State of State focuses on jobs, transportation, crime-fighting

By Chris Carl/Amy Cherry 3:01pm, January 23, 2014 - Updated 7:03pm, January 23, 2014
VIDEO: Watch excerpts of Gov. Markell's State of the State along with reaction from state lawmakers.
Citing job growth and higher standards for schools, Governor Markell says the state of Delaware is stronger than a year ago.

The governor delivered his 2014 State of the State Address at Legislative Hall in Dover Thursday that included topics like job creation, transportation, and crime fighting in Wilmington.

WDEL's Amy Cherry reports.

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Governor Markell is proposing a $1.1 billion investment over five years to improve the state's roads and bridges, which will also result in construction jobs.

"I think it's time we stop complaining about the sorry shape of our Transportation Trust Fund and fix the underlying issues," says Markell.

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Specifics on how to pay for that investment are expected at next week's budget address, but ideas floating out there include a hike in gas tax, an increase in motor vehicle fees, toll increases or borrowing.

"The comment about whining about the Transportation Trust Fund, I'm all up for building new roads and actually improving our infrastructure and creating jobs, but again, if we're going to increase the debt of the state to do that, that's a problem, and if we're going to raise taxes, that's a problem for businesses," says Republican House Minority Leader Dan Short (R-Seaford).

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"You can raise fees, you can raise taxes, you can borrow money. The one thing I worry about, it's an election year, some people will shy away from doing the right thing," said House Majority Leader Pete Schwartzkopf (D-Rehoboth).

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Schwartzkopf refused to say, at this time, what he thought was the right thing to do. He also wouldn't say whether this year he was in favor of a gas tax hike. Last year, Schwartzkopf was not in favor of the increase.

In discussions after the State of the State, Markell told reporters the potential for borrowing is there, but that method wouldn't be used to cover the entire expenditure.

In addition to infrastructure improvements, making sure there's an opportunity to work was a major focus of Markell's speech. He says that starts with making sure Delaware students are ready to work upon graduation, and he's proposing a scholarship program so that all low-income students with college potential can take college-level courses during their senior year of high school.

"As we send more of our students into higher education, we need to make sure that they have a roadmap from the classroom to employment, and that our major employers are working with our universities so that our youth are prepared for the workforce. I'm pleased to announce today that DuPont has agreed to partner with our colleges on this effort," Markell said.

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Markell says starting salaries for teachers in Delaware aren't competitive with neighboring states, and he hopes to introduce legislation to change that this spring.

The governor also wants to improve the state's water. While time and effort have been spent on improving the state's air and cleaning up brownfields, Markell says the state's water has been neglected.

"We can't eat our fish from the St. Jones. We can't swim in too many parts of the Inland Bays. The Christina and Brandywine Rivers are laced with toxic pollutants. This is embarrassing. This is unacceptable, and we must change it," Markell said.

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The governor is proposing the Clean Water for Delaware's Future Initiative, with a goal of cleaning up waterways within a generation. A cost on that is expected at next week's budget address.

Markell also spoke about Wilmington's ongoing problem with violent crime. He said there is no quick fix and the task facing Mayor Williams is significant, but he pledged the state's help.

"Far too often, gun violence is committed by shooters who cannot legally own guns, so it is critical that we do a better job tracing these weapons back to their sources. We must redouble our efforts to confront the gun-trafficking that is escalating the gang wars. To do so, I am proposing a new Division of Special Investigations within the Department of Safety and Homeland Security that will focus on gun-trafficking," Markell said.

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Markell also wants to dedicate $7 million for downtown development incentives, starting with Wilmington.

"Builders looking to make investments in these districts will receive grants for a percentage of their investment, and more importantly, this program can improve our housing stock and revitalize our downtowns," he said.

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Helping Wilmington is one issue both sides of the aisle can agree on.

"The City of Wilmington need to get a handle on it, and I think we need to help 'em the best we can. That is our biggest city, it is the financial center of this state, and we need to solve that issue," said Short.

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"Wilmington needs all the help they can, and at some point, maybe you just you make the arrest and get the bad guys out there, but at some point, you have to get to the kids, you have to work with the kids, and you have to show 'em that there's a better way to live, a better avenue of life than getting arrested and going to jail," says Schwartzkopf.

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The governor says it's not the state's job to guarantee the success of its citizens, but it is the state's job to empower its people to make their dreams real, which will guarantee the success of the state.

The cost of many of these initiatives will likely be unveiled at next week's budget address. Republicans like Senate Minority Whip Greg Lavelle and Short say the speech shows a lot of vision, but little details on how to pay for it all.

"How are you gonna finance it? How are you going to make it work? We have a limited number of dollars; we have a shortfall, we've got to put all that back together and make it up," said Short.

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