Gov. Jack Markell has made it clear that job creation and attracting big businesses is on the top of his priority list, but the waging battle against rising health care costs and government accountability are also on his agenda for 2012. Markell gave his fourth State of the State address Thursday in Legislative Hall.
Not unlike last year’s State of the State address, Gov. Jack Markell took the opportunity Thursday to tout the state’s accomplishments in the past year and offer up a few of his recommendations for driving Delaware into a leading spot in today’s global economy.
Markell has made it clear that job creation and attracting big businesses is on the top of his priority list, but the waging battle against rising health care costs and government accountability are also on his agenda for 2012.
Markell gave his fourth State of the State address in front of members of the General Assembly Thursday afternoon.
Job creation continues
Markell said among his budget recommendations for next year will be increased funding for Delaware’s Strategic Fund, which is used to attract and keep large employers in Delaware. So far, these funds have brought in companies like PBF Energy, Sallie Mae, Fisker Automotive, Capital One and soon Amazon.
“To do more than just keep pace — to put distance between ourselves and our competitors — we must look beyond the direct benefits our larger employers provide. We must capitalize on their presence to build our competitive edge,” Markell said, alluding to Delaware’s small business community.
Markell said the state would continue to utilize the federal Small Business Credit Initiative to help creditworthy businesses obtain loans to expand and create jobs.
The governor also wants to see more resources made available for start-up companies and to grow the state's entrepreneur community.
“Not every company that uses these resources will be successful and it will take those that succeed time to achieve results,” he said. “Our goal, though, is not to capture a headline tomorrow; it is to facilitate the creation of jobs for a generation.”
Markell said he is committed to providing jobs for returning military veterans, which is why he will propose expanding tax credits to Delaware businesses that hire veterans.
Senate Majority Leader Patricia Blevins (D-Elsmere) was pleased to see this initiative on the governor’s agenda.
“I didn’t know about this, but I think it’s a wonderful idea,” Blevins said.
Citing concerns from business leaders about the lack of choice and competition in municipalities’ commercial power rates, Markell spoke about energy-saving investments as a way to bring future employers to the state.
“I am sensitive to the revenue needs of our municipalities, but if these businesses leave our state, those jobs may well be lost forever,” he said. “I am ready to begin that conversation with our municipalities.”
Senate Minority Leader Gary Simpson (R-Milford) said this item caught his attention, as it has been a major part of his conversations with Delaware Economic Development Director Alan Levin.
“I was happy to see the city of Milford reduce their commercial rates by 18 percent,” Simpson said. “They got the message from the governor and I hope others are encouraged to do the same thing.”
Health care and quality of life
In a quest to improve quality of life in Delaware, Markell proposed $13 million be allotted to building a new and enhanced trail network throughout the state. This initiative, the governor said, is part of the First State Trails and Pathways Plan.
“Building on the strong foundation of existing trails and greenways already in place, we can make Delaware one of the most walkable and bikeable states in America,” he said.
House Majority Leader Pete Schwartzkopf (D-Rehoboth Beach) said this recommendation affects his district in particular because a trail spanning from north Rehoboth Beach to Cape Henlopen National Park is currently being designed.
“You can’t punish people into being active, but you can provide incentives,” he said. “Plus, tourists want to explore the area and bike riding or walking is a perfect way to do that.”
The increasing burden of Medicaid costs was once again part of the governor’s speech.
“Over the last 10 years, this program alone has grown 127 percent, to the point where federal and state spending together exceeds $1.2 billion each year,” Markell said. “The total commitment of taxpayer dollars on health care is staggering. Yet the expectation is that year after year we will continue to pay more for health care, whether we receive quality results or not.”
Referring to the health care system as the “sick care system,” Markell said the current system in place does not encourage healthy behavior nor does it discourage unhealthy behavior.
“We are not going to solve the national health care debate here in Dover, but we can reduce our costs and improve quality by focusing on how the state procures health care,” he said. “The idea may sound far-fetched, but we have been quietly making progress.”
House Minority Leader Greg Lavelle (R-Sharpley) said he was impressed by Markell’s speech overall and he looks forward to hearing more details on job creation and cutting costs.
“I look forward to helping our businesses to thrive and grow,” Lavelle said.