Lt. Governor Denn, President Pro Tem DeLuca, Speaker Gilligan, members of the 146th General Assembly, statewide elected officials, members of the Judiciary, members of the Cabinet, State employees, Carla, family and the people of Delaware:
This is the third time I have had the opportunity to come before you to report on the State of our State. As is common this time of year, we have recently dug ourselves out from a series of blizzards. When such storms occur, we see people across our state out in their driveways, shoveling their way out. Neighbors, helping to clear out their block together. Strangers, who have stopped to help dislodge another’s car from a snow bank. And, of course, we see the snow plows at work, and when things are at their worst and most dangerous, we see dedicated state employees and members of the National Guard out when the rest of us are safe and warm inside, a literal and visible example of the famous tag-line, “your tax dollars at work.”
But all of this activity – whether individual effort or mutual cooperation, private toil or public service – is never an end in itself: We don’t throw ourselves into the task of digging out from a storm just so we can get things back to where we were before the blizzard. We shovel our driveways so our children will be able to get out and go to school. We dig cars out of snow banks and we plow our streets so that all of us can go to work to build more, produce more, and earn more.
For the past two years, we have braved an economic blizzard of historic proportions. The skies may not yet have cleared, but Delawareans have already been hard at work from Day One to dig ourselves out of this mess. And we can finally see the promise slowly emerging from the burdens the storm has left behind. On this point, let me be clear: While there are national and international forces beyond our control, Delaware is far stronger than the challenges we face:
And our focus on fiscal responsibility has made Delaware one of only eight states with a AAA rating from all three bond rating agencies.
I want to thank all of you – the state workers and public education employees who have kept our public services going, the police and fire and military personnel who have kept us safe and secure, the small business owners who have hung on and the new businesses that have moved in, the neighbors who have come together and the solitary Delawareans who have gotten up and gone in to work or look for work every day – and I want to thank everyone here in this hall today – for all you have done to help keep our state going during these challenging times.
But we haven’t done all this simply so we could scrape our way back to where we were. We have worked, we have struggled, we have dug down, and we have pushed back, to clear a new and brighter path to the future – a future where all our citizens can find a job that provides an opportunity to employ the full scope of their abilities.
A future where all our children can learn what they need to compete successfully in a world of challenges.
A future where our families can live together in peace and safety enabling them to fulfill all their dreams.
A future where we all come together to improve our communities and protect the weakest and neediest among us – and where we all come together here, in this great house of democracy, to sustain that future without rancor or malice but in common purpose and concerted effort.
Two years ago, I swore an oath to promote those values and gave you my promise to help build that future. For the past two years, we have cleared the path to that goal, even as the snow obscured the way. Now, the choices we make this year must further build to that promised future.
Building Our Economic Future
That future starts with expanding the size and scope of our economy.
We are working every day to help our existing businesses grow and looking for the new businesses and industries that will enrich our future. We have implemented a number of new initiatives. I am about to propose a few more. But our success at creating jobs demands more than a tax credit here or an incentive there. It’s about our culture. We must think like entrepreneurs and others who create jobs. Anyone who can create a decent job, whether they are already here or across the ocean, needs to know we are more responsive and more committed to their success than anyone else, anywhere.
That is why I will again be recommending significant funding for the Delaware Strategic Fund. While other states may write bigger checks, a robust Strategic Fund that offers targeted investments in economic growth makes it clear to those who create jobs: We will be your partner.
We must be prepared to make the infrastructure investments necessary when we see significant opportunities to put Delawareans back to work. I am proposing a Job Creation Infrastructure Investment Fund that will allow us to seize the best opportunities for investing in future jobs in ways that our Transportation Trust Fund currently cannot.
And to drive home the message that Delaware is the best place to start and grow a business, we must promote job-creating capital investment. For businesses large or small that are willing to put Delawareans to work in a new or expanded manufacturing facility – whether it be for traditional manufacturing, or for clean energy – we will provide tax credits to support that job growth. We must continue to create a business climate that puts our neighbors back to work and that puts Delaware back at the forefront of making things again.
Historically, Delaware has been defined by what we make – from Dupont’s mills in the 19th Century, to the Pontiac and Chrysler plants of the 20th, to, today, Atlantis Industries in Milton, providing advanced parts design and tooling for customers all over the country, and TA Instruments in New Castle, designing and manufacturing highly sophisticated measurement devices. Manufacturing jobs have provided a ladder to economic independence for countless families and they must remain part of our economic future.
