Commentary: Democrats need to lead the way on variety of issues
The 2019 Delaware Legislature convenes in January, with new Democratic faces in both chambers. Overall, each chamber gained one Democratic seat, giving the party a super majority in the House. Many of the new Democrats (and incumbents) campaigned on progressive platforms and bold promises. Soon, numerous legislative opportunities will present themselves through which these Democrats can back up their words with action.
We must abolish the new “youth and training wage,” and significantly increase Delaware’s minimum wage. Individuals should not earn less for the same work because of their age. It is untrue that all teenagers or young people work primarily for “pocket change.” Many poor and lower middle-class households depend on the income of teenagers and young people to survive. Furthermore, per the Pew Research Center, over half of America’s minimum wage workers are 25 or older.
Although Delaware’s minimum wage will increase to $9.25 in October 2019, it will not allow a decent lifestyle, the historical intent of minimum wage. According to Apartment List, Delaware’s median monthly one-bedroom apartment rent is $994, leaving individuals earning minimum wage only a few hundred dollars per month for other bills, much less planning for the future. Per the Economic Policy Institute, today’s national minimum wage should be $19.33, adjusted for average growth and American workers’ productivity gains, while others believe it should be over $20. Corporations with Delaware employees can afford a much higher minimum wage immediately, allowing smaller businesses staggered increases over time.
We need personal income tax reform. Currently, seven progressive levels of PIT rates exist, ranging from 0 percent to 6.60 percent. However, Delawareans earning $60,000 or more pay the same top tax rate - whether they make $60,000 or millions of dollars per year. This is morally reprehensible and out-of-line with other states with additional tax brackets for wealthier individuals. Adding two or three tax brackets for wealthier Delawareans would allow tax decreases for middle-class and poor Delawareans, and provide significant, reliable, long-term revenue for the state.
We should fully legalize marijuana. Per a University of Delaware study, over 60 percent of Delawareans support it. THC, marijuana’s active drug, is not physically addictive. Yet alcohol, which is physically addictive and causes many social ills, is legal. Also, we must stop imprisoning individuals for possessing any amount of marijuana, or growing it. All marijuana-related charges for individuals should be dropped and expunged from their records immediately. Current laws unfairly target poor people and people of color, remove individuals unnecessarily from families and communities, and brand them with criminal records.
Marijuana legalization has produced only positive effects in other states. Colorado has experienced no significant increase in marijuana usage, if any at all. Millions of Americans already use marijuana regularly. States with legal marijuana have decreased opioid-related deaths, and marijuana treats many physical and mental conditions. Marijuana taxation has provided states with significant new revenue.
We must pass the Delaware End-of-Life Options Act, which has undergone multiple iterations addressing critics’ concerns of protecting patients, families, and medical professionals. To be approved for the program, patients must be diagnosed by a doctor as within six months of death, complete a rigorous approval process, and then administer the fatal drug without assistance. Such laws already exist around the world, and in seven states and our nation’s capital. Gallup reports that over 70 percent of Americans favor such laws. Offering end-of-life options affects no one except individuals who want the choice available to them.
We need a statewide property reassessment. Property values in the counties of New Castle, Kent, and Sussex were last reassessed in 1983, 1977 and 1974, respectively. Reassessment requires a financial investment from the state, and will probably result in no additional state revenue. However, a statewide property reassessment is about fairness. For example, decades ago, many Wilmington homes in now less-affluent areas were worth more. Meanwhile, property values in Delaware’s beach areas have skyrocketed.
Many Wilmington residents pay property taxes that are far too high, while beach residents pay property taxes that are far too low. Unfortunately, wealthier Delawareans benefiting from decades without a statewide property reassessment have the money, power, and time to lobby elected officials not to perform a reassessment.
Of course, the legislative topics presented above do not compose an exhaustive list. We also need criminal justice reform, Medicaid Buy-In, sensible gun control, the ERA, further protections for transgender individuals, etc.
It is time for Democrats in Dover to show strong spines, and fight for and enact the bold solutions so many Delawareans want. I, for one, will be watching and holding them accountable.
Eric Morrison is a Delaware United Steering Committee member and a progressive political activist.