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Gov. John Carney delivers his final State of the State address

Quinn Kirkpatrick
Delaware Public Media

Gov. John Carney aims to “leave it all on the field” in his final year in office.

That was the overarching theme of his final State of the State address Tuesday.

Carney spent the majority of his 40 minute speech reflecting on his work to date - but did sprinkle in some goals he still hopes to reach.

He touted his administration’s efforts on education - including a new school building coming to downtown Wilmington for the first time in over 50 years, increased funding for programs supporting low-income students, and the new Wilmington Learning Collaborative.

But Carney sees a pressing issue that he feels needs to be addressed.

“Here’s an uncomfortable truth: statewide, less than 40 percent of children are reading proficiently at third grade. And many schools fall short of that average,” said Carney. “Imagine if YOUR child went to a school with that kind of result. None of us would tolerate that. But too many children across our state are faced with this reality. And we need to fix it.”

Carney says literacy coaches and an increased focus on the science of reading are his answer to improving literacy. He included funding for new coaches in his budget plan, along with more than $135 million for childcare.

Carney also called for investment in clean energy and jobs - noting the new federally backed regional hydrogen hub’s role in both areas. He also sees offshore wind as a way to meet the state’s climate goals and bring economic benefits.

Negotiations with offshore wind developer US Wind began in December.

“We expect the agreement to bring more than $100 million in benefits to our state without raising rates. Those benefits include funding for workforce development, for dredging projects, and for projects to mitigate the effects of climate change in our State Parks,” said Carney.

He says there is legislation in the works that will allow the state to directly purchase wind-generated renewable energy, and explore partnerships with other states in the region.

One of the items on Carney's legislative wish list is to codify so-called “budget smoothing” - a budget benchmark he created by executive order to control budget growth and help ensure funding is available during revenue downturns.

Carney tried once before in 2018 as a constitutional amendment and failed. He encourages lawmakers to reconsider.

“This year, I’m asking you to send me legislation that would make our spending benchmark permanent. I won’t be here next year. But most of you will. Don’t set yourselves up for failure,” said Carney.

Carney says use of the budget benchmark is needed to help deal with the rising budgetary pressure caused by healthcare costs. He noted that this year the state is paying close to $2 billion on Medicaid and insurance plans for state employees and retirees - a $200 million increase from a year ago.

"It’s almost a third of our state budget. It’s only going up – and taxpayers are footing the bill," said Carney. "If we don’t get serious, health care spending will crowd out other investments, investments we all support."

Carney also noted he anticipates the passage of the permit to purchase bill this session, following up on bans on assault weapons, bump stocks and high-capacity magazines enacted during his administration. The permit to purchase bill is expected to on Thursday's House agenda. It passed the State Senate last May.

He also highlighted his administration's significant investments in Group Violence Intervention (GVI), a program that was started in Wilmington and has since expanded to Dover.

“Here’s the truth: it’s a very small number of people who are committing the vast majority of gun violence in these communities. They are part of groups that fight with one another. Through GVI, we are directly engaging with those individuals and the gangs and groups they’re part of,” said Carney.

He adds more than 300 people have participated in the program, which promises job training and social services in exchange for an end to violent behavior.

Carney wants to expand the program further south. He says they’ve begun offering GVI services in Laurel, where they saw a spike in shootings, but want to expand it to reach more of Sussex County.

In the end, Carney laid out a roadmap for the next year, while also acknowledging the work done in the past 7.

But it wasn't a normal State of the State address.

Carney’s speech was interrupted multiple times by protesters in the gallery demanding a ceasefire in Gaza.

Quinn Kirkpatrick
Delaware Public Media

State Reps. Madinah Wilson-Anton and Eric Morrison introduced a resolution in January calling for a permanent ceasefire, the release of hostages and prisoners of war, the delivery of aid, and diplomatic action toward peace, but it was tabled.

Dounya Ramadan was one of the protesters. She says they chose to speak up at the State of the State because a majority of the state’s most powerful leaders, many of whom have connections with President Biden, were present.

“Governor Carney needs to acknowledge the existence of Palestinians and the over 29,000 palestinian lives that have been taken with our tax dollars since October,” said Ramadan. “He lowered the flag in October after the October 7th attacks, and he has not once mentioned Palestinian lives moving forward. And it’s been what, 5 months now? And not even a flag was lowered.”

Ramadan says Carney needs to put pressure on the President and state leaders to stand together and call for an immediate and permanent ceasefire, adding that the tax dollars being invested in Israel should instead be invested in communities within the US.

“It should be going to all of us for our children, for our growth, for our prosperity, for our health. And not bombing and murdering families, entire generations,” she said.

Organizers say the disruption was planned after going through the proper bureaucratic channels, which included calling the Congressional Delegation and members of the General Assembly, did not work.

Quinn Kirkpatrick was born and raised in Wilmington, Delaware, and graduated from the University of Delaware. She joined Delaware Public Media in June 2021.