As warmer temperatures return to the First State, many Delawareans are faced with rising fuel prices and tolls, falling wages and home sales, layoffs (or should I use the politically correct phrase, “corporate restructuring” or “downsizing”) and soaring food costs. Over the past few months, news of a downturn in the United States economy has consumed Delawareans with the speed of a snowball hurtling from atop a mountain. It seems that most state governments, including our own, are looking to Congress and the White House to address the economic woes of their constituents—only to find similar financial troubles plaguing our national treasury with most of our tax dollars expended in the Iraqi desert and the Afghanistan mountains.
Though Delaware has weathered recessions and economic downturns in the past, it seems as though this current economic climate contains the elements of a perfect storm—primarily, state lawmakers who have not yet laid a course of action to avoid catastrophe (in simple terms, the fate of our economic ship lies with the tides of the current, not the course of man). In Dover, our lawmakers are debating which programs should bear the burden of the fiscal shortfall. With our economic house on the brink of disarray, the time has come for our lawmakers to address those troublesome issues and burdens emerging from this spring of economic discontent by adopting a state economic recovery plan.
Famed British economist John Maynard Keynes once argued that in times of fiscal crisis, it is the role of government to take active steps to restore prosperity. In the spirit of Keynes (and those other worthy activist economists), below are four practical policies that should serve as a cornerstone of Delaware’s economic recovery plan.
Invest in Transportation
Similar to steps taken by Presidents Roosevelt and Clinton during times of economic recession, investing in transportation is an excellent source of creating jobs and sustainable growth, while benefitting taxpayers. Sadly, in times of financial hardships, our state’s critical infrastructure becomes a source of cutbacks instead of being a prime source of a cash infusion. Transportation is not only important to drivers (which becomes quite apparent upon hitting a pothole en route to work or watching the rising prices at the gas pump), but it is critical for attracting jobs and major industries to our state. The lack of a major commercial air hub and limited rail and highway routes in Sussex and Kent counties reduce the ability of our great state to attract those industries requiring a viable means to distribute their products, goods or services. As such, investing in transportation is key to our economic recovery and long-term prospects.
Encourage Public-Private Partnerships
Naturally, during times of recession, the quality of services provided by our state government inevitably declines due to cuts in those state-funded programs that are not on the radar of voters. Consequently, in order to maintain or increase the level of services in those programs, our state government must encourage the use of public-private partnerships (PPP). Public-private partnerships are ventures funded and operated through a partnership of government and private sector companies (such a venture restored New York’s Central Park to prominence after years of government cutbacks and neglect). In order to reduce unnecessary expenses and inefficient operations during this current economic downturn, our state lawmakers should encourage the use of PPPs to manage public resources such as our state’s parks, libraries and non-critical highways. By doing this, our state tax dollars are allocated efficiently to those projects where our government can truly make a difference.
Provide Additional Resources for Higher Education
Similar to our surrounding states, recognizing the importance of encouraging higher education is paramount to our economic recovery. With a state composed primarily of the banking, legal and financial sectors, the importance of sustaining a highly educated workforce is critical in maintaining and attracting new companies to our state. Unfortunately, the attention of our lawmakers remains on primary and secondary education (as if higher education is not an important piece to the ever-expanding education puzzle). As a result, many of our state’s top graduates, lacking financial support and resources, opt to receive their college education and employment outside of Delaware. This is unacceptable. Our lawmakers must realize the importance of retaining our talent pool in our economic recovery to ensure that Delaware remains competitive and innovative.
Expand Sources of Revenue
Finally, our state’s economic recovery plan must identify additional sources of revenue. Expanding revenue, not eliminating services, should be the primary focus of our lawmakers through the end of the current legislative session. The recent adoption of slot gaming in Pennsylvania, along with a significant downturn in the housing industry, has reduced our state treasury by millions. The fundamental component of our economic recovery plan is to increase the state’s revenue, without burdening Delawareans with over-reaching taxes. Investing in emerging technologies, increasing international trade, providing tax incentives for small businesses and encouraging an expansion of green industries are just a few ideas that could fuel our state coffers for generations to come.
These are just a few practical policies that should serve as key components of Delaware’s economic recovery plan. The time has come for innovative thinking and governing to propel our state to the forefront of economic success. In doing so, our lawmakers must heed the words of former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, “the task of leaders is to take their societies from where they are to where they have never been.”
After all, common sense must prevail.