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?
Feldmark: Yes, I support the Commission’s findings and am committed to funding its recommendations. Strong public schools are essential to our democracy, to our economy, and to providing opportunity for upward mobility. As we work to bring Maryland’s public schools back to best in the nation and to being competitive worldwide, we must ensure that all schools and all students get the resources they need. Education resources must be allocated according to student needs, recognizing that schools with greater concentrations of students living in poverty need additional services to support those students. As important as it is to provide schools with the resources necessary to support educating students living in poverty, it is equally important to recognize that, to achieve the most positive educational outcomes, we need to broaden our focus beyond the school system to getting those students and their families out of poverty. We will not close the opportunity gap in our classrooms until we start to close the opportunity gaps in our society. In this context, living wage, health care costs, transportation, and affordable housing are all education issues. The recommendations are ambitious and will be expensive to implement, but they are critical to Maryland’s future. I reject the argument that we cannot afford to fully fund education. We cannot afford to underfund education any longer. One important step is for the voters to approve the Fix the Fund Act on the ballot in November, and another is to stop diverting public dollars to private schools.
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?
Feldmark: While managing automobile traffic is a critical component, we must shift more of our transportation planning focus to comprehensive solutions that decrease our dependence on single-occupancy vehicles. This applies to how we plan for both transit and roads. The cancellation of the Red Line was a significant loss for the Baltimore region, and I do not believe BaltimoreLink adequately fills the gap. I am committed to working on better transit solutions for Baltimore and connecting the greater Baltimore region. As we look at regional transit connections, we need to provide convenient, reliable alternatives to automobile commuting including shorter wait times, extended hours of service, better integration of bus and rail systems, and options for bus rapid transit. We must shift our planning for roads beyond automobiles as well. Maryland should adopt and implement complete streets policies to ensure safe and convenient routes for pedestrians and cyclists. Significant transportation improvements could be made with reprioritization of existing resources.
Do you support the legalization of recreational marijuana?
Feldmark: Yes, I support legalizing recreational marijuana. Keeping marijuana in the criminal justice system is a bad use of public resources. Legalizing, regulating, and taxing marijuana for recreational use is a more appropriate approach. As we work to establish a regulated market for recreational marijuana, equity and inclusion must be forefront in our efforts. For decades, the criminalization of marijuana has had disproportionate impacts on communities of color. We must work to eliminate barriers to participation so that those communities most harmed by the past criminalization of marijuana have an opportunity to participate and prosper in the new regulated market.
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?
Feldmark: Restoring the Chesapeake Bay is critical. In the absence of federal leadership, we must recommit our state efforts. Despite significant progress, we are still not on track to meet our 2025 pollution reduction goals. Each of the primary sources of nutrient pollution (agriculture, septic systems, wastewater treatment plants, and stormwater) presents unique challenges. Stormwater is the fastest growing cause of pollution in the Bay, and the tools for successfully battling stormwater pollution already exist in the proper enforcement of the most recent round of MS4 permits, which included specific measurable targets for amounts of treated impervious surface. MDE must ensure permit compliance. For agriculture, which is the largest source of nutrient pollution, soil conservation and water quality plans must be properly implemented. However, these plans set minimum requirements, and we should be working with our farmers to go above and beyond those requirements with proactive sustainability initiatives. As agricultural land preservation efforts reach their limits, I would propose expanding the allowable uses of the agricultural preservation portion of transfer tax revenue to support implementation of such initiatives. For septic systems, we must require use of best available technology (BAT) and proper ongoing maintenance. Finally, one important step we must take to protect the Bay is strengthening the Forest Conservation Act. I was disappointed to see the proposed legislation this session diluted to a technical study and programmatic review. Deforestation is devastating not only in its impact on Bay pollution, but also on air pollution, biodiversity, and climate change mitigation.
What steps should Maryland take to ensure the broadest possible access to affordable health care?
Feldmark: Health care costs are growing at unsustainable rates, far outpacing income growth and thereby decreasing affordability for an increasing number of Marylanders. Access to health care is a universal right, and affordability should not be a barrier. We must have a health care system that closes gaps in coverage, reduces the costs imposed on patients, delivers true person-centered care, and eliminates health disparities. I support a single-payer system as a way to achieve these goals. A single-payer system would offer savings in a number of areas: reduced administrative costs compared to private insurance companies; reduced administrative costs for health care providers based on streamlining of claims and billing procedures; and correcting market leverage to reduce the cost of health care services and pharmaceuticals. Additionally, improved access to preventative and primary health care will help decrease the current over-utilization of high-cost health care such as hospitalizations and emergency room visits. These savings will ultimately translate into reducing the burden that health care expenses currently place on Maryland businesses as well as savings and improved health care access for individuals and families. Implementing single payer health care in Maryland will be no small feat. It will require an unprecedented level of coordination, collaboration, and critical thinking around health care financing and health care delivery system reform. I believe Maryland is up for the challenge. We can and should be a leader in this area.
What role should the state play in helping Baltimore address violent crime?
Feldmark: First and foremost, we should ask Baltimore how we can help. We need to listen to Baltimore and Baltimore’s leaders and representatives so we can provide meaningful support, not simply impose our own initiatives. I look forward to working with my colleagues from Baltimore.
How would you characterize Maryland’s business climate? What can the state do to foster the creation of more family-supporting jobs?
Feldmark: Maryland has a strong business climate, and there are a number of steps the state can take to foster the creation of more family-supporting jobs. The first is to commit to family-supporting jobs. Maryland offers a wide range of tax credits and breaks, financial assistance, and economic incentives to attract businesses to locate in Maryland. In doing so, we should be selective and only give credit for truly family-supporting jobs. I do not believe the current standard of 120% of minimum wage is high enough. In addition, Maryland should insist on family-supporting jobs in awarding state contracts. When the state provides a public subsidy of any type or invests public dollars through its purchasing power, I believe the state has a responsibility to leverage that public investment for the maximum public benefit, and insisting on quality family-supporting jobs is one important way to do so. Another important aspect of fostering the creation of more family-supporting jobs is to invest in education – preK-12, community colleges, and our university system – as well as work force development programs. One specific focus in this area should be requiring state contractors to have certified apprenticeship programs.
Do you support the creation of a non-partisan, independent body to draw legislative and congressional district maps after each census?
Feldmark: Yes. It is the job of the voters to elect their representatives, not the job of the elected representatives to select their voters. I would support this reform as well as other small-d democratic efforts including public campaign financing and initiatives to increase access to and ease of voting such as same-day voter registration and voting by mail.
Does the Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights adequately balance protections for police and the public? Should it be changed, and if so, how?
Feldmark: The Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights (LEOBR) was initiated to protect police officers from unfair management practices and disciplinary actions in retaliation for union activity. I strongly support such protections for law enforcement and for employees in any sector. The same protections, however, also apply for investigations and disciplinary action in cases of police misconduct, and in some cases, LEOBR has become a topic of significant concern regarding public trust and accountability. The public needs to have confidence in the accountability of its police force, and police officers must have due process. It may be time to review certain aspects of LEOBR, but police officers must be at the table as full participants in that review.
What strategy would you adopt to address the opioid addiction and overdose crisis?
Feldmark: Addressing the opioid addiction and overdose crisis requires strong commitments to both treatment and prevention. We need to allocate the necessary resources to offer adequate addiction treatment services including inpatient detox and rehabilitation and continuing outpatient rehabilitation, counseling, and support. When people struggling with addiction are ready to seek help, we cannot afford to put them on a waiting list. We urgently need greater access to inpatient treatment beds. On the prevention side, education is critical – education of the general public, of parents, and particularly of physicians and patients regarding pain management. Medical marijuana and non-pharmaceutical treatments such as acupuncture could be critical components of a comprehensive solution but are often unaffordable because they are not covered by insurance. We must ensure that better pain management alternatives to opioids are accessible to all patients.
What if anything should the state do to address income inequality?
Feldmark: Unfortunately, the General Assembly missed an opportunity to make significant progress toward this goal by failing to pass the Fight for Fifteen legislation to increase the minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2023. The United States has the greatest income inequality of any major developed nation, and of the states, Maryland is in the middle of the pack. The recent federal tax changes will only exacerbate these conditions. With the revised federal tax plan in effect, this is a prime time to evaluate Maryland’s tax policy and examine the total tax burden on families at different income levels.
Do the state’s Public Information Act and open meetings laws adequately ensure Marylanders’ ability to exercise oversight of the government?
Feldmark: I believe the Public Information Act (PIA) and the open meetings laws give Marylanders the ability to exercise oversight of the government; however, I believe improvements could be made to make it easier to exercise oversight of the government. One factor which can limit access is the cost of the fees associated with PIA requests. Given current technology, I believe more could be done to make data and documents available online and facilitate individuals’ ability to search for information independently so that PIA requests would not be necessary in as many instances. I would also be interested to hear from the media and from advocacy organizations what obstacles they have experienced. Of course, there is an important distinction between adequate compliance with the laws and the adequacy of the actual laws. I would be seeking feedback both on enforcement concerns and on any changes in the substance of the laws that would enhance transparency.