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?
Boston-Smith: I am highly supportive of the initial findings and recommendations of the Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education and look forward to the release of the Commission’s final report. There is no issue more important to the future of the 40th District, and the future of Baltimore, than equity and excellence in public education. It cannot be stressed enough that high quality public education is our most important tool for securing the futures our children need and deserve. It is our strongest crime prevention strategy. It is our best economic development tool. I believe that some of the initial recommendations of particular importance to residents of the 40th District are: added weights in the state school funding formula for high poverty schools; universal access to pre-k education for all four year olds and for low income three year olds; a strengthened approach to Career Technical Education (CTE); and proposed increases in teacher pay and the addition of school counselors psychologists and social workers. I am committed to working with other state legislators to identify funding for these proposed reforms, even as we await further recommendations on funding from the Commission itself, and I support passage of the “Fix the Fund” initiative that will be at the ballot box in November. I believe casino and other gaming revenues could provide a strong source of funding for increased investments in public education, as new funds as initially promised to the voters, not backfill to state dollars that were spent elsewhere.
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?
Boston-Smith: Much to the detriment of residents of the 40th District, Maryland’s current transportation spending is heavily weighted towards roads ahead of transit. As a result, many of the City’s neighborhoods with the highest commute times, and highest poverty rates, are grossly underserved. And we know the devastating impacts on these communities. The Baltimore Neighborhood Indicators Alliance found a strong correlation between the commute time of City residents and unemployment, poverty and life expectancy. And we know that State transportation spending is at the core of these problems. Indeed, the Central Maryland Transportation Alliance found a striking imbalance in proposed State transportation spending–less than half a billion dollars for the Baltimore region, as compared to $11.7 billion for the Washington region. When Governor Hogan canceled the RedLine and redirected state transportation dollars to roads in Western Maryland, the InterCounty Connector and additional lanes along 270, not only did he rob Baltimore to subsidize suburban sprawl, he helped perpetuate the deep structural inequities that trap our City’s residents. . So what can we do about it? Should I be elected, I pledge to join with my 40th District and other legislative colleagues to advocate for a rebalancing of State transportation resources with a clear focus on public transit, reducing commute times and connecting residents to jobs.
Do you support the legalization of recreational marijuana?
Boston-Smith: I am encouraged by the conversation around equity in marijuana licensing and business ownership that has begun in Maryland and I support the legalization of recreational marijuana. Public proceeds from the licensing and use of legal marijuana could provide an important new source of start-up and investment capital for small businesses in economically distressed areas – like the 40th – across the state. Imagine such a fund, if you will, as a whole new take on Weed and Seed—community efforts to weed out violent crime, gang activity, and drug use and trafficking while seeding those same neighborhoods through social and economic revitalization.
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?
Boston-Smith: Though there is much to be done, I see two immediate steps Maryland should take to protect the Chesapeake Bay and accelerate the recovery of this awesome and vital resource. First, Maryland should continue its strong advocacy role vis a vis any proposed changes in federal policy and funding that threaten the Bay. Our congressional delegation stood firm in ensuring that ongoing funding for Bay cleanup was included in the federal omnibus spending bill. My mentor and former boss, State Attorney General Brian Frosh, has joined with other states’ Attorneys General to protest the Trump Administration’s proposed repeal of important clean air and clean water provisions. We must keep up the fight. Second, we must invest in modernizing our storm-water infrastructure. In the 40th District, for example, Jones Falls is often deluged with sewage runoff, so much so, that there are permanent signs warning of the health risk. This is unacceptable. The City is struggling to make planned infrastructure improvements and needs the State’s help and support. A healthy Chesapeake Bay is important for all the citizens of Maryland, not just those communities that directly touch the Bay, and protecting the Bay is the responsibility of all.
What steps should Maryland take to ensure the broadest possible access to affordable health care?
Boston-Smith: Maryland has made important bipartisan progress in shoring up access to health care amidst the assault on the Affordable Care Act. I fully support actions taken during the current Maryland legislative session to identify new revenue (via a tax on insurers) to stabilize the individual insurance market. Moving forward, I believe we must continue to protect access to care by making such fixes permanent and fill any remaining gaps in coverage. The Maryland Medicaid waiver, a landmark effort which has held down the cost of care and returned significant savings, provides a promising opportunity to do just that.
What role should the state play in helping Baltimore address violent crime?
Boston-Smith: In his ground breaking work on place and opportunity, the Harvard economist Raj Chetty found that being born male, low income and in Baltimore had a net negative effect on lifetime earnings of greater than 25% (27.9%) –the largest negative effect among all jurisdictions in the country. There is no question that the State must help Baltimore address violent crime. The State’s role has nothing to do with instituting mandatory minimums or driving up the number of our citizens who are incarcerated. If we want to address violent crime, we have to expand economic opportunity. Key to addressing violent crime in Baltimore is restoring confidence in the police, deterring violent actors, and dramatically expanding economic opportunity. In these areas, State government can help by: ++ Returning control of the police department to the City so that there are clear lines of accountability in instituting needed reforms mandated by the Policies and Practices review by the U.S. Department of Justice and the resulting Consent Decree. ++ Implementing an external review of the Gun Trace Task Force and the lack of scrutiny they received via the special commission proposed by Senator Ferguson and as approved by the Maryland Legislature. ++ Scaling evidenced-based violence interrupter and deterrence programs such as Safe Streets. ++ Fully funding the Kirwan Commission recommendations to improve educational equity and excellence; and ++Expanding effective job training like the Maryland EARN initiative (sector-based workforce training that leads to career track job in growing areas of the Maryland economy).
How would you characterize Maryland’s business climate? What can the state do to foster the creation of more family-supporting jobs?
Boston-Smith: Maryland has an excellent business climate. We’re home to any number of growing businesses with special strengths in health care, biotechnology, cyber security, information technology, transportation and logistics and maritime industries. Our challenge isn’t the presence of thriving businesses, it is the uneven distribution of them and their benefits. In addition to strong growth in technology sectors state-wide, we must also foster the development of small businesses that are an engine for job creation and they employ local residents. That’s why I’m committed to business creation and expansion in economically depressed areas like the 40th District. If elected, I would focus my efforts on expanding and leveraging state resources for small business start-up and expansion – more neighborhood businesses that will hire more neighborhood workers.
Do you support the creation of a non-partisan, independent body to draw legislative and congressional district maps after each census?
Boston-Smith: Yes, if fair and balanced. Gerrymandering is a very serious problem that threatens the very core of democracy. I will support a redistricting process that is and work to ensure that it is fair. However, I believe that we must also work toward a national solution to ensure we don’t further weaken progressive power at the federal level.
Does the Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights adequately balance protections for police and the public? Should it be changed, and if so, how?
Boston-Smith: No. Currently the Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights puts protections for police officers ahead of those of the public and should be amended. Advocates have been working since at least 2015 to make amendments that would include citizens in conduct reviews, make officers available for questioning as soon as a complaint has been filed (and eliminate the current waiting period), and extended the time for allowable citizen complaints of officer misconduct beyond a one -year statute of limitations. All of these seem like common sense reforms to me, could serve to strengthen police-community relations and bring some needed balance in protections. I’m for them.
What strategy would you adopt to address the opioid addiction and overdose crisis?
Boston-Smith: For as long as I can remember, the stated policy intent in Baltimore has been to provide drug treatment on demand (that is within 24 hours of a person’s expressed interest in entering treatment) and of a modality evidenced to appropriately address the presenting person’s condition. Yet, we continue to fall far short of this goal. Now that the plague of opioid addiction has well and truly spread beyond the city’s boundaries, my hope is to find state partners – and state resources – to finally meet this goal. We also need to fight to secure ongoing funding for the purchase and use of naloxone so that all first responders – and other community members who seek to be trained in its administration – can save lives. And though I need to learn more about the current status, it seems as if much of the recent spread in opioid use stems from an initial addiction to prescription drugs. I’d like to work with the medical community to try other effective treatments for pain before opioids are prescribed. Finally, opioid addiction in Baltimore is – and always has been – an expression of a some deeper despair the cure for which can only be found in an expansion of opportunity – opportunity for an excellent education, a family supporting job and to live safe from fear.
What if anything should the state do to address income inequality?
Boston-Smith: The state can and should take on income inequality. Income inequality is the result of our policy choices. Other policy choices can be made to redress it. Indeed, we are already paying for the high costs of income inequality – and particularly race based income inequality – in mass incarceration, juvenile detention, foster care and in treatment for preventable diseases. A better use of Maryland’s resources would be to fully fund the Kirwan Commission recommendations, consider additional wage supplements (like a universal minimum income that is being tried in Stockton, California) and work with the business community to increase the minimum wage to $15 per hour while moving quickly to implement paid sick leave. These immediate actions, along with others that could even out regional disparities in concentrated poverty through new development in distressed neighborhoods and the support and expansion of housing mobility programs to neighborhoods with good schools and access to jobs, would be a great start. We do know what to do. I’m ready to get busy doing it.
Do the state’s Public Information Act and open meetings laws adequately ensure Marylanders’ ability to exercise oversight of the government?
Boston-Smith: I spent some time looking at this issue in my role as Special Assistant to the Attorney General. It is my opinion that Maryland’s Public Information Act and open meetings laws ensure Marylanders’ ability to exercise oversight. Where we fall short is in the faithful execution – the implementation – of these laws and provisions. We need effective oversight of the oversight provisions. Strengthening the Public Information Act Review Board with increased staff would be a good place to start.