The fate of the Delaware Office of State Planning Coordination

When Jack Markell was running for Governor, he put out a “blue book” entitled “ Blueprint for a Better Delaware.”  It included this:

“All too often state agencies are stuck in their silos, focusing on their narrow policy areas, without stopping to consider the bigger picture and their small but potentially important contribution to broader state issues like growth.  In the mid-1990s the Delaware General Assembly passed legislation creating a Cabinet Committee on State Planning Issues. The purpose of the committee is to advise the governor on orderly growth and development of the state, but I believe this committee has been tremendously underutilized.To better coordinate growth issues at the state level, I will ensure that the Cabinet Committee on State Planning is an active, forward-thinking body which coordinates efforts to create a dashboard of activities from potential impacts of development of our open space to transportation. To underscore the importance of this effort, I also will move the State Planning Office out of the Office of Management and Budget and into the governor’s office. [emphasis added by Muller] I will also direct state agencies to use their permitting authority to encourage better growth-related outcomes.Some agencies have applied a narrow interpretation of their permitting authority, routinely agreeing to approve proposals if the project is technically feasible, regardless of  whether it is the right thing to do. In such instances, those agencies do not consider the larger community concern of what impact the proposal might have on traffic congestion, loss of forest and wildlife habitat, air quality, or state taxpayers’ wallets. While zoning issues are and will always be a local government prerogative, state agencies ought to think more expansively, work in a cross-cutting manner and use their permitting powers more effectively.”

But in his most recent budget proposal, Markell sought to move the “State Planning Office,” officially the “Office of State Planning Coordination” into the Delaware Department of Transportation.  This was generally regarded as a downgrade.  In a February 21, 2013 post entitled “Planning and Sea level rise in Delaware–public comments needed” we wrote:

Now,Governor Jack Markell seeks another reduction in Delaware’s ability to plan for it’s future:  Markell wants to take away the independent status of the Office of State Planning Coordination and stuff it into the puzzle-palace bureaucracy of the Delaware Department of Transportation.  [Correction:  The planning office is not technically independent but housed in the Office of Management and Budget]
Language doing this has been presented to the Joint Finance Committee of the Delaware General Assembly in the DELDOT budget request.  (The General Assembly often “legislates” in budget bills, where closed-door dealmaking denies meaningful opportunity for public input.)
This is the exact opposite of what should be done.  (But Gov. Markell, like Gov. du Pont before him, is an ideological right-winger who wants to destroy the ability of government to control private interests.)
Instead of allowing DelDOT to swallow the present state planning operation, which mostly has only advisory powers anyway, state planning should be given the powers and resources to override developer-controlled county governments and enforce meaningful planning.  If we don’t do this, Delaware will be even more deeply sunk.

More recently, the Delaware chapter of the American Planning Association, a professional organization of planners, wrote to Governor Markell expressing concerns about the move.  APA did not release the letter, but APA Delaware President Bill Swiatek told Green Delaware that “Our members are concerned … that it sets the stage for that office to be diminished … a bad precedent for planning in this state.”

Now, we hear that the Joint Finance Committee has woken up, or changed its mind, and is putting the planning shop back in OMB.  This is far cry from elevating it as Markell promised, but a step in the right direction.

Bad Air Days

Tuesday, May 21, 2013, was a Code Yellow bad air day for both ozone and particles.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013, is a Code Yellow bad air day for both ozone and particles.

Thursday, May 23, 2013, is a Code Yellow bad air day for particles.

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