by Terry Rogers
The 150th Delaware General Assembly will reconvene on Tuesday, January 8 with new legislators representing the Milford area. Representative Charles Postles, who was elected in 2016, is now the senior statement representing the area, joined by Representative Bryan Shupe and Senator Dave Wilson. All three are looking forward to serving their constituency and discussed some of the things they feel will have an impact on the Milford area at the state level.
“Milford continues to grow, as a residential community and a place to do business,” Senator Wilson said. “At the state level, we must work with Milford leaders to determine what the needs of the City may be and what we, as state legislators may do. Work with the new Bayhealth complex, renovations of the existing Milford Memorial Hospital, addressing the closed school buildings in the City, the Riverwalk expansion, recruiting and retaining businesses while insuring safe and pure supplies of water are at the top of the list.”
All three legislators agree that funding for public education should be addressed in this year’s session. “One specific issue that I will be helping to address with my first piece of legislation that I cosponsor is how delinquent property taxes are spent once the county government collects them,” Representative Shupe said. “In Delaware, over $32 million dollars are owed to local school districts by individuals that have not paid their taxes. With school funding a major issue across school districts, including Milford, we need to restructure the tax collection process in a way to help our local schools receive funding from collection fo those taxes. Currently, when delinquent taxes are collected, there are 12 other entities that receive payment before our local school districts, including the State of New York and the State of Maryland. By restructuring the prioritization list for collected delinquent taxes, this bill will move our local school districts closer to the top of that list and allow them to recover lost revenue from individuals that did not pay their taxes.”
Senator Wilson stated that school funding is an issue in Delaware but sees inefficiency in the Department of Education. He pointed out that the one-third of the state’s multi-billion dollar budget goes to education, yet Delaware consistently falls at or near the bottom of each standard measurement.
“When we consistently fall near the bottom, I have a problem,” Senator Wilson said. “I have long advocated revisiting the way we allocate money for programs in education and I am especially concerned about the taxing authority given to school districts, the vocational districts and general construction. Nothing is off the table for me.”
Representative Postles believes that school funding has been problematic for years, but that there has been no will at a political level to address the issue.
“Part of this dysfunction is linked to outdated property assessments,” Representative Postles said. “School taxes are based on property values. Because property assessments have not been performed in decades, the tax burden falls unevenly on homeowners and school districts do not have a tax base that accurately reflects real conditions. Lawsuits were recently filed challenging the equity of the state’s school funding formula and the tax imbalance created by the lack of timely property valuations. It is possible that this legal action will drive some type of action in the 150th General Assembly.”
Representative Shupe would like to look at how the Delaware Education System can become more independent from federal mandates. He believes doing that will allow the state to make decisions that directly help at the school level and in the classrooms.
“Currently, only 0.1 percent of the state’s education budget is from federal funding, yet we lock ourselves into federal mandates that limit the decisions made by local teachers, administrators and communities,” Representative Shupe said. “Working within the budget, we can redirect current funding to replace the federal revenue in our education system and allow us to become more autonomous in our decision-making when setting future policy.”
Prevailing wage is another issue that all three legislators would like to see addressed. Senator Wilson said that he has heard no conversation about whether this General Assembly will look at prevailing wage although it is an issue that holds great interest for him as a small businessman.
“Prevailing wage is a mandated mechanism that pays workers on projects using any type of state funding, such as school construction, roads, etc., a minimum wage depending on the type of job performed, the nature of the project and the project’s location,” Representative Postles said. “The system is outdated, flawed and wasteful, usually paying wages well in excess of those paid in the private sector for the same work. While this should not be a partisan issue, it unfortunately is. Republican lawmakers have made numerous proposals for needed reforms but those efforts have been repeatedly rebuffed by the majority party. Given the current imbalance in the makeup of our state government, substantive changes will not be made any time in the foreseeable future.”
Representative Shupe used an example from his years as Mayor of Milford to explain how prevailing wage has a negative impact on municipalities and state agencies.
“As we developed a plan to rebuild Airport Road, a project long overdue, the Council bid the project to Diamond Materials and Davis, Bowen & Friedel which estimated the construction to cost $2.4 million. After the City scheduled a date to begin construction, we received a letter from DelDOT stating that since part of the project received CTF funds from our local legislators, the entire project would need to use prevailing wage formulas. With local contractors already selected for the project and no changes to the construction, the project would have cost the City an additional $300,000 to be in compliance with the state mandate.”
Representative Shupe explained that local legislators at the time moved a bill through the General Assembly that exempted CTF funds from prevailing wage. However, Representative Shupe pointed out that, had the legislators not done that, the increase could have led to hire taxes for Milford residents to pay the same people to do the same work. He explained that the prevailing wage is mandated for all school construction and state roads. As several studies have found that prevailing wage can add between 20 and 25 percent to every project, Representative Shupe would like to see a third party analyze the current prevailing wage statute in Delaware to make a recommendation to the General Assembly.
Representative Postles is waiting until forecasts for the budget are released in March or April to see if there will be issues that could impact Milford in the coming year. Representative Shupe believes that the budget process in the State needs to be fixed and Senator Wilson commented that “until the fiscal house in Delaware is put in proper order, everyone is in jeopardy.”
“As always, the budget will have a large impact on Delaware’s economy and the fiscal decision of all municipalities across the State of Delaware,” Representative Shupe said. “I will push to continue the budget smoothing process that requires lawmakers to use economic factors to determine spending levels. In a recent announcement, the Delaware Economic and Financial Advisory Council estimated a $66 million increase from its September forecast. While expecting a healthy economic forecast, lawmakers should take the time to create fiscal policy that allows for long-term growth and economic prosperity. By tying state spending to economic factors during good years, instead of spending every dollar that comes in, we can create a strong fund that will allow us to avoid major cuts to programs and services or tax increases during those tough economic times. It appears to me that most Sussex County legislators will push for these reforms that will not only allow for future economic prosperity at the state level but also allow local municipalities and families to better plan for their own future.”
Representative Postles believes that political progressives emboldened by their success at the polls will bring new versions of controversial bills to the table in 2019, including legalization of medical marijuana, ne income tax brackets for higher wage earners, raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour and additional firearm restrictions.
“The 150th General Assembly promises to be eventful,” Representative Postles said. “Despite being in the minority, I intend to voice the concerns of my district, promote practical, reasonable solutions to our state’s problems and serve the people of my district to the best of my abilities.
Starting in the new year, the three Milford legislators will be hosting coffees and town halls in the local communities to listen as well as share information from the State of Delaware. “We do their job most effectively when residents are involved and have a voice,” said Shupe.
Disclaimer: Bryan Shupe owns MilfordLIVE, a business he started in 2010.
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