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?
Laskin: Yes, I do support the findings of he Kerwin Commission. Maryland students deserve a quality, 21st century education without regard to where they live, their race or their socioeconomic status. Providing such an education requires full funding to meet every student’s needs. I also support funding to hire and train qualified teacher aides to take some of the classroom load off of teachers. Vocational education needs to be greatly expanded. Maryland needs skilled workers such as plumbers, electricians, HVAC specialists and home health care workers. The public schools should offer adequate opportunities for students to master those skills. Finally, all schools need to have modern, efficient heating and air conditioning systems. Antiquated schools need to be replaced, with prioritization based on need and not on how politically influential a neighborhood might be.
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?
Laskin: Maryland’s transportation system is totally unbalanced. Building more roads to relieve congestion is a fool’s errand. More roads only increases congestion; if you build it they will come. The cancellation of the Red Line was a mistake that needs to be rectified. Clean and efficient mass transit must take priority in state funding over road construction. The resources for mass transit and other critical needs can be found by reducing our overreliance on prisons to address violent crime. Spending on prisons only produces more prisons, not less crime. By concentrating on proven - and cheaper - alternatives to incarceration, we can free up resources for transportation and other urgent social needs.
Do you support the legalization of recreational marijuana?
Laskin: Yes. Marijuana is far less harmful than alcohol or tobacco, both of which are legal. Dealing marijuana is often the gateway to a career in the criminal drug trade. That in turn leads to overpolicing and mass incarceration, both of which drain public resources away from vital social needs such as education and transportation. Legalizing marijuana ends that gateway to crime and creates massive additional tax revenue to meet those important public purposes. In the first three years after Colorado legalized recreational marijuana, the state received half a billion dollars in increased tax revenue. Maryland’s population is 700,000 higher than Colorado’s and can expect to receive even more tax revenue to meet its citizens critical public needs.
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?
Laskin: One of the biggest steps Maryland can take to protect the Bay is to curb concentrated animal feeding (CAFO) agriculture on the Eastern Shore. Industrial scale farming produces massive amounts of manure and other wastes that leech into the soil and ultimately find their way to the Bay. The amount of urine and feces produced by the smallest CAFO is equivalent to the quantity of urine and feces produced by 16,000 humans. CAFO waste is usually not treated to reduce disease-causing pathogens, nor to remove chemicals, pharmaceuticals, heavy metals, or other pollutants. Over 168 gases are emitted from CAFO waste, including hazardous chemicals such as ammonia, hydrogen sulfide, and methane. Methane is one of the leading contributors to climate change. Curbing CAFOs is essential to preserving the Bay. In addition, Maryland should continue to increase its renewable energy standards. Reducing fossil fuels is essential both to address climate change and to reduce pollution in the Chesapeake watershed.
What steps should Maryland take to ensure the broadest possible access to affordable health care?
Laskin: Maryland should move to implement a single payer health care system. Health care will never be affordable as long as it is financed through private insurance companies. Those companies owe a fiduciary duty to their shareholders to maximize profit, not to provide affordable, quality health care. Every other leading Western democracy provides health care through some form of single payer system. Health outcomes are better than in the United States, at lower cost and with a higher level of consumer satisfaction. Here in the US, Medicare recipients consistently report overall satisfaction with Medicare’s single payer system. The Rand Corporation estimates that Oregon can afford to implement a single payer system. Maryland’s population is 2,000,000 higher than Oregon’s. Surely, if Oregon can afford to implement single payer, so can Maryland.
What role should the state play in helping Baltimore address violent crime?
Laskin: We cannot incarcerate our way out of violent crime. We’ve tried that repeatedly in recent decades, only to wind up with the mass incarceration of generations of African American males, to decimating effects in inner city neighborhoods. Alternatives to incarceration – drug addiction counseling and treatment, quality education, job training and jobs – in conjunction with peer to peer crisis intervention programs such as Safe Streets, have been empirically shown to reduce violent crime. Particularly following the revelations of police corruption in the Gun Trace Task Force case, now is not the time for Maryland to adopt a crime bill that can only increase overpolicing and mass incarceration in Baltimore. We need to stay focused on the root causes of crime, not the violent symptoms of that problem.
How would you characterize Maryland’s business climate? What can the state do to foster the creation of more family-supporting jobs?
Laskin: It is inaccurate to speak of Maryland’s “business climate” as if all businesses are uniformly affected by state economic and fiscal policies. In fact in Maryland, as in all states, some businesses do better and some do worse, depending on a host of factors including their product and customer mix, the availablity of a quality workforce, decent schools and roads and taxes. As to taxes especially, not all businesses are equal. Maryland’s corporate tax rate is about in the middle of its neighboring states. In addition, many Maryland businesse have a relatively low tax burden, because Maryland has no gross receipts tax on manufacturers, no corporate franchise tax, no unitary tax on profits, no income tax on foreign dividends (if the corporation owns 50% or more of the subsidiary), no tax on intangible property and no separate school taxes (many states impose such taxes). The best ways for a state to foster family-supporting jobs is to provide quality education, a wide mix of cultural amenities, good roads, a good health care system and thriving communities in which to live. That is how states and localities attract young professional families who in turn provide the tax base for further job growth.
Do you support the creation of a non-partisan, independent body to draw legislative and congressional district maps after each census?
Laskin: Gerrymandering is a bipartisan disgrace. It is a cliche, but true, that voters do not choose their representatives – the representatives choose their voters. I was redistricted myself after the 2010 census. Redistricting must be done by a non-partisan, independent body. Partisan legislators cannot be counted on to draw the legislative and congressional maps in a disinterested manner. We waste too much time and money on these decennial battles over increasingly absurd district lines. It’s time to take this task out of the hands of the very legislators who are drawing the maps that will determine whether they will be reelected.
Does the Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights adequately balance protections for police and the public? Should it be changed, and if so, how?
Laskin: No, it does not. Law Officers have a bill of rights already – the same one all Americans have. The police are to serve and protect the citizens. Therefore , they must always answer to those citizens. In any instance of alleged police misconduct, the review process must include meaningful citizen input and transparency, to assure that the public will trust the outcome of the investigation. As the Freddie Gray trials showed, the criminal courts are perfectly capable of protecting the criminal rights of accused police officers without additional protections that are unavailable to the average citizen. In the end, the police work for the citizens and need to be held accountable to the citizens.
What strategy would you adopt to address the opioid addiction and overdose crisis?
Laskin: First and foremost, health care practitioners must be educated to dramatically reduce the amount of opiods they prescribe. In many cases, there are safer alternative pain medications. I had a wisdom tooth pulled a few years ago, and the dental surgeon prescribed oxycontin. I ignored the prescription, took one or two Tylenol, and was fine. The prescription never should have been written to begin with. This crisis was entirely preventable. Pain is sometimes an unavoidable consequence of medical treatment. Patients accepted that before pharmaceutical companies started pushing opiods to boost profits. As a society, we need to commit resources to educate both patients and health care providers that the dangers of these medications in many cases far outweigh any benefit.
What if anything should the state do to address income inequality?
Laskin: First, a $15 per hour minimum wage is essential. It is no longer the case that minimum wage workers are teenagers working part-time during the school year. Many single mothers are the sole source of support for their families, and work full-time at minimum wage jobs to provide that support. Fifteen an hour isn’t luxurious – it’s only $600 per week if the worker works 40 hours per week. Furthermore, if we’re serious about reducing violent crime, we need to discourage entry level drug dealers from entering the business. Six hundred a week may not be equal to what a dealer can make hustling drugs on the street. But weighed against the virtual certainty that that entry level dealer will either be dead or in prison in 10 years, it could well be enough to discourage him from taking that route to begin with. After $15 per hour, we need to implement a true living wage that will allow workers to adequately support their families while allowing sufficient quality time with family members – to read to a child, to play, to go to school conferences and to engage in all those other activities that make life meaningful. And finally, we need to reinstate a truly progressive taxation system whereby the very wealthy pay a bit more to fund programs to build up those at the other end of the income ladder.
Do the state’s Public Information Act and open meetings laws adequately ensure Marylanders’ ability to exercise oversight of the government?
Laskin: No. There are too many exceptions and exclusions. Government needs to be as completely transparent and open as possible. If public safety or individual confidentiality are not an issue, the meeting should be opened.