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?
Wells: I support the Commission’s findings, and am committed to fully funding the reforms that addressing its findings will require. I believe we can open significant new revenue streams for education spending by reviving the millionaire’s tax that previously existed in Maryland, and by expanding and taxing the legal marijuana market. Some of the Commission’s findings can also be addressed, in part, by structural changes to the state’s allocation of existing education funds, so that it gives even greater priority to disinvested communities, and finally accounts in full for the impact of Baltimore’s TIF usage. I believe the state should also create more sustained partnerships with organized labor and private industry, in order to allow more seamless transitions from classroom to career that may also include cost sharing on the education and training that launches our students into jobs.
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?
Wells: No, Maryland’s transportation spending is oriented too heavily around highways, which necessarily skews the population served towards more affluent individuals. For many of my constituents in the 40th District, travelling by public transportation is a necessity because car usage is cost prohibitive. That means they need to see more investments not just in buses and bus infrastructure, but in fixed rail transportation, and connective modes of transportation like bicycles that help people move between larger modes of public transit. Maryland certainly has the resources it needs to properly fund its transportation infrastructure- we just don’t use that funding with a proactive eye towards the future, a future that includes ever increasing amounts of public transportation in other cities that we are competing with. That’s why ambitious, comprehensive transportation projects like the RedLine are so crucial, and small scale restructuring like BaltimoreLink serves more as a temporary band-aid than a long-term solution. Until the Baltimore Region sees that sort of investment in public transportation, we will continue to be underserved by our transit systems.
Do you support the legalization of recreational marijuana?
Wells: Yes, because all available science points towards marijuana being no more harmful than alcohol, and potentially quite helpful for specific health uses. Moreover, it is a tremendous opportunity to generate more revenue for the state to spend on quality of life investments in education and transportation, while also saving significant amounts of money on enforcement costs that are traditionally associated with policing marijuana usage.
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?
Wells: A comparatively small industry and population on the Bay- poultry farmers- has been tip-toed around for decades, while the state’s only true City- Baltimore- is routinely handled with heavy hands and a disregard for our workers’ most important economic interest groups: unions. The disparity in treatment is not tenable, and it should not continue. If we’re serious about improving the health of the Bay, it must include serious reform of the poultry industry and the waste it produces in mass quantities. I do not want the poultry industry to bear that financial burden alone though. Similar to my stance on emission heavy industries like trash incineration, I believe the State has an obligation to help subsidize the cost of infrastructure improvements that allow these industries to modernize in a more environmentally friendly direction. Likewise, I believe the state has an obligation to provide training that re-skills industry employees and replaces every job lost because of modernization with a new placement for the worker in an emerging industry that ensures and maintains family-supporting wages and benefits.
What steps should Maryland take to ensure the broadest possible access to affordable health care?
Wells: I believe that the “broadest possible access to affordable health care” can only truly be delivered by a single payer system, which can be implemented and achieved at a state level. I believe that medical professionals should be well-compensated for their important work, but I do not believe healthcare should exist in the form of big businesses with publicly traded stock and corporate boards of directors. Immediate opportunities for improvement include a transition to year round open enrollment in the Maryland Health Exchange, and expanding coverage of both Medicare and Medicaid, particularly when it comes to serving seniors who are seeking to age in place and require services like periodic in-house care.
What role should the state play in helping Baltimore address violent crime?
Wells: Resources and personnel are two of the three most important things that the state of Maryland can provide Baltimore, almost irrespective of subject matter area. Crime is no different. Though the State has pledged new funds for violence interruption programs, these investments pale in comparison to the funding spent on conventional arrest tactics. The state should be spending tens of millions annually on programs like Safe Streets, the benefits of which would allow the City of Baltimore to transition more of its police budget towards other needs like education. The State Legislature must also cease to be an impediment to reforming regulations like LEOBOR, which unfairly biases investigations of misconduct towards police officers and away from victims.
How would you characterize Maryland’s business climate? What can the state do to foster the creation of more family-supporting jobs?
Wells: Maryland has a high per capita number of millionaires, and those bank accounts are not being generated solely by employment sectors like the Federal Government. Which is to say, of course Maryland’s business climate is doing fine. That means any solution to a lack of family-supporting jobs must focus on requiring businesses to pay family-supporting wages, instead of simply increasing the business’ bottom line and hoping that the increased profits have a trickle down affect for employees. As such, state support of regulations like a $15 minimum wage would go a long way towards creating more family-supporting jobs in Maryland.
Do you support the creation of a non-partisan, independent body to draw legislative and congressional district maps after each census?
Wells: Yes, because I believe that politicians must be willing to do something themselves before they are prepared to ask it of others. If Democrats want redistricting reform in Republican strongholds, they must also be willing to abdicate their own gerrymandered districts in the process.
Does the Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights adequately balance protections for police and the public? Should it be changed, and if so, how?
Wells: No, it does not. It skews protections heavily towards police officers, making it extremely difficult to discipline or fire them even after they have engaged in use of force on the job. Requiring civilian participation on misconduct hearing boards, requiring officers to give more timely reports to investigators after engaging in a use of force incident, and creating a formal apparatus for community oversight are each initiatives that LEOBOR and its advocates traditionally block that I’d like to see changed.
What strategy would you adopt to address the opioid addiction and overdose crisis?
Wells: I would craft a comprehensive solution for Maryland that seeks to provide urban areas and rural towns alike with access to the same tools. Urban communities have suffered from opioid addiction for years without it being referred to or treated as a crisis, until it began to take hold in the suburbs as well. As such, any programs from the state must treat our urban centers as a priority, not an afterthought. Of course, opioid addiction should be treated as a health issue, not a criminal offense, and the success rate of treatment programs is consistently higher when they are located in an individual’s current community. Moreover, states that have legalized marijuana have consistently seen lower uses of opioids, in no small part because of marijuana’s ability to help people manage chronic pain.
What if anything should the state do to address income inequality?
Wells: The state has an important obligation to address income inequality, because it has such a tremendous impact on Marylanders’ qualities of life. We agree to pay taxes and be governed under the premise that the resulting government will improve our qualities of life. Creating baseline wage guarantees through a $15 minimum wage and stronger prevailing wage guarantees are obvious first steps towards decreased inequality, but increased funding for public schools and better onramps from high school to college or career are just as important in their own right to improve income inequality for successive generations. Understood that way, embracing the Kirwin Commission’s recommendations goes hand