That is why our administration is joining with the Delaware Manufacturing Association, led by Chamber of Commerce President Jim Wolfe. This partnership will build on effective past outreach to local manufacturers on topics ranging from lean manufacturing techniques to energy savings programs. Together, we will work to develop and implement new ways to expand manufacturing jobs.
We will stay focused on the particular issues facing our small businesses. That means continuing our efforts to make permitting more efficient and predictable. It also means recognizing that one of the most important assets of any small business is its workforce. Too often, small business owners have trouble negotiating and paying for healthcare coverage for their workforce, or attracting the best workers when they don’t. We will implement the new federal health care act in a way that most helps our small businesses.
World Class Education
Our determination to help the private sector create jobs has led to significant progress on the issue most critical to our long-term success – working with Delaware’s excellent educators to ensure we have the best possible public schools. Employers want to know that their children will have a great place to learn and that our schools will graduate young people ready to thrive in the work world.
Our students today are graduating into a job environment far different from what their parents faced. They are competing with graduates from around the world for jobs and we are competing with governments around the world to help make those opportunities available.
Just think about some of Delaware’s most important employers. Astra Zeneca and Barclays are based in the United Kingdom. ING’s parent company is based in the Netherlands. Evraz, which operates the steel plant in Claymont, is based in Russia. Bilcare, with dozens of employees in Delaware City, is based in India. These are global companies with facilities around the world. They regularly ask themselves, “Where should we invest our next dollar of capital and create the next job?” We must do all we can to make the answer “Delaware.”
That’s why we recently proposed, and the State Board of Education, led by Teri Quinn Gray adopted, the final regulation making Delaware one of a handful of states to require completion of a world language in order to graduate.
Let me explain why it is so important that our kids be multi-lingual. The international insurance firm Cigna employs 500 people in North Wilmington who service workers all over the world. Cigna has support centers in many different countries, and they’ve found that their employees are most productive when they speak multiple languages. Their employees in Belgium speak an average of three languages. We helped Cigna stay in Delaware, but if we want companies like them to grow, they need workers here ready to meet the challenge of communicating around the world.
That is why, during my recent trip to China, I signed an agreement with the Hanban Institute to bring several teachers from China to Delaware, offering Chinese language courses to our students at virtually no cost to our State. We will leverage this opportunity by offering a new, high-quality online Chinese language course developed with federal grant funding and the best national experts. We need to be China’s trade partner, not just a customer or debtor, and together these innovations will help give Delaware’s students the language skills needed to do that.
The language that underpins most of the innovation that drives global growth is science, technology, engineering and math, or “STEM.” We have created a STEM Council, to be led by Jud Wagner of the Brandywine School District and Senator Ted Kaufman – himself an engineer and someone who is passionate about helping Delaware students develop critical STEM skills. The Council will ensure that Delaware schools have the high quality programs and partnerships necessary so that students gain the critical skills and knowledge needed for high-quality jobs. And we are funding a new STEM Teacher Residency Program to attract individuals with experience in the STEM areas to the teaching profession. This year, we’ll be bringing to our classrooms a former senior scientist with Astra-Zeneca and a Master’s-level physicist with prior experience at NASA.
We need our kids to compete and win on a global level. So, our state board of education recently adopted new, clearer and higher “common core standards.” But new standards alone are not enough. We must assess more accurately how proficient our students are at meeting them. Last summer, Education Secretary Lillian Lowery convened a group of 150 stakeholders to consider our standards and our students’ performance on national and international assessments. They concluded we need to face facts in a new way.
Here’s an analogy. It’s as though kids in Delaware and across the country have essentially been practicing basketball on an 8-foot high rim. But kids around the world have been practicing on a hoop 10 feet high. Our kids may be good at hitting those 8-foot shots – but the game is played at a higher level. So when we tell our kids they are proficient based on an assessment that is used only within our borders, but then they must compete with students outside of our borders used to making the harder shot, then we’re not being very honest with them.
Of course, it’s one thing to raise the goal. We need to ensure that we are also lifting our kids’ game. That is exactly what we are doing.
With the help of teachers, DSEA, administrators, the business community, parents, and others across the state, Secretary Lowery developed a plan that was ranked #1 in the country in the Race to the Top Competition. And we’re working together with our state’s educators to make that plan a reality – and here’s what it means for our kids:
And we launched the Partnership Zone effort to provide more focus on our lowest- achieving schools. The schools selected are required to implement significant and difficult changes – and many doubted whether our local school boards, charter schools and local unions would reach agreement to meet this challenge. Well, I am proud to say that all four of the Partnership Zone schools have done so. We received bold plans including leadership and staffing changes, hiring flexibility, the creation of focused academies, and the implementation of longer school days and school years.
We also know that as critically important as our K-12 initiatives are, it is essential to ensure that children arrive at kindergarten ready to learn. Building on recommendations from a task force co-chaired by Lt. Governor Matt Denn and Connie Bond Stuart, President of PNC Bank, Delaware, and from our Early Childhood Council, led by Dan Rich, we are increasing the focus on this issue within state government, improving assessment and the use of data, and better coordinating and integrating funding.
In the last two years, Delaware established itself as the First State when it comes to education reforms. Now, we’re working to make Delaware the First State when it comes to education results.
Safer Schools and Communities
If our kids are going to learn to the best of their abilities, they need to be safe. Schools can be the site of terrible violence. The plans currently compiled by each of our public schools to react to emergencies vary widely, from fairly complete in some schools, to virtually non- existent in others. We must do better.
That’s why I have asked Safety and Homeland Security Secretary Lew Schiliro, with his experience leading the FBI’s office in New York City, to oversee creation of model comprehensive school safety plans for the 26 public schools with a State Police School Resource Officer. This effort will include coordination with local emergency responders and will be available to schools throughout the state to help them develop their own plans – which we will soon require for every public school, so they are ready should the unthinkable ever occur.
We cannot afford to focus only on their safety in school. Whether in the City of Wilmington, or Manchester Square here in Dover, parents should not fear their children will be hit by stray bullets. Borrowing an idea from the Delaware State Troopers Association, we will make those who violate our laws fund efforts to reduce the incidence of gun violence. To this end, I have directed Secretary Schiliro and Col. Coupe to work with local law enforcement professionals across our state to focus these new resources, including additional state troopers, on reducing gun crimes, beginning in the City of Wilmington. With the pledged cooperation and leadership of Attorney General Biden, Mayor Baker, Councilman Jea Street and others, we will work together to reduce this tragic gun violence.
And as we work to end gun violence in our streets, we need to make our streets safer to travel. Too many families have lost loved ones to the senseless and preventable crime of drunk driving – including my own cousin, killed by a drunk driver. We have stepped up enforcement over the last few years, with over 5,000 arrests last year alone, but too many return to the road. Working with Senator Blevins, Representative Keeley, Attorney General Biden and others, we will propose revamping DUI laws, improving our monitoring technologies, and imposing more aggressive substance abuse treatment, to better target our resources and make our roads safer.
In fact, we need to more effectively target our limited criminal justice resources, generally, to maximize public safety. That is why we are launching the Justice Reinvestment Initiative, supported by Senator Sorenson, Chief Justice Steele and others, to partner with both the U.S. Department of Justice and our own front-line criminal justice personnel to identify and adopt new policies that will reduce crime, recidivism and prison populations, as states like Kansas and Indiana have done successfully.
A More Efficient State Government
Maximizing the return on every public dollar we spend must be a central goal during these difficult times. Over the past two years, we have made tough cuts, we have implemented stringent efficiencies, and we have reduced the size of our state work force. Those efforts will continue.
I’d like to thank our state and public education employees for the shared sacrifice they have exhibited and for responding to the noble call of public service. Our state and public education employees have families, children, and parents for whom they provide care. They have bills to pay just like all Delawareans. We thank them for their dedicated service and hard work.
But the financial pressures we confront as a state government demand that we take a hard look at the costs of our employee health insurance and pensions. Between them, they account for $453 million of our budget. Taxpayer contributions for state employee pensions increased by 594% over the last 11 years, and for healthcare by 257%. While this escalation is not sustainable, we value our state employees and they value the benefits they receive. So the proper course is to work together with our state and public education employees to find the best and fairest ways to achieve near- and long-term savings.
We have begun a dialogue with representatives of the major state and public education union leaderships and leaders from within the General Assembly. I am open to any and all good ideas. But we must secure the necessary savings during this session of the General Assembly, because the cost of delay is just unacceptable.
Health care costs also affect our budget in the form of Medicaid, which grew 143% over the last 11 years to $600 million of taxpayer money annually. These are important benefits but we need to instill common-sense reforms to make Medicaid more efficient, and Secretary Rita Landgraf and Director Ann Visalli will propose ways to modify our Medicaid program to better control these costs.
Meanwhile, many other areas of our budget will not be able to receive funding at their prior levels because of these other costs. This will include programs that I strongly support. But we cannot spend money we do not have – and we do not, and will not, have money to spend on some badly needed initiatives unless and until we get our major cost-drivers under better control.
We’re not just looking at the largest areas for savings, however. In the past year, we forged new partnerships between the Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs and non-profits like the Biggs Museum, the Rehoboth Art League, and Preservation Delaware. These partnerships expanded public access to the arts and history, without increasing government spending. This year, you will see more of this kind of innovative thinking. For example, next month Secretary of State Jeff Bullock will launch a first-ever arts marketing campaign using significant private and foundation dollars to help make arts organizations more self-sufficient.
Protecting the Most Vulnerable
Greater efficiency is crucial to our success, but we cannot leave vulnerable Delawareans behind. For those in our state hospital, we have made improvements and have more to make, but we should be treating fewer people in institutions and more in the community. Working with advocates, Secretary Landgraf has developed a plan to make the transition to more community placements and my budget will reflect this plan.
Similarly, we need to make sure children aging out of foster care are given the opportunities they need to succeed – something former Governor Minner remains passionate about. That’s why Secretary Rapposelli of the Kids Department and Director Ben Addi of the Delaware State Housing Authority are launching a partnership that will provide safe and affordable housing for these youth while they move toward independence.
Some of our fellow citizens also have cognitive and other disabilities that would challenge the strongest among us, yet they have a fierce desire to contribute and participate in our society. The Sheltered Workshop and Employment Program allows them to do just that. The program partners with businesses to find opportunities for these brave citizens to contribute and to feel the pride of a productive day’s work. We need to expand these opportunities.
Across our state, we see a renewed spirit of service. We see it in those who serve our
country through the National Guard and at the Dover Air Force Base. Like Karen Berry, who is both a teacher at Sussex Central High School and an officer in the Delaware National Guard. And her husband Mike, a State Trooper who recently returned home from serving our country in Afghanistan. Mike and Karen: thank you.
We see it reflected in the countless hours of service performed by Delawareans. My wife, Carla, is helping to lead an effort to make the First State first in volunteerism and so many have responded. We see this spirit in our schools, where teachers, their unions, parents, and administrators have all come together to forge the innovative education solutions I’ve detailed today. Other states have seen pitched battles where teachers and politicians demonize each other, but that’s not our approach in Delaware.
We see that spirit here in Dover, where elected officials are working together – unlike elsewhere in this country – thanks to the leadership of President Pro Tem Anthony DeLuca and Senate Minority Leader Gary Simpson, and Speaker Robert Gilligan and House Minority Leader Greg Lavelle.
And perhaps we have seen that spirit best in two great leaders who may no longer be serving in elected positions but who exemplify the leadership required to move our State forward. Both deserve our thanks and praise. One served in Dover and Washington and in both places, earned a reputation as effective, determined and always willing to work across the aisle. The other balanced her unmatched knowledge of state finances with her belief in compromise, her humor and her unwavering dedication to serving her neighbors. They are of different parties but each has added immeasurably to our state for the last several decades. Let us recognize and live up to the standards set for us by Mike Castle and Nancy Cook.
We can see that same spirit of service every day. In the Samaritans who rescue strangers in a storm, and in our neighbors who band together to dig out from under a snowfall. We see it in those small business owners keeping their doors open so that long-time employees can keep a pay-check coming. We see it in the parents who get up early every day to work an extra shift and stay up late every night to help with homework, all to ensure a brighter tomorrow for their children.
They are all telling us something: They are telling us that we can dig our way out – but we can do it best together. We can create new jobs and industries, but we do it best together. We can educate our children to face the world’s challenges, but we do it best together. We can make our schools and communities safer, and help those in need, but we do it best together.
And we can make state government more efficient and effective. But we can only do that if we do it . . . together.
God bless you. God bless America. And God bless the great state of Delaware.