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 Vanderwende’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: The funds held back this year were appropriate because it always makes sense to be fiscally conservative. The part that is disturbing is our overall budget process. It is too vulnerable to annual fluctuations in revenues that sometimes require unexpected cuts in important programs. It is also vulnerable to political manipulations because there are not enough specific rules in our state constitution to prevent year to year budget changes.
HB 460 would have provided changes to our state constitution that would allow the state to avoid many of these problems. The bill was designed to control spending and set aside excess funds in the good years. When the lean years come, the stored funds would be used to continue important programs without raising taxes. This was a brilliant plan initiated by our state treasurer Ken Simpler and was endorsed by the Governor. However, opposition by the majority party in the Delaware General Assembly would not allow HB 460 to pass. Instead, the governor used the Executive Order (EO) process as a temporary measure to hold back the additional revenue. The EO system lacks the teeth to solve the problem long-term because the Delaware General Assembly constitutionally has the authority to override an EO related to the state budget.
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: I do not support cutting Grant-in-Aid. Grant-in-Aid is a force multiplier for the state. What I mean by that is that by supporting nonprofits with a small amount of tax dollars, you create an army of volunteers providing services to the people.
But there are needed improvements. The improvements needed in the Grant-in-Aid system were spelled out in HB 260, a bi-partisan bill that would allow the Grant-in-Aid process to be more efficient and subject to less political maneuverings.
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 am in favor of a thorough review of our Department of Education and the expenses the department incurs. Significant cost savings can start with consolidating school services across district lines by consolidating shared services, administration, and purchasing.
I also support allowing school districts and local governments to forgo state mandated prevailing wage rates, even when state money is part of the funding mix. Because of Delaware’s flawed system for setting minimum wages for occupations involved in public works projects, prevailing wage rates add at least 20-percent to the cost of schools, paramedic stations, and other projects undertaken by local entities. Allowing school districts and municipalities to bid projects the same way private businesses do will potentially save local taxpayers millions of dollars annually, while workers on such projects would still benefit from quality wages. This proposal will not only maximize efficiency of local tax dollars, it holds the promise of increasing employment by allowing more projects to be undertaken. In addition, it provides necessary budget relief for school districts and local governments as more expenses flow to those entities from the state.
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: I believe in the referendum process. It has worked for many years, and as you stated in your early question, the education problem is not a lack of funding. The referendum process needs to be fair. Scheduling events at the school on referendum day to draw parents to the polls is not a fair system. Making the process confusing and not having convenient parking on referendum day is not a fair system. I support some of the cost saving proposals I mentioned in my answer to question #3 as a way to ensure more money flows directly to the classrooms.
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: We must continue to improve DNREC regulation processes so that everyone has a chance to be heard. Regulations are legal mandates from the executive branch of government that bypass an important check and balance – the legislative branch. I would support legislation that would allow the legislative branch to review regulations. That way the people will be able to go to their elected representative in the DE Gen Assembly and have regulations reviewed and changed when appropriate.
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: There is no need to rush towards the legalization of recreational marijuana use. Let’s take advantage of the opportunity to see how it works out longer term in states that legalize. And, during that period, perhaps the federal government will make changes that will allow states to legalize without being in conflict with federal law. I have a fear that legalization will open the door to more addictions and more issues in our community that will tear individuals and families apart.
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: Good jobs are created when government gets out of the way and stops trying to mandate things relating to the free market. When we keep piling on laws and rules we make growing and/or starting business more difficult; we steer business away from the state. Examples include forcing employers to require employees to join a union, requiring what an employee rate of pay has to be, what questions they can ask when hiring a person, etc. The list goes on and on.
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: We need to consistently fund the Farmland Preservation Program. Funding for the program should be constitutionally-mandated. I support legislation that would make funding of the Farmland Preservation Program constitutionally-mandated. However keeping agriculture profitable in our state is the best way to preserve farmland because it keeps farmers in business.
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: Once addicted, it is very difficult to break the addiction and it cost a lot of money. More funding needs to go towards prevention and treatment.