Do you support the findings of the Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education? Are you committed to funding associated reforms, and if so, how?
Baker: For me, education is personal. I know that education can change lives because it changed mine. As a kid, I struggled with reading, got into fights often, and was kicked out of many schools. If it weren’t for my loving parents and dedicated teachers, I would not have had the opportunity to be the first in my family to graduate college. I know that fully funding schools is the first step to ensuring that every student in our state has the same opportunities I had. I strongly support the policies recommendations put forward by the Maryland Commission on Innovation & Excellence, particularly the recommendations that schools are fully funded. Fully funding education has been, and will remain a top priority for me. Our public schools are the heart of our communities. A good school is the sign of a healthy community, providing students with a lifetime of opportunity and a signal to families and businesses that this is somewhere they should move to and invest. As County Executive, I have consistently fought for increases in school funding for higher teacher salaries; dual-enrollment programs; expanded universal pre-k and full-day kindergarten. As governor, I will prioritize fully funding our school systems.
Is Maryland's transportation spending appropriately balanced between roads and transit? Does the state have the resources to meet its transportation needs? With the cancellation of the Red Line and the advent of BaltimoreLink, is the Baltimore region adequately served by transit?
Baker: As one of the most densely populated states in the country, Maryland needs leadership that values the principles of smart growth and makes strategic investments in mass transit infrastructure over road construction. While I believe the best way to lead is by example, I will also continue to build on strong regional partnerships that I’ve developed as County Executive in order to maximize the strengths of our region for the benefit of our residents. If you want to bring jobs and economic development to Maryland, you start by investing in mass transit projects. Baltimore, which has been historically underserved with transit options, deserves the kind of economic prosperity and improved quality of life that accompanies mass transit, like the Red Line. In Maryland we need a cultural shift away from single-occupancy vehicles towards mass transit options. I would prioritize projects such as the Southern Maryland Light Rail project in Charles County and the Corridor Cities Transitway (CCT) BRT project in Montgomery County and explore extending the CCT all the way up to Hagerstown. These are 21st century solutions to our transit problems that will not only connect more people to jobs and take more cars off the road, but projects that will spur economic development in the communities they serve. As Governor, I would continue to support transit-oriented development around Metro stations and other mass transit options. I would support policies to increase the supply of market-rate and affordable housing to accommodate the increased demand to live in transit-rich areas.
Do you support the legalization of recreational marijuana?
Baker: There is significant evidence to suggest that legalizing recreational marijuana can lower crime rates, improve safety and provide significant tax revenue.
At a time when the federal government's commitment to Chesapeake Bay restoration is questionable, what new steps should Maryland take to protect this resource?
Baker: The agricultural sector is the largest source of pollution in the Chesapeake Bay as well as local waterways, and urban and suburban stormwater and rural septic systems are also pollution sources.Increased use of sustainable farming practices (organic farming, cover crops, crop rotation, etc.) could significantly improve the health of communities and the Bay. Additionally, with Maryland as the 5th most densely populated state, urbanization will continue to threaten our ecosystem if we do not take immediate smart growth action. We need to promote innovative partnerships to accelerate retrofits and stream restoration. We need to strictly enforce the “financial assurance” provisions in state law to ensure that all counties meet their obligations. Additionally, we need to make sure funding levels are sufficient to keep both point and nonpoint source pollution out of the Bay and its tributaries. Although Maryland must do everything it can within our borders, our neighbors to the north must be held responsible for their pollution that poisons our waters here, downstream. We must ensure that the operator of the Conawingo Dam does its part to remediate the accumulation there. We must also engage Pennsylvania to end its unmitigated agricultural runoff, up to and including litigation if necessary. Smart growth is important for the Bay, our communities, and for Maryland in general. Smart growth will help us direct growth to existing communities to help maintain their viability and therefore limit growth on farm and forest land.
What steps should Maryland take to ensure the broadest possible access to affordable health care?
Baker: Maryland made significant strides under the Affordable Care Act. In Prince George’s County, we reduced the number of of uninsured and underinsured residents by over 50%. However many Marylanders are still facing exorbitant healthcare prices and many are still going uninsured. In order to ensure the broadest possible access to affordable health care, we need to improve access, reliability and affordability. We need to make sure that every Marylander has access to high quality hospitals and healthcare facilities. That’s why in the county, I fought for the new Prince George’s Regional Medical Center. We also need to improve reliability by stabilizing the health insurance market against the attempts made by the Trump Administration to undermine the Affordable Care Act. I support implementing a healthcare downpayment program to replace the federal individual mandate, which will ensure more long-term stability in the market so Marylanders are not facing crippling healthcare premium cost increases each year. Lastly, we need to improve affordability. Prescription drug prices make up a significant portion of healthcare costs each year. Let’s end prescription drug price gouging in Maryland by 1) increasing transparency at the pharmacy about drug prices and lower cost options, 2) establishing a Drug Cost Commission that ensures reasonable costs for lifesaving drugs.
What role should the state play in helping Baltimore address violent crime?
Baker: In the County, we were able to achieve historic reductions in crime in part because we had a partner in Governor O’Malley. That support is no longer there for counties. In the coming weeks, we will put forward a criminal justice reform and public safety proposal that will focus on short-term and long-term solutions. The State to partner with the City, as well as federal law enforcement agencies, to focus resources on repeat violent offenders. We need effective data sharing, prioritizing offenders under parole and probation and strategies for those at the highest risk of committing violent acts. The State must consistently partner with the City to identify and serve open warrants for violent crime. The recidivism rate in Baltimore City is staggering - estimates by DPSCS place it at 70%. Public Safety Compact, an innovative public-private partnership that finances in-prison drug treatment and comprehensive transition services upon release has worked in Maryland. The recidivism rate for the program after three years is less than 10 percent and saved $2.5 million. Governor Hogan stopped the program, I would reinstate immediately. We will look at ways to address the systemic issues that perpetuate crime including poverty, lack of jobs and poor education, reduce prison populations, address racial disparity, and eliminate barriers for formerly incarcerated individuals to return to their communities. The State must work to disrupt the school to prison pipeline by investing in programs like Roca that provide job training for at-risk teenagers; and provide educational opportunities in juvenile facilities.
How would you characterize Maryland's business climate? What can the state do to foster the creation of more family-supporting jobs?
Baker: Maryland is falling behind our regional partners in terms of wages and job creation. We must look at ways to get us back on track so businesses want to move to Maryland. My comprehensive Equity for Women initiative addresses ways to create a more equitable and profitable business climate for Maryland. The fastest growing group of entrepreneurs in the country are African-American women, starting businesses at a rate 1.5% faster than the national average. Maryland is a leader in African-American women owned businesses. But yet, African-American women only receive 0.2% of venture capital funding. Fueling this engine means more jobs in the communities that have been historically overlooked. I will also establish the Maryland Economic Development Incentive Fund that matches state dollars for counties and cities that start municipal EDI Funds that invest in county businesses and create jobs. We also need to provide 12 weeks of paid parental leave. Studies show that paid family leave is economically beneficial for companies and improves employee retention. Private sector investment is a catalyst for economic development. We need to create a climate where businesses know that they have a willing partner at the State. Maryland needs to prepare for the economies of the future with a skilled educated workforce in cyber security, biotechology, health care, climate change, advanced manufacturing, business services, digital learning. We need to create a culture where a young, skilled, diverse, and mobile workforce wants to live, and the businesses will want to locate here.
Do you support the creation of a non-partisan, independent body to draw legislative and congressional district maps after each census?
Baker: Yes. Non-partisan redistricting ensures that no political party can rig the system. “Safe districts” can lead to a decrease in voter participation, limit voter choice and reduce the incentive to have meaningful debate and conversations.
Does the Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights adequately balance protections for police and the public? Should it be changed, and if so, how?
Baker: We must always look to improve processes and procedures, the Law Enforcement Bill of Rights is no exception. We must strengthen trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve, one way to do this is by looking at ways we can shore up the LEOBR to ensure transparency and accountability. One way to strengthen this process is to make sure internal investigations are simultaneous with criminal proceedings - this would prevent delaying criminal proceedings. We can extend the period of time an individual can file an excessive force complaint. We must look at ways to better balance the safety and due process of officers and ensuring that we hold “bad apples” accountable.
What strategy would you adopt to address the opioid addiction and overdose crisis?
Baker: As Governor, I would focus on three core areas:
1) saving lives that are in immediate danger;
2) providing treatment on demand; and
3) addressing opiate prescription abuse through education and enforcement.
Narcan must be accessible and affordable for individuals, families, and first responders. It must be available in our prisons, which routinely deal with opioid crisis. Treatment for opioid addiction should be available on demand at crisis centers so that no one waits weeks for help, because even a matter of days can be the difference between life and death. To achieve a statewide treatment system that meets the scale of addiction, we need to work with local public health practitioners and addiction experts to make sure we have the best possible data, and the most effective treatment options, to build a statewide network. Many of the people now suffering from addiction first became addicted through prescription opioids. We need to work with our Attorney General to effectively sue the manufacturers and distributors who caused the flood of opiates into our state, we need to identify and quickly educate those medical professionals who have not come to understand the dangers of opiates, and we have to bring enforcement actions against pill mills and those who are prescribing with no medical necessity. We are making strides in Baltimore, thanks to the leadership of Dr. Leana Wen, and we can use these learnings to bring relief to individuals with the disease of addiction across Maryland.
What if anything should the state do to address income inequality?
Baker: The first step to address income inequality is to require employers to pay their employees a livable wage. As governor, I will work to ensure that the minimum wage is $15 across the state. Voters should never listen to a politician who says that raising the minimum wage means losing jobs. Because in the County, we raised the minimum wage to the highest in the state and still cut unemployment by half, and have continued to lead the state in job creation for the past five quarters. I also know that providing a quality education, access to higher education and economic opportunity for all is necessary to address income inequality. In our 21st century economy, a high school diploma is no longer enough to succeed. As Governor, we can make community college debt free. And for those children who chose not to attend college, we can make sure they are career-ready by expanding access to apprenticeships and technical training. I also know that job opportunities are crucial. As governor, I will establish the Maryland Economic Development Incentive Fund that matches state dollars for counties and cities that start municipal EDI Funds that invest in county businesses. Additionally, the Maryland EDI Fund will target incentivized lending and grants as a way to impact employment statistics among statistically trailing demographic groups. This will help small businesses grow and create jobs across the state.
Do the state's Public Information Act and open meetings laws adequately ensure Marylander's ability to exercise oversight of the government?
Baker: The Public Information Act and open meetings laws are bare minimum in transparency standards. We should look at ways to reduce delays and fees for public access to government information. We can do more to provide Marylanders with more transparency in their government, including using more robust data analytics to measure the effectiveness of state programs in providing services and addressing the issues we face. We should revamp StateStat and BayStat from the O’Malley era, for example. As County Executive, I established a CountyStat program and it has been very successful in increasing reporting and transparency of public programs.