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?
McComas: Yes, the academic success of Maryland students is not as good as it should be. The formula for school funding is weighted to help the poorer jurisdictions with school funding so that all Maryland students receive a comparable education. In reality that does not always work. Each jurisdiction has unique assets and liabilities. Funding reforms need to be fair, equitable, and flexible. For too long the current formula has not been kind to Harford County, teachers, and students. Compared to other states Maryland has a unique system which is extremely centralized. Perhaps more local control and decision making might be something to review, analyze, and consider. This would be a radical departure, but would allow each locality to have more control of over one half of each county’s budget. According to one study there is a funding gap of $2 billion in state funding and $1 billion in local government spending. Education is the biggest expenditure in the state and county budgets. Perhaps more not less control is needed at the county levels. Less state mandates and more local control might be just the ticket. It was promised that the tax on the lottery was going to education, then it was promised that the tax from slots was going to education, and now it is a constitutional amendment that would state all casino tax revenues would go to education. It would be a lock box until that box has to be raided which has happened in other states.
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?
McComas: No. Marylanders like their cars. During the morning and evening rush hours it can take two hours to go only 60 miles. As soon as a new lane is added to a road, it is filled with cars. Harford County has several local buses and the train system that gets people to Baltimore and Washington, D.C. This certainly works for government workers. It does not work for people doing shift work, professionals that use their vehicles as part of their jobs, and people who have appointments in D.C. or Baltimore. One size does not fit all of the transportation needs of the State of Maryland. It is not fair or equitable that the less populated counties and municipalities should be short changed because they do not have the populations to deal with the unfairly balanced transportation scoring system adopted by the General Assembly. There is an old saying “If it ain’t broken, don’t fix it.” Well the Consolidated Transportation Plan was instituted under Governor Mandel, worked well with no scandals. The only reason for change was to once again strip the Republican Governor and Executive Branch of power.
Do you support the legalization of recreational marijuana?
McComas: No. I realize that the immediate benefits of taxing would help solve funding issues, but the tax money does not outweigh the potential risks. Without extensive and rigorous studies and research on the physical and mental health risks, the family, and societal impacts, Maryland would be wrong to approve the recreational use of marijuana. And even more importantly, law enforcement does not have the technology to determine how to detect if a driver is impaired by marijuana without blood tests which can only be given in very limited circumstances. I will not support legalization. I have supported medical marijuana because there is quality control, medical supervision, and a state monitored growing, prescription, and distribution system. At this time, the federal government has not legalized its use which is a major concern of the banking and lending institutions. There is also the issue of zoning of the stores and there is not a public demand for marijuana shops in the local neighborhood shopping centers.
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?
McComas: The Chesapeake Bay is the destination of the Susquehanna River Basin which borders the large East Coast populations. Maryland along with New York and Pennsylvania are members of the Susquehanna River Basin Commission formed in 1970 where the states and federal government formed a compact to protect the river and its tributaries. There needs to be regional incentives for the other states to work with Maryland to utilize the latest and best practices in farming, crop control, and animal husbandry. Municipalities that border the river need to be encouraged to upgrade their water and sewer systems. Maryland needs to engage public/private partnerships to continue to clean the bay and to promote oyster beds and natural grasses that can filter and clean the Bay waters. Bay and conservation tourism needs to be promoted to inspire vacationers and students about the natural beauties and ecosystem of the Bay. The state needs to be a partner and not an enemy of the crabbing and fishing industry. I also think that riverboat gambling and reintroduction of the Bay Steamers might be a great way to help fund Bay cleanup initiatives.
What steps should Maryland take to ensure the broadest possible access to affordable health care?
McComas: Maryland has the best medical facilities in the world. Shock Trauma can literally bring injured victims back to life. Now there needs to be more emphasis on preventive medicine, better nutrition, exercise, and lifestyle change. Every jurisdiction has schools, churches, community centers that could be available for basic screenings on a regular basis that could educate citizens about a possible problem, before there is the cardiac arrest. Evidence based prevention programs could be a real game changer for more affordable health care. We also need to take a very careful look at what are the drivers of medical care. There also needs to be better public information regarding over the counter nutritional, drug, and other remedies. A great deal of money is spent on these remedies and they may be doing more harm than good.
What role should the state play in helping Baltimore address violent crime?
McComas: Baltimore needs to allow the state to provide assistance in the most violence and drug infested areas of the city. The state needs to help the communities to trust the police. The corruption of the Gun Trace Task Force has significantly upset relations between the community and police. The community and school children need to know that police are there to help not hurt them. The Governor’s Office of Crime Control and Prevention has the ability to find the best experts to work on developing and improving trust between the police and community. The Pal Centers need to be reopened for after school tutoring and sports activities. The Maryland National Guard might be a great resource for a mentoring program for junior and high school students. The legislature needs to pass legislation that puts violent criminals in prison for a long time. Although the system needs diminution credits to manage the prison population, there is a small subset of violent criminals that only age, infirmity and prison can protect the community. Long prison terms must be available for the worst of the worst.
How would you characterize Maryland’s business climate? What can the state do to foster the creation of more family-supporting jobs?
McComas: I think for the first time in many years there is hope and optimism. Businesses see a Governor who cares about reducing taxes and fees and is working to expand economic opportunities for small and large businesses. Maryland has some of the finest institutions and companies in the country. But the problems in Baltimore City and the high murder rate are overshadowing all of our world class assets. Telecommuting, company daycare centers, work flex hours, computerization of businesses are all helping to make Maryland more family friendly. The state needs to create tax incentives that will promote good jobs without mandating set hourly wages or benefits. Starting businesses will not be able to handle government demands since they don’t have the financial ability to do so. The more established businesses will look for ways to increase automation to avoid the cost of labor. The government needs to eliminate regulations and permitting that does nothing to protect the public and only hurts business.
Do you support the creation of a non-partisan, independent body to draw legislative and congressional district maps after each census?
McComas: Absolutely. There is too much politics and backroom deals in the current system The next Governor will draw the lines that will control the political future of Maryland for 10 to 12 years. Only a non-partisan can remove the politics from this very politically charged once a decade event.
Does the Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights adequately balance protections for police and the public? Should it be changed, and if so, how?
McComas: The LEOBR was a studied, debated, and negotiated Bill of Rights developed in the 70s. At this time the police are under tremendous assault from the press and the public. It is dangerous and sometimes deadly job. I live in a community that respects and trusts the police. I know that this is not the case in other jurisdictions. For the state to start making changes because Baltimore City has problems with the Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights is not the answer. Community policing and positive interaction with the citizenry is the best protection for the public and the police. If it can be done without compromising the LEOBR than perhaps Baltimore City might need specific changes to fix their particular issues which are not borne out in the rest of the state
What strategy would you adopt to address the opioid addiction and overdose crisis?
McComas: School children need to have age appropriate instruction about the dangers of heroin and illegal drugs. Proven best practices need to be employed by the medical and addictions community. Drug dealers and drug kingpins must be held accountable for fatal overdoses. It needs to be made very clear that once you try heroin, your first trip may be your last. You will never have a better high than your first high. You will never catch the dragon, but you will be a slave to this dragon for life. An individual can be held in a medical facility if they are a danger to themselves or another. I would offer that an individual who has overdosed is a danger to himself and should be placed in a facility for a short period of time for medication, counseling, and addictions therapy with the goal of long term support, medication, and therapy. The police, fire, and emergency medical technicians can be the gatekeepers to the addict’s recovery. So when they take an overdose victim to the emergency room there needs to be more than just a social worker giving the person a list of resources. There needs to be beds and places to put these individuals and preferably immediately. Commitment laws need to be reviewed and revised to sidetrack addicts and redirect them into recovery. The state and federal government can help with research, money, and manpower to help end this crisis.
What if anything should the state do to address income inequality?
McComas: The state should promote opportunity, fairness, transparency, and accountability. The state should not be picking winners and losers. The promise of a better tomorrow, a future, and hope is the best way to counter income inequality. Taxing the rich and giving to the poor has not worked after fifty years of the Great Society so we should look to something else. It is better to teach a man to fish than to give him a fish. If he knows how to fish, he has a skill that will last a lifetime. If he receives a fish, he is beholden to the person who gave him the fish and has lost some of his independence and freedom.
Do the state’s Public Information Act and open meetings laws adequately ensure Marylanders’ ability to exercise oversight of the government?
McComas: Yes, at this point there is a great deal of transparency within the legislative and executive branches of government. There are tremendous amounts of information on the internet and in replays of public hearings online. More importantly Maryland needs is an independent and diverse press and a strong vibrant two party system. There does need to be more transparency in criminal sentencing particularly in Baltimore City.