by Terry Rogers
On Thursday, September 6, Republicans in the 35th House of Representatives district will vote for either Robert “Bob” Mitchell or Jesse Vanderwende to fill the seat vacated when Representative Dave Wilson chose to run for the Senate seat vacated by retiring Senator Gary Simpson. Questions that are on the minds of voters were asked of both candidates with Mitchell’s responses below.
Q: The economy in Delaware is improving and this led to surplus revenue for the recently passed state budget. This surplus was used for raises to state employees, returned funding to Grant-In-Aid for non-profits and other programs that saw a reduction last year. Just over $45 million was placed in reserves for future shortages. What is your view on how the revenue surplus was used? Would you have preferred more be placed in reserves for years when revenue is lower or do you feel enough was held back?
A: I actually spoke with some lawmakers and recommended that the surplus be used to fund all of the originally proposed projects in the Bond Bill, but NOT borrow the $218,000,000 (5% of the budget) that we borrow every year. Politicians claim to be fiscally conservative and they keep saying that we “need to control spending”, but in the one year where we had such a large surplus and could have avoided borrowing money, they voted unanimously to spend the surplus AND borrow the $218 million – creating one of the largest Bond Bills ever. Legislators voted unanimously to borrow money even in the year that we had such a large surplus.
Q: Grant-in-Aid funding is often cut when the state sees a reduction in revenue. This takes money from the many non-profits in the state who provide services to those in need. Do you support cutting Grant-in-Aid funding during years when revenue is less than anticipated? If not, where would you prefer to see changes made in the budget?
A: Grant in Aid funds are typically reduced in years when revenues are short. While this is unfortunate and affects many great programs, it is an economic reality.
Q: According to statistics compiled by Exceptional Delaware, there are 66 employees at the Delaware Department of Education whose salaries are over $100,000. Education funding is one-third of Delaware’s entire budget. Yet, if the state cuts funding to education, those cuts are passed down to local districts. Despite the spending, Delaware ranks 25th in high school graduation rates, a 29 percent eighth grade math and 31 percent eighth grade reading proficiency. This has led many Delaware residents to ask for a thorough audit of DOE in order to eliminate high-paying redundant positions. Do you support such an audit? In what ways would you like to overhaul education in the state of Delaware?
A: I do believe that we do need to review the way our DOE is structured. Our front-line teachers and support staff are working as hard as they can to achieve the mandates set forth at both the State and Federal levels. We must give more freedom and support to the local districts to do what they need to do in their own schools.
Q: School districts are increasingly needing referendums to cover standard operating costs due to continued budget cuts at the state level. School districts are also required to go to referendum to build new schools and are restricted by the state in how large the school may be. They are not permitted to build a school based on future enrollment, only for current enrollment. This has led to several districts whose enrollment has grown significantly to suffer overcrowding when taxpayers deny referendums for new schools. How would you address this issue at the state level? Are there ways that funding can be equalized among schools to make operations and building referendums less necessary?
A: We must look at ways to fund our educational system in a more efficient way. From how school construction contracts are given, to prevailing wage, to equalization – just to name a few – must be looked at in total to determine how to properly address the needs of our districts.
Q: The environment is critical to the economy of our area. However, many municipalities in Sussex County have been required to limit use of water due to contamination. People have fought the use of certain pesticides and organic materials on fields due to possible water contamination. What are your goals as far as protecting the environment should you be elected? What options does the state have to ensure that all Delawareans have safe drinking water, safe air to breathe and the ability to enjoy the natural environment that surrounds us? What options would you make available to farmers who must use products on their fields to improve crop yield?
A: The environment is of critical concern for everyone. While there have been several recent cases of water contamination in Sussex County, the causes for each have not been the same. While high nitrate levels and harmful bacteria could be linked to agriculture, other issues are not. I believe our farming community has the best interests of our environment in mind and are compliant with measures already in place to control run off and are very concerned about using the minimum amount of chemicals necessary.
Q: The legalization of recreational marijuana will more than likely be brought before the General Assembly in the next session. Do you support the legalization and taxation of marijuana? If not, what is your opposition? If your concerns could be addressed, would you support legalization? If you do support legalization, what are your reasons for supporting it?
A: I do not support the legalization of recreational use of marijuana. I fully support the medicinal use and development of new ways to use its medicinal properties. I support the decision to decriminalize it, however, I do not believe that recreational use of drugs is something we as a state need to encourage. As for the revenue benefits – I do not see the massive windfalls in revenues that many advocates have projected.
Q: The economy in Delaware will only continue to grow if jobs can be created. What are your goals for growing the number of jobs in the state? Is your focus entry-level or high-paying positions? Where do you expect to see the most job growth in the state? What do you think will drive that growth?
A: From January 2008 to January 2018 there were 26,754 “net” jobs created. Unfortunately, we graduated over 75,000 high school seniors during that time frame as well. That means that almost 2 out of every 3 graduates will need to find employment out of state. We must provide an attractive atmosphere for new and expanding businesses within our State if we are to grow our economy. The fastest area of growth is in the health care fields. As our population ages and our State continues to be attractive to retirees, the health care and related service industries grow as well. Additionally, our construction trades continue to expand. Tax incentives can be a great way to attract new businesses, but the incentives must be directly tied to the number and type of jobs created. Too often states are giving more than they are receiving. Matching reasonable incentives to the proper businesses is necessary to attract both entry-level and high-paying positions to our State.
Q: Along with more jobs, the need for housing for people working in Delaware will grow. There is concern that there are too many developments being approved in Delaware and that agriculture will suffer if development continues at this pace. How do you plan to offset the need for housing with the need for agriculture? What solutions do you have for the development vs. farming argument?
A: The need for housing is just as much of a concern as is preserving farmland. Agriculture is the number one economic driver in our area. The housing industry also has a strong economic impact as well. I believe that the Agland Preservation program needs to be tweaked slightly to ensure that we are getting the “best value” for the money spent and not just the “lowest price”. Additionally, we need to recognize that some tracts of land may be best suited for housing given their accessibility to infrastructure. While there are people on both sides of this sensitive issue, I believe a balance can be achieved that will benefit both.
Q: The opioid crisis is growing in Delaware. Often, addiction to opioids starts with the prescription pain medication. What do you think the state can do to help reduce drug abuse in the state? Are addictive pain medications over-prescribed? Would you support limiting how much pain medication can be prescribed to one person and databases that prevent addicts from “doctor shopping?”
A: Most of the drug policies are directed from the Federal Level. However, there are certain logical steps that we can take to help battle this problem. Limiting the amount of prescriptions given and their dosages is a logical step in that direction. I believe that doctors have become much more aware of the addictive nature of these drugs and, for the most part, are much more careful in their prescriptions. The Delaware Prescription Monitoring Program already exists and is part of an effort to reduce multiple prescriptions to one person. While patient privacy is a concern with this database, there are safeguards in place to maintain confidentiality.