Gov. Jack Markell’s final State of the State Address Thursday touted past accomplishments over the last seven years, promising to keep focus on ballooning state medical costs and bolster the economy, despite turmoil at Delaware’s biggest companies.
Markell touted historic hiring at JP Morgan Chase announced over the summer, but nearly all of those gains will be erased by DuPont’s exodus.
“DuPont may be a lot smaller than it once was, but we must ensure that Delaware remains a place where innovation, research, and development is just part of our fabric,” he said.
In response, Markell announced Factory Berlin, a large European start-up incubator, will make Delaware their first U.S. location.
It’s a move that dovetails with the state’s target businesses – specialized tech companies that grow internally, not unlike DuPont’s humble beginnings as a gunpowder manufacturer along the banks of the Brandywine River in 1804.
The latest state revenue forecast dug budget writers out of what has been a tight past two years, but they still face a significant problem in public employee health benefit costs, which have risen exponentially.
“Today’s system does virtually nothing to help people focus on costs, so we’ll give employees the information and better incentives to choose cost-effective, high quality care – like using urgent care instead of the emergency room or telemedicine instead of an office visit,” Markell said.
His staff will also create a new plan for new employees while current workers face limited change.
One prong would create a new healthcare plan for public workers to help stem exploding costs and change current plans to make them more cost effective.
Opponents say it’s effectively a hit to state employees’ paychecks.
“It’s a sort of a long range way to dump some of the responsibilities of care and I would say we’re willing to look at anything, but that may be a little bit too much and it may be a little misplaced," said Sen. Harris McDowell (D-Wilmington North), co-chair of the budget writing Joint Finance Committee. Senate Minority Whip Greg Lavelle (R-Sharpley) says he understands that, but it might be the most prudent way to balance Delaware’s budget.
“Many of them, depending on where they are, may not have had a pay raise for a number of years, so I’m sympathetic to all those things. Again, we have to create a budget that helps create an environment where our economy can take off or entrepreneurs can thrive," Lavelle said.
First announced two years ago, Markell will continue to push for a revamped teacher compensation system – including a boost in pay in his proposed budget for next year.
A task force has spent more than a year and a half on those efforts, but no recommendations have been formally issued.
Delaware will also partner with Upstream USA to better allow access to contraceptives at low or no-cost. Markell says it’s necessary to help people reach their full potential.
“I’ve come to believe that helping women achieve their own goals and become pregnant only when they want to may be one of the most important things we can do in this regard.”
His own party members -- who have at times publicly stood up to certain initiatives like a ten cent gas tax hike and a new statewide property tax to clean up Delaware's toxic waterways -- stood by Markell's swan song.
McDowell called it the best public address the governor has given in his seven years in office.
House Majority Leader Valerie Longhurst (D-Delaware City) said his reflection of past accomplishments was "a little overwhelming" at times, especially those she worked with him on.
In recent years, priorities of the General Assembly and those of the governor didn't mesh well, but Longhurst says she expects them to be more cohesive this year.
"We're all on the same page and everything that he said today is things that I actually do support 100 percent."