-Long to Lt. Governor has created an opportunity to level the playing field in the Delaware legislature. He said that the people of the 10th District, which covers the Middletown area, have an opportunity to determine which party will control the Senate.
“Currently, the Democratic Party controls the Executive branch of government and both houses of legislature,” Senator Simpson said. “One party rule is not good for Delaware families. We need checks and balances in government. A special election will be held in February to determine which party will control the Senate which is now evenly split 10 to 10. Republicans have not controlled the Senate in 44 years, but a win in this election will return balance to the legislature and provide a forum for the inter-change of ideas that will produce meaningful reform.”
Sign up for you free digital subscription of The Weekly Review, delivered directly to your email every Tuesday morning. A quick cover-to-cover read to catch up on the news of the week and experience great stories about our local communities. Sign up for your free email subscription below.