Thursday, June 27, 2013

Tax Hike Became Permanent For Pet Projects And Bailouts

Many of us have been waiting to see what legislation would go forward after seeing recommendations of the state animal welfare task force, that was largely composed of New Castle County representation.

So it was no surprise when I perused through the State Bond Bill and the State Budget Bill, and found that the new Animal Welfare Office proposed by the task force would go through using the Budget Bill.  Many Delaware residents aren't aware of it, but the State of Delaware has an interesting loophole for getting legislative changes passed without actually putting forward legislation in a transparent manner that allows for the public time to provide their legislators with input.
"After the budget is marked-up, the JFC drafts the epilogue to the budget. The epilogue contains an written explanation of how individual lines in the budget are to be spent. The epilogue, for instance, contains the school employee salary schedules. The epilogue is frequently used to detail education programs which have not been adopted as a law through a bill. The epilogue is also used with some frequency to alter the Delaware Code. Unfortunately, the JFC does not provide the public with copies of epilogue drafts prior to adoption, so no one knows what may be contained in the epilogue until the budget bill is introduced. The budget bill is typically introduced and voted on during the last week in June, just before the General Assembly adjourns." - Delaware's Legislative Process, Delaware State Education Association
It's ironic that the legislative body in our state would have a mechanism to avoid the very transparency that our Senate President has claimed that one shelter (Kent County SPCA) should be bound to under Delaware FOIA law when she requested TWO State Attorney General opinions.  And as you'll recall, the second opinion appeared to be an attempt to limit the scope of the opinion so her friends at the No-Kill shelters would hopefully not be impacted by the opinion.  So apparently transparency in Delaware doesn't apply to the legislative body that writes our laws or their friends, but instead only applies to those who they consider their enemies or who voice dissenting opinions.

New Animal Welfare Office

As discussed above, the Budget Bill epilogue is used by the legislature to avoid public comment or dissent. So it's not difficult to see why state leadership chose to use the epilogue cloak and dagger approach to creating the new Animal Welfare Office.

With so many people inundated with cats, stray dogs becoming a bigger issue, and the fact that almost all our shelters have faced financial deficits, threatening their viability, the legislative backers of CAPA certainly didn't want other lawmakers to hear any arguments against an office that is going to make CAPA even worse.  And it also allows the other legislators that have already heard some of the complaints pretend that they didn't know that those complaints related to the Budget Bill.  Remember, the term "the Delaware Way" originally applied to the fact that there is rarely dissent among the legislators when most bills are voted on in our legislature, and the Budget and Bond bills are the heart of pork barrel spending in Delaware, so nobody wants to jeopardize their piece of the pig.

So per earlier articles, we did know that the state had allocated funds in the Joint Finance Committee to this new office.  Unfortunately we had to wait to see if it would be real legislation, or the epilogue sneak play.
"JFC member Sen. Karen Peterson, D-Stanton, was also on the Animal Welfare Task Force. She said once the General Assembly had turned animal welfare issues over to the individual three counties, problems arose. 
"Bottom line is, it's not working," Sen. Peterson said.  
There has been $300,000 allocated for half the Fiscal Year 2014 budget, to fund five new positions. associated with the office and set-up costs" - Delaware State News
The Budget Bill shows the 5 FTEs, and $300,000 in ASF Funds, and $413.3 Funds.  If you do an Ctrl-F search of the word "animal" when you open the Budget Bill, you will find the verbage related to the changes. Oddly, while the verbage seems to actually amend (transfer) some license plate spay neuter authority over to the new office, that appears to be the only section of code amended.  Regarding CAPA, it appears that only the authority of regulations have been transferred to the new office.
Section 149. Notwithstanding 3 Del. C. § 8001-8007 for Fiscal Year 2014, the Department of Health and Social Services, Public Health, Director’s Office/Support Services (35-05-10), Office of Animal Welfare shall continue to review and complete the regulations as outlined in the Shelter Standards Law.
I have to admit I find the epilogue process a little odd.  I haven't had an opportunity to research the epilogue constraints, so I can only surmise that there are restrictions as to what state Code can be moved from one agency to another, and that the actual CAPA code will still lie in the Department of Agriculture, while only the regulation will move over to Public Health with the Budget Bill.

I assume the logic of our legislature is that if you move the funds over first, and the pieces of Code that you are allowed to move, then you can force the Code amendments through later on the basis that the funds are already there.  It reminds me of a woman that buys a new expensive lamp in Reading, and then asks her spouse if it's okay, knowing that he isn't going to have her drive all that way to return it.

If people thought it was confusing making complaints before with animal Code listed through several different Titles, just think how interesting it will be during the interim, while the CAPA code is under the Department of Agriculture, and the regulations are under Public Health.  It makes my head spin.

And here's the real kicker.  If residents dealing with the consequences of CAPA continue to get louder because they are inundated with cats, or have had children or pets attacked because of lax stray dog enforcement, what happens if the legislature can't get the needed amendments through later.  We will be paying 5 additional state employees who have little authority to compel anyone to do anything.  Wasn't that what happened when CAPA was enacted without enforcement?  The only difference is that this time it will cost taxpayers $500,000.  I look forward to watching people justifying this kind of fiscal irresponsibility.

Wilmington Animal Control - One CAPA Bailout

As I had mentioned previously, we already knew the Delaware SPCA wasn't going to renew their contract with the City of Wilmington based on the budget that the city put forward in April, and there was rumors that the city would create it's own Animal Control division.  But not a word was coming out about it publicly in the press or from the City of Wilmington to inform residents of the change that was on the horizon. So it wasn't until today's Bond Bill came out, just days before the legislative session ends, that we found out that the rumors were true.  Per the Bond Bill, the state has appropriated $250,000 for a City of Wilmington Animal Control Facility.

So in the land of Delaware, where additional revenue always magically appears out of thin air, we now have the $8 Million Dollar Casino Bailout, and one of the many CAPA Bailout's that we've foreseen for some time. I'm sure residents across the state will be thrilled to know that they will be paying for this new Animal Control division in Wilmington, especially when cities like Dover have been paying for their own Animal Control for some time. Basically it is a slap in the fact to residents who aren't residents of the City of Wilmington. Who knows what the cost will be when the state has to bailout the counties??? Or whether the state will bail us out???

It's no wonder that other states have been smart enough to let CAPA die in their legislatures.  Can you imagine what it would be like for a large state to have to go in and bailout all their cities or counties?

Delaware Legislature Lack of Respect to Taxpayers

As you can see above transparency and taxpayer input is not a high priority in Delaware.  The egos and games will always permeate Delaware legislation as long as the epilogue changes are allowed to circumvent the appropriate legislative channels, and as long as we lack restrictions on the unfunded mandates that the State can create in legislation, unlike some other states where state mandates are required to be funded by the lawmakers.

While I enjoy entertainers that can perform with spirit and an attitude, like Pink does with the song "Cuz I Can",  I have to say that I don't have any respect for legislators that think it's appropriate to bypass the legislative process to avoid public opinion, just "Cuz They Can".