Hocker addresses jobs, absentee ballots
State Rep. Gerald Hocker (R-38th) hosted about 40 people at his December Coffee’s on Me, an event at which he informally talks to constituents and answers questions they have about local issues.
Some of the items he discussed before talking questions this month were the need for Delaware to become manufacturing-friendly again, something he said was needed before companies would want to bring jobs into the area. Issues he described as roadblocks to manufacturing are the way prevailing wage is calculated and the still-high cost of workman’s compensation insurance.
“We were third-highest in the nation in workman’s compensation rates, and now we are 23rd,” he said, adding that not being a “right-to-work” state has “cost jobs.”
He said he is not against the prevailing wage but is “totally against the way it is calculated.”
“It’s totally wrong,” he said. “There are contractors that will not bid on a state job. If they are average $26 an hour for workers, and the prevailing wage is $50 per hour, they are not going to bid those jobs. And when we take small contractors away from the bidding process, facilities can’t be built, and that’s jobs. Lots of things need to be looked at before bringing manufacturing back.”
He asked for input on the proposed “no-excuse absentee ballot” legislation, saying he had been asked to sponsor or co-sponsor it but has not yet made up his mind.
“I don’t see any reason why I should vote for it, but I haven’t made up my mind.”
Currently, according to the National Conference on State Legislators, 27 states and the District of Columbia have “no-excuse” absentee voting, where voters need offer no excuse for needing an absentee ballot.
“If people can’t take 15 minutes without a legitimate excuse — shame on us. It’s our duty.” He also added that he has reservations about the cost of the change and it turning into an “unfunded mandate.”
“Many absentee ballots are thrown out because they are not done correctly. So far, I have had one person supporting it, with several other saying ‘no way’ or not having made up their mind.”
When asked what the proponents say about it, Hocker said they say it encourages more voting.
“But states that have it, the increase in voters is smaller than in those that don’t,” according to Hocker. “I am leaning not to support it.”
Ron Wuslich of South Bethany asked about the potential for vote fraud.
“I didn’t want to mention fraud,” said Hocker. “But when I see food stamps users buying bottled water and dumping it in my parking lot and coming back to get their $6 deposit — and we have to give it to them — you can’t convince me there won’t be fraud,” he said, if no-excuse absentee voting became a reality in Delaware.
Richard Shoebridge asked what sort of protection homeowners can receive from “builders that promise you the world and give you a ditch.”
Shoebridge, who owns property in Millville By the Sea, said things that were promised in their contract never came to fruition, and he asked what could be done legislatively to protect homeowners in the future.
“We have been having some good arrests,” said Hocker. “If we need additional legislation, I’d very much be in favor of it.”
When asked again about developers making promises and putting it in the contract, Hocker said he wouldn’t sign any contract “without a good lawyer looking at it.”
“This is not a contract problem — this is a legal problem. Growing up here all my life, I knew they were promising two moons. I feel sorry for every one of those developers, but they are protected by bankruptcy laws. There was no way this area could support the promises they were making.”
Shoebridge countered that the developers “shouldn’t have been able to make the promises.”
Hocker blamed it on the market and said that he himself has two developments that have stopped completely because of it but, he added, “fortunately, we are not strapped. When you are depending on a certain number of sales and you don’t get them…”
He reiterated that it was a legal issue and said representatives are advised when they are sworn in not to get in the middle of legal issues.
“I feel sorry for every one of you, but as a legislator, there is nothing I can do to help you. A good attorney is your only recourse, and you’re probably throwing your money away.”
Other issues Hocker answered questions about were natural gas coming to the area and the Route 26 Detour Routes project, which has to be completed before the Route 26 Mainline project. According to Hocker, Verizon is “the one holding that up.”
“They are a year behind because of the utilities,” he said.
After being asked about the controversy over funding differentials between the Indian River School District and the Sussex Technical High School’s single-school district, Hocker said the funding mechanisms for both need “to be looked at.”
“It was set up to be different. It’s a county-wide school. It’s almost impossible for a county-wide referendum to help that school. In most cases, they are teaching the same things. And they are able to hire our best teachers at a higher cost.
“An administrator at IR or Cape Henlopen or Sussex Central is worth just as much as one at Sussex Tech. We need to take another look at the funding mechanisms of both schools. Sussex Tech is much different today than when it was set up.”
It was a year ago this week that the Indian River School District approved a motion developed by the Sussex County chief school officers regarding the original implementation guidelines, funding, recruiting and admission practices of Sussex Tech, and the lack of vocational offerings of the Sussex Technical School District.