How will Markell afford his infrastructure proposals?

    Rob Tornoe watched Governor Markell’s state of the state and was curious about the infra-structure proposal. He has a commentary.

     

    Here’s Rob’s comment.

    Here we are – another year, another State of the State address, that prime opportunity for Gov. Jack Markell

    Delawarean what he proposes to do to fix the problems he’s been unable to address during his 5+ years in office.

    This year, the headline proposal is Markell’s plan to invest $1.1 billion over the next five years in infrastructure spending, fixing the state’s roads and bridges and creating well-paying jobs for Delawareans stuck sending applications to McDonald’s. Markell said the proposed increase of $500 million would help shore-up the “sorry shape” of the Transportation Trust Fund and “lay the foundation for future prosperity.”

    I can’t say I disagree with him. Everyone knows Delaware could use more well-paying jobs, and investments in infrastructure make a lot of sense, given the relative low cost and potential upside for economic growth and development.

    But the question remains – where is that extra money coming from? There is currently a $14 million shortfall in revenues just to cover last year’s operating budget. With mandatory spending increases from health care and education factored in, the shortfall could balloon to more than $100 million. Paired with the state’s ever-decreasing revenue from gambling, I’d say the economic forecast for the state is facing its own polar vortex.

    So how does Markell plan to not only pay for new infrastructure plans (among other proposals), but fix the gap in revenue and spending? We won’t know until next week, when Markell issues his budget proposal, but we have a couple of clues, thanks to a report issued earlier this week by a Blue Collar Task Force chaired by two democratic legislators.

    According to their report, they suggest Markell consider raising Delaware’s gas tax, currently at 23-cents-a-gallon, as well as issue new debt or dedicate existing revenue to fund the increase in infrastructure spending.

    Markell has been down this path before. His trial balloon last June to increase the gas tax flew about as well as an iron anvil, and considering the dire state of the budget, finding more money there seems unlikely. Markell also seems reluctant to authorize any new borrowing, considering the money the state already borrows for school construction.

    I don’t disagree in principal with other proposals Markell made during his speech, not that any were controversial or bold, paying teachers more, cleaning our water, helping students do well in college. All read as through they came straight from the “So you want to be a politician” handbook.

    One thing I was hoping for that seemed missing were some proposals to address income inequality in the state, or some ideas how to help those most affected by the economic downturn. Instead we get mostly white bread proposals that will probably be paid for by raising taxes and fees that effect those that can least afford it.

    What about reversing the tax cut he gave to Delaware’s wealthiest citizens? Last year, it was allowed to roll back to 6.6 percent, down from the 6.95 percent it was increased to in 2009 to cover a budget shortfall. Doesn’t it make more sense to increase it temporarily, rather than jack up fees and increase taxes on gas that hurt those most in need? And as an aside, why are tax increases for the rich only “temporary,” while fee increases always seem permanent?

    I hope I’m wrong about how Markell plans to afford his proposals. We’ll know next week. But I’d predict we’ll see Fisker cars being built in New Castle before we see a bold proposal to help those most in need.

    ——

    Rob Tornoe is a cartoonist and a WHYY contributor. Follow Rob on Twitter @RobTornoe.

    Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

    It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.