Local legislators discuss Trump impacts in Delaware

March 27, 2017

How are the new Trump administration in Washington and proposed budget cuts affecting policy thinking and governing in Delaware?

Rep. Pete Schwartzkopf, D-Rehoboth, Rep. Steve Smyk, R-Milton/Lewes, and Sen. Ernie Lopez, R-Lewes, all have opinions.

"It is affecting us," said Schwartzkopf, speaker of the house. "But we really don't know how yet. Everything is so uncertain. We don't know what he's doing and how much of it will fly. You just can't trust what he [President Donald Trump] says. We have to operate on what's happened in the past, and at this point that's very shaky ground."

Schwartzkopf said President Trump's proposed budget would hurt a lot of people and would push more programs from the federal to the state level. "He's proposed cutting programs that fund Meals on Wheels. And who cuts fuel oil for the poor? It looks like we [the state] are going to end up with more responsibility, but we don't have any money. It's going to bankrupt some states, or they will end up providing no services."

Delaware is wrestling with a $350 million budget shortfall for the coming year. Gov. John Carney has presented a budget that deals with the realities of the situation, but it will be up to the state's legislators to assess that plan and see what ideas will stay and what will go.
Schwartzkopf said the state's Joint Finance Committee, on which he serves, has been meeting with agency heads. "We're looking at all of our departments from the ground up. Zero-based budgeting. We're asking what programs could be eliminated if we have to eliminate some programs," he said.

Smyk said he hasn't felt much effect from Trump plans, "but I don't pay much attention to national politics. I'm more interested in what's going on at the local level." He agrees with pushing responsibilities back to the states. "I think that's what our founding fathers intended. States' rights. Then along came the Civil War and the federal government took on a larger role. But states are in a better position to assess their own emergencies. Of course, nothing matters unless we fix our own budget," he said.

"I think we have to deal with programs that have statewide implications - like Meals on Wheels, which is a good program for our seniors," said Smyk. "As for grant-in-aid programs that focus on more local needs, that's going to need a closer look."

Lopez had just left a visit with the Lewes-Rehoboth Meals on Wheels organization when we spoke: "They better not take away Meals on Wheels - that's all I can say." He said the Trump administration's first 100 days are more tumultuous than they need to be. "There's a lot going on that's unexpected and unplanned for," he said. "That has direct impacts here. Like the proposals that affect Meals on Wheels."

Specific initiatives?

Lopez said he's come out early in favor of a bill that would help Delaware Tech improve its deteriorating infrastructure.

"There's all this talk about jobs and infrastructure. Well, education is an investment in our education infrastructure and our economy. We need more nurses and radiology techs. Del Tech's just 10 miles away, and I'm supporting them. I keep listening to my constituents, and they tell me they're concerned about healthcare, roads, jobs and education."

Schwartzkopf said growth and highways continue to be main constituent concerns. He said he has been meeting with DelDOT officials about improvements to Munchy Branch Road, north of Route 1 between Wolfe Neck Road and Giant Food. "The roadway has no shoulders, and is unsafe for bicyclists and pedestrians. We're looking at improving its whole length by adding a multipurpose trail wide enough for bicycles and walkers. Probably on the south side because that way we would avoid most of the telephone poles that are on the north side of the road," he said.

Much of Smyk's focus at the moment is on a task force he pushed for at the end of the last legislative session investigating fraud in the state's entitlement programs.

"There's been a huge expansion of entitlements in Delaware, and we get complaints from people who say they're having trouble getting assistance, and then see people who don't look like they need assistance getting help very easily. One person who works in a local shop said he was selling items he couldn't afford himself to a woman driving a well-maintained SUV and dressed to the nines who used a government EBT card to buy the items."

Smyk said he received pushback from other legislators and agency heads who said the task force wasn't needed. "But then two weeks after the end of the legislative session when seven people were indicted for embezzling from state entitlement offices, they changed their tune," he said. "I just want to make sure there isn't abuse. These different agencies that give out cards and benefits for different reasons don't communicate with each other, and that can lead to abuse. They need to talk with each other face to face."

Smyk said findings and recommendations are due in April. "Then I have to find the money needed to fund whatever is recommended. That's not going to be easy."

Schwartzkopf wasn't in on the conversation with Smyk but nonetheless affirmed Smyk's concern.

"Legislation that costs dollars will have it tough this year," he said. "Things aren't going anywhere if they cost money."


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