Gov. Jack Markell reflected on Delaware’s economy and job growth, and the importance of creating opportunities for individuals of all backgrounds to succeed, during his State of the State address Thursday.
It was Markell’s final State of the State, delivered from Legislative Hall in Dover, since he took office in 2009.
“When I first stood before you, we faced a collapsing national economy and a growing deficit at a time of rapidly increasing demand for public services,” said Markell, D-Delaware.
“When we reflect on the challenges we have faced, we can be proud that even in the wake of the great recession, we did not settle for a return to the status quo.”
He pointed to several successes in Delaware since the economic downturn, such as the settling of major incorporations, and a job growth rate of 13 percent with the addition of 50,000 jobs.
Markell also mentioned increased construction jobs created out of an additional $400 million in roads and bridges projects over the next six years.
He discussed the economic challenge brought on by the recent planned merger of DuPont and Dow, and the announcement of 1,700 layoffs at DuPont.
The University of Delaware, Delaware State and Delaware Technical Community College are working with the state to develop a plan to give scientists and others who have worked at DuPont access to lab space, new research opportunities and start-up capital, Markell said.
But he said it’s time to modernize the state’s tax code to promote more job creation in the state.
“I applaud the House of Representatives for passing the Delaware Competes Act, which recognizes that we must change our corporate income tax laws so that Delaware is more competitive–and so that companies have a bigger incentive to expand in our state,” Markell said.
He said the key to a successful economy is improved education and training. Markell called for an increase in starting salaries for teachers, continued efforts in training for those less fortunate and reforming the criminal justice system so inmates can reintegrate into the community.
“We all know that education is the great equalizer–providing the ladder from poverty to opportunity, separating the citizen from the inmate, distinguishing the vibrant thriving communities from those that seem to be forever in decline,” he said.
Markell pointed to the success of the many programs in Delaware that provide residents job training to learn skills for a more promising career. Still, he said, there are many individuals who want to work but don’t have the necessary skills.
“Even as employment in our state has reached historic highs, we confront the odd reality that Delaware employers are hiring, but can’t find enough qualified applicants,” Markell said. “We can help change that.”
Grade school in Delaware has made several improvements, he said, including record high graduation rates, some of the nation’s best test scores in the early grades and the availability of AP courses.
Markell is asking the General Assembly to support his budget request to give more low-income children access to high-quality early learning programs, well-educated teachers and a healthy start.
His budget also will include funding to raise starting salaries to be more competitive with neighboring states.
“One of the best things we can do to ensure the prosperity of the generations to follow, is to ensure our children have great teachers today,” Markell said.
Markell also spoke of his passion to reform the criminal justice system, and the importance of keeping a defendant in the community to receive programs while awaiting trial. He also spoke of Delaware’s improvements to treatment and job training to prepare inmates for their reintegration into society.
However, more than 600 inmates are serving mandatory extended sentences because of Delaware’s habitual offender law, Markell said.
An individual can receive a mandatory life sentence for drug offenses, without any conviction for an act of physical violence, he said.
“Criminal behavior peaks when defendants are in their early 20s. We don’t need to sentence all of those offenders to life in prison when many will age out of crime,” Markell said.
“We need to give our judges discretion to sentence offenders on a case-by-case basis so that we can focus our limited resources on keeping dangerous offenders off the streets.”
During his speech, the Governor also highlighted how Delaware is improving addiction services and efforts to address women’s health. And though not specific, he said he wants to reign in rising costs of the health plan for state workers.
“Much has changed in Delaware since the first time I delivered the State of the State, but from my first day in office one constant has been the determination with which Delawareans seize the opportunities available to them,” Markell said.
“This job and serving with all of you continues to be the honor of my life. It has only strengthened my faith in the good that we can do together. It has only reinforced how important our work is to the security and prosperity of future generations. I look forward to all we can still accomplish.”