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?
Dernoga: Although the final report has not been issued, I have read the preliminary report and support the findings. The associated reforms are projected to cost an additional $3 billion dollars. I believe a small part of the funding can come from existing efficiencies in transportation and energy usage, as well as curtailing the salaries of central administration that have risen 3-4 times as quickly in the last 10 fiscal years as instructors salaries. The millions allocated for grants to attend private schools should also be cut. However, most of this funding will need to come from new revenue. The General Assembly’s recent action to require a lockbox for the casino revenue helps. Additional revenue sources I would support: close the combined income reporting loophole, responsible marijuana legalization with most of the revenue directed to education, increasing the cigarette tax by another dollar, adding an additional tax bracket for millionaires, applying the sales tax to online purchases, and undoing the estate tax cut for millionaires that was enacted in 2014.
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?
Dernoga: I think Maryland spends too much on roads and not enough on transit. Based on the facts and evidence available, widening roads does not solve traffic congestion, yet Maryland invests heavily in building new roads and widening existing ones. We already increased the gas tax a few years ago to fund our transportation needs, the problem is that Governor Hogan has redirected too many of those dollars to highway projects, and away from the transit projects promised, especially the red line. The Red Line was meant to address transit inequity in Baltimore providing East-West connectivity and increasing access to job centers in the city and suburbs. Over 30% of the population in Baltimore has no access to a private vehicle. BaltimoreLink an earnest effort to improve the efficiency of the bus routes in the city, and add a few dedicated bus lanes. However, at the end of the day there is too much vehicle traffic on the roads in Baltimore and the surrounding region. A subway would have helped to alleviate that traffic, it would have been a game-changer. The bus route improvements are more about tinkering around the edges than a game-changing investment.
Do you support the legalization of recreational marijuana?
Dernoga: Yes, with smart regulations based on the best practices identified in other states. The current approach to marijuana does not work. Anyone who wants to smoke it can easily find it. The problem is the drug dealer providing it isn’t checking for ID, could be selling a dangerous product, and could try to “upsell” the marijuana user to harder drugs such as cocaine or heroin. A far more intelligent approach is to legalize it, regulate it, and require the checking of IDs so that a person cannot purchase it legally unless they are 21 or older. A cashier as a store selling marijuana will not try to get the customer hooked on a harder drug. An additional benefit is that under legalization, the sales can be taxed. A portion of the revenue should be used to assist with drug addictions. The remaining revenue could be used to help balance the state budget, or fund critical initiatives around education, health care, economic development, and/or the environment. Based on the evidence I have looked at, states that were early adopters of legalization have not encountered the public health or public safety problems that opponents warned about. At this point, there is a stigma associated by some with marijuana use, but it is not anymore dangerous the cigarettes or alcohol, in fact it’s less dangerous. To reiterate, it should only be legal for adults 21 and over. This provision should be strictly enforced with major fines for non-compliance.
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?
Dernoga: We need stronger MS4 permits with sharper teeth to ensure local jurisdictions meet their goals for reducing impervious pavement. We need stronger standards across the state for the building industry when it comes to treating stormwater pollution with Environmental Site Design. We need to require Best Available Technology for septic systems, Governor Hogan undid this regulation. We need a stronger forest conservation law that maintains at a minimum a no-net-loss of forests. That law also needs to make it much harder and more expensive to build in areas where there are 200+ acres of contiguous trees. The current oyster protections are for 25% of the oyster beds in the MD portion of the bay, and in order to achieve greater oyster restoration, I think we need to expand those protections as much as possible. We need to maintain and/or enhance catch limits for Menhaden, another filter feeder. It’s important to also enhance protections for female crabs to improve the crab population in the bay. In terms of agriculture, my understanding is that the Maryland Dept. of Agriculture is inspecting less than 10% of the state’s farms annually. A beefed up inspection regime is necessary to ensure farmers are following their nutrient management plans, implementing agreed upon best practices, and meeting the required reductions of phosphorus. Finally, we need to better fund staffing at agencies such as MDE, so that they have the inspectors and staff needed to enforce our current environmental laws.
What steps should Maryland take to ensure the broadest possible access to affordable health care?
Dernoga: The reinsurance legislation recently passed to stabilize premium increases by covering catastrophic claims for members enrolled in Maryland Health Benefit Exchange (MHBE) plans is a good step. An addition short run stop-gap measure we need is to pass the individual mandate that the removed by Congress. Although expanding medicare is the long-term solution, this will likely need to be done at the federal level, or at a minimum Maryland would need a federal waiver, which is unlikely until there is a new president. Therefore, an additional long-term solution Maryland can do absent federal approval is to create a program where residents without health insurance, but with income levels above the current Medicaid eligibility, can buy into Medicaid . Arguably, Medicaid expansion has been the most successful part of the affordable care act in states that adopted it, such as Maryland . Further expansion would involving creating a “Medicaid plan” that would be offered as an option on the Maryland Health Connection. Combined with a strongly enforced individual mandate to ensure young healthy people buy-in, there should be a cap on the percentage of income charged as a premium. In part, the existing ACA subsidies middle-income consumers get could be used to cover part of the cost of their premium.
What role should the state play in helping Baltimore address violent crime?
Dernoga: The main roles the state should play in helping Baltimore address violent crime is to help improve the economy and quality of life in Baltimore. Two significant linkages to high crime areas are low levels of education and high levels of unemployment. Here are three specific areas that need attention: 1. Greater education funding and resources for public schools to ensure children receive a first-class education so they are college or career ready. In addition, after-school programs are needed to help keep young people out of trouble and teach them life-lessons that might be missing in the classroom. 2. Better transportation options to connect Baltimore residents without a car to employment opportunities. The Red Line, which would have been a transformative project for the city in helping to do this, must be restarted. 3. Greater investment in quality, affordable housing and mixed-income housing opportunities so that working class residents can afford to live in desirable neighborhoods, and so students attending area schools have a more diverse range of income levels. The Maryland Affordable Housing Trust and Low Income Housing Tax Credit should be expanded with Baltimore City in mind.
How would you characterize Maryland’s business climate? What can the state do to foster the creation of more family-supporting jobs?
Dernoga: Since Maryland’s unemployment rate is 4%, I think characterizations about Maryland’s business climate as being poor are blown out of proportion. What we need to do is hold employers accountable to ensuring these jobs pay a living wage, are pro-family by offering parental leave, and by providing for more opportunities for unions and unionization so that employees can collectively bargain for wages and benefits. We also need greater investment in the trades so that young people who are not college bound can still find a high quality job after graduating high school That said, I believe larger businesses and corporations are often able to take advantages of complex regulation and tax breaks while small businesses either cannot access these, or navigate them because of the complications. I could like to level the playing field to that small businesses can compete, but making sure we have consistent and common sense regulations. An additional way to support small business is by creating partnerships with Maryland’s bank deposits and community banks to drive more local lending to small businesses in need of low-interest credit. I would also like to improve state laws so they support non-traditional business models, such as B-Corporations, co-ops, and employee-owned businesses. For example, there is model legislation out there that creates incentives for employers to opt to sell their business to their employees. Broad-based employee-ownership is a proven strategy to build assets for workers, retain jobs in our neighborhoods
Do you support the creation of a non-partisan, independent body to draw legislative and congressional district maps after each census?
Dernoga: Yes, I would vote for this, even though it would hurt to do it unilaterally. I got back to this position in a roundabout way. I was far more supportive of the idea of an independent commission before Donald Trump got elected and teamed up with the Republican Congress to overturn environmental and health care protections. Since then I have had reservations about moving forward with an independent commission unless a comparable conservative state does the same. But I recognize that redistricting reform is the right thing to do, that many voters in both parties believe that gerrymandering in bad government. I am a strong proponent of good government, and so if this legislation of an independent redistricting commission came before me, I would not feel right voting against it.
Does the Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights adequately balance protections for police and the public? Should it be changed, and if so, how?
Dernoga: No, while I support the work of individual police officers and recognize they have a difficult job to do, I think the Law Enforcement Officers BIll of Rights makes it harder to punish officer misconduct. Here are two key problems in it we need to reform: 1. There is currently a 90 day time window by which someone must file a complaint over police misconduct. This is an extremely narrow statute of limitations. I think all allegations of police brutality be investigated no matter the filing date. 2. Officers currently have a 10-day window before being interviewed by investigators following an alleged incident. I think this 10-day window should be removed.
What strategy would you adopt to address the opioid addiction and overdose crisis?
Dernoga: The legislature as taken some positive steps, in particular making naloxone available over the counter and updating the prescribing guidance for doctors. Here are three additional steps we can take: 1. Requiring health insurance plans to cover Naloxone (or the spray version Narcan) so that it is more affordable for the public. Without this coverage, the drug costs $140-$190 out of pocket, which puts it out of reach of many of the drug users and their families who may need it to prevent an overdose death. 2. Making Naloxone more widely available in public, for example at community centers or schools in the case of an overdose. Training nurses or someone on staff at these types of facilities to administer it would also be critical. 3. There is a significant lack of therapists who specialize in both mental health and drug addiction. This can make it particularly hard for a person in need of therapy to address their drug addiction from receiving the professional help they need before they overdose, because waiting times for the kind of combined treatment they need for a mental health issues and an addition can be a few weeks to months. We need to invest greater resources in attracting and training these kinds of health care professionals.
What if anything should the state do to address income inequality?
Dernoga: There is a lot the state can do. Here are a few that would be a priority for me: 1. Phase in over the next 4-5 years an increase in the minimum wage to $15 an hour. 2. Support private sector labor unions by requiring state and local assistance and tax credits for development projects use project labor agreements during the construction, and union labor during the operation of the facility. Collective bargaining rights are critical to combating income inequality. 3. Fund universal pre-k, in part through closing the combined income reporting loophole that benefits corporations, and by adding a tax bracket for millionaires. 4. Undo the estate tax cut for millionaires, and apply it to estates worth $1 million or more. 5. Broaden the sales tax base to be more equitable by taxing services used by the wealthy, such as country club memberships. 6. Stop giving tax breaks and credits to large corporations in Montgomery County such as Amazon, Marriott, and Lockheed Martin.
Do the state’s Public Information Act and open meetings laws adequately ensure Marylanders’ ability to exercise oversight of the government?
Dernoga: While there are good provisions, a few observations I have seen and heard over the years are that the legislative sessions should be live video streamed like CSPAN, this currently only takes place with committees. In addition, while committee hearings are streamed, it is far harder if not impossible for the public to stream the meetings for the actual votes. In addition, public information act requests often come with large fees, which can make it prohibitive for citizens to investigate wrong-doing by agencies These fees should be curtailed. Finally, at a minimum there needs to be a greater level of transparency on possible linkages between campaign contributions and state contracts. In my view, corporate contributions to candidates in Maryland should be banned, or donating to a state candidate should disqualify a company from receiving a contract. This would snuff out any perceptions or realities around “pay to play’ as it relates to our campaign finance system.