Making mail-in voting permanent, mandating higher use of renewable energy and more than doubling education funding for disadvantaged students are among Gov. John Carney’s plans for Delaware.
Carney outlined those and other goals, including providing body cameras for every police officer in Delaware, in an online State of the State address Tuesday.
He also pledged to continue working to ensure that as many Delawareans as possible receive the COVID-19 vaccine, even as restrictions he imposed on businesses and individuals remain in place.
“Over the course of my 30 years in public service, and even during the course of this administration, I have seen government tackle countless, serious and complicated challenges,” Carney said while discussing the coronavirus. “Nothing, absolutely nothing, compares to the last 10 months.”
Despite the challenges posed by the virus, civil unrest, racial tensions, and a contentious election, Carney described the state of the state as “resilient.”
“It’s determined. It’s strong. And it’s getting stronger,” he said.
Carney noted that Delaware officials were able to balance the current year’s budget amid the economic devastation caused by his coronavirus restrictions without raising taxes or laying off state employees. That was attributable in large part to starting the year with a $200 million surplus, and to a budget reserve fund his administration established to help navigate economic downturns.
“This year, I will again propose a budget that links state spending to the growth of our economy,” he said, adding that Delaware’s unemployment rate of 5.3% percent is “a very very positive sign for Delaware workers.”
The unemployment rate is well below the peak of 15.9 percent it hit in May, but it crept up slightly in December from a post-outbreak low of 5.1 percent in November and equals a level that had not been seen before the pandemic since November 2014.
Addressing the coronavirus epidemic, Carney said Delaware has “turned the corner” but much work remains to be done.
He noted more than 7 percent of Delaware’s population has been infected with COVID-19 but did not mention that the virus has had a disproportionate effect on those over age 65. That group accounts for 14% of reported cases but 84 percent of reported deaths, more than half of which involve residents of long-term care facilities. Overall, the virus has been linked to the deaths of roughly one-tenth of 1 percent of Delaware’s population.
Republican House Minority Leader Danny Short of Seaford described Carney’s speech as both “uplifting” and “sterile.”
“There are people out there that are suffering tremendously,” Short said.
Carney noted that the state has spent almost $200 million in federal coronavirus relief funds to support small businesses, and another $210 million to replenish Delaware’s Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund.
Meanwhile, the state has continued spending on infrastructure programs to expand broadband access, and Carney said his economic development proposals will include a Site Readiness Fund to help promote existing properties to prospective employers and increased funding for lab space for startup science and technology companies.
Carney said his highest priority is adequate funding for school students most in need of help.
Under his administration’s settlement of a school funding lawsuit brought by the ACLU and Community Legal Aid Society, Carney is required to seek significantly higher funding from the legislature for disadvantaged students, defined as children from low-income families, those with disabilities and children whose first language is not English.
Before the settlement, lawmakers had already approved a new weighted student funding system known as “Opportunity Funding,” for classroom-based support of low-income students and English-language learners.
“Over the next three years, we will more than double Opportunity Funding for public schools across the state,” he said, adding that the state also will double funding for early education programs for disadvantaged children.
Carney also plans to propose spending $50 million in a new Clean Water Trust Fund and supports a legislative effort to require that 40 percent of Delaware’s energy come from renewable sources by 2035.