- Associated Press - Thursday, January 23, 2014

DOVER, Del. (AP) - Gov. Jack Markell used his State of the State address Thursday to call for more investment in Delaware’s schools and infrastructure to strengthen the state’s economy, but he offered no specifics on how to pay for his proposals.

Among the ideas outlined by Markel was a proposal to spend more than $1 billion on infrastructure improvements over the next five years, roughly double the amount in the current spending plan. The governor’s proposal would mean spending an additional $100 million annually on roads and bridges.

“Infrastructure investments create high-paying, middle-class jobs today and they lay the foundation for future prosperity,” he said. “It’s time to stop complaining about the sorry shape of our Transportation Trust Fund and fix the underlying issues.”

Markell didn’t say during his address whether he favors more borrowing or new tax and fee increases to pay for his proposal. He will offer more details next week when he proposes a budget for the fiscal year starting July 1.

But Markell indicated after Thursday’s speech that he likely will seek a combination of more borrowing and higher taxes and fees.

“We are not going to borrow our way to prosperity. … We’re here to make tough decisions,” he said.

Democratic House Speaker Pete Schwartzkopf said an infrastructure jobs program could provide an economic boost to the state but acknowledged that it would come with a price tag.

“Obviously it’s an election year,” he noted. “That tends to knock out a little bit of support for doing anything.”

But Schwartzkopf said any proposal will require the support of minority Republicans in the Democrat-controlled House and Senate.

Senate Minority Whip Greg Lavelle described Markell’s speech as a typical State of the State address: “Long on wishes and short on specifics.”

In addition to roads and bridges, Markell said the state needs to upgrade its wastewater and drinking water plants and improve stormwater infrastructure. He plans to propose a clean-water initiative next month.

Education and crime were among other top issues Markell addressed in his speech.

In an effort to get more high school students to go to college, he proposed a scholarship program that would allow all low-income Delaware students with college potential to take courses for credit during their senior year in high school.

He also touted a new two-year program in manufacturing technologies for high school juniors and seniors not planning for four-year degrees and proposed giving local school districts more flexibility in spending state funds to implement school improvement plans.

Addressing gun violence that has plagued Wilmington, Markell proposed creating a new gun-trafficking unit in state government.

At the same time, he said the state’s prisons are filled with offenders with substance abuse problems that would be better addressed with treatment, rather than incarceration. Markell said his administration is working with lawmakers to review addiction treatment needs, and that he will propose changes later this year to fill gaps in the drug treatment system.

Markell also said the state needs to do more to give ex-offenders a chance to find jobs and turn their lives around. He expressed support for a pending bill that would prohibit state and local government agencies from considering job applicants’ criminal histories or credit histories during the initial application process.

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