Lopez faces politicians’ toughest task: unlimited demands, limited resources

January 15, 2013

Newly elected state Sen. Ernie Lopez said he was told that as a new legislator he would get a 100-day honeymoon. He plans to milk it for all it’s worth.

I can’t blame him. Lopez, R-Lewes, was speaking recently before about 30 people at a Friends of Dewey meeting. The gathering, held at the Lions Club, was polite and respectful, despite what often seems the town’s contentious politics.

Though he was well received, Lopez’s message wasn’t the kind that endears politicians to their constituents. Discussing state finances, Lopez said, “It’s going to be another difficult year. Right now we have unlimited demand - unlimited demand - on extremely limited resources.

“When we’re thinking about large capital projects, large infrastructure projects,” Lopez continued, “it will be very difficult. What I have already been telling people is, ‘Be happy with static funding. Be thankful for static funding in 2013.’”

If only the waters confronting Dewey Beach from both the east and the west were so static. Like those living in Delaware Bay coastal communities, Dewey residents have come to fear high tides.

Graham Smith of Read Avenue told Lopez, “There’s a real problem in this town when it comes to high tide. I’m not talking about storms; I’m just talking about high tides.”

It’s not unusual, he said, for Rehoboth Bay waters to come halfway up the street. And, he said, it’s beyond Dewey’s ability to handle the problem.

Wanting to know if there were any way the state or federal government could help, Smith asked, somewhat ominously, “Do we just abandon Dewey and give it up to the tides?”

Lopez made it clear he wanted to help. He recalled the good times he’s had in Dewey, including “some that I remember and some that my friends tell me about” - an experience common to many of the town’s visitors.

He mentioned the University of Delaware study crediting the state’s coastal area for generating $6.9 billion in economic activity. That study also noted the coastal region helps support 59,000 jobs and raises over $700 million in tax revenue.

Despite that impact, Lopez was cautious about promising help. “I think that expectations here are something that is extremely important,” Lopez said. He vowed to explore “what’s worked in the past and what hasn’t, and what needs to be done.”

The state’s financial constraints aren’t the only issue. Lopez asked the residents, “What is the role of the state government in this process? I’m a big believer in home rule … The last thing we want is for the state government to sweep in and try to impose [a solution].”

That may prove as difficult an issue to navigate as the state’s finances. Many coastal residents may welcome state money but not state-imposed restrictions on what they can do with their property. But it’s hard to have one without the other. Sorting that out in the coming sessions will be one of the great challenges for Lopez, his fellow legislators - and the citizens of coastal Sussex.

Lopez did have a couple of pieces of good news that morning:

• He’s very happy with his committee assignments, something not every freshman legislator can say. Committees include education, transportation, sunset and natural resources andn environmental control. Lopez said he was told by a senior legislator that, for a freshman, he “did damn well” in securing his preferred assignments.

• Lopez also announced that money is now available through the Small Business Administration to help businesses and residents recover from Superstorm Sandy. For information, check the SBA’s website.

Castle’s bill at center of idea to end debt-ceiling crisis

A story in Sunday’s Washington Post revealed that former U.S. Rep. Mike Castle of Delaware almost achieved a lasting - if in some circles, dubious - fame.

Castle is the author of the law granting the United States Treasury the authority to mint platinum coins of any value. It might not sound like a big deal, but the technicality has been invoked as a way around the debt-ceiling crisis. The idea is that the Treasury could mint a $1 trillion dollar coin and then use it to fund government operations, if Congress were to refuse raising the debt ceiling.

In the story, Castle said that he had no intention of the bill being used that way. The law’s purpose was to allow the Treasury to serve collectors interested in platinum coins.

Both the Treasury and the Federal Reserve have now said they have no intention of going that route, so it’s apparently a dead issue. For a time, though, the nutty-sounding idea appeared to be a real possibility, which would have granted Castle a lasting legacy similar to the late Bill Roth, whose name remains well known nationally because of its attachment to the Roth IRA. I don’t think it’s a legacy Castle would want.

  • A number of accomplished writers will be appearing in the Politics column every Tuesday on a rotating basis to explore the dynamic world of politics at the local, county, state, national and world levels.

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