Governor Markell was not able to attend this evening. He's still sitting shiva for his father, who passed away a few days ago. Agriculture Secretary Ed Kee filled in, and was joined by the Milford area's State Senator Gary Simpson and State Representatives George Carey and Bob Walls. Kent County Levy Court Commissioner Eric Buckson was there, and I am fairly sure there was some Milford School District officials as well.
There wasn't really new news from this evening. We're all well aware of how dire our situation has gotten. We face a large budget deficit in the current fiscal year and a huge hole next year. And those holes are only getting deeper according to reports from today's meeting of the Delaware Economic and Financial Advisory Council, which officially estimates how much revenue we'll have to work with.
I wanted to attend at least one of these so that I could hear the reactions of people in the room to the news, and hear the ideas of those people. Here's some of what I heard:
- "All taxes are on the table, except for a sales tax." That was Sec. Kee paraphrasing the Governor when asked about adding a sales tax in Delaware. Some of the elected folks offered light-hearted reminisces about being told to "sit down and shut up" when they broached sales taxes years ago. They also noted, more seriously, the risk that a sales tax would pose to Delaware retailers, who now depend on shoppers taking a break from the sales taxes in surrounding states.
- Delaware's "Rainy Day Fund," the small part of each budget that is required to be held in reserve, won't really help. It is only $180 million -- a small part of the hole -- and would have to be repaid, by law, within a year.
- One gent's prepared list of ideas:
- Close the toll by-pass at the canal bridge
- Privatize grass cutting along the highways
- Privatize the Indian River Marina
- Privatize the state hospitals
- Another gent called for an expansion of the use of retired professionals in volunteer projects such as mentoring small businesses.
- One fellow said that he has a home in New Hampshire, near water, for which he pays a property tax of around $10,000 a year and that that tax has not driven him away. He suggested we look to how New Hampshire manages to do that.
- The (pre-today's-DEFAC) hole estimate for next year comes out to about $2,000 household. It was suggested that many of us might be willing to "write that check." Or, maybe we can find 100 rich people to donate a million each.
- That led to memories of WWII and war bonds. "Why not sell savings bonds?"
Representative Walls, a Democrat, added this: "I am not for Democrats or Republicans; we have got to work together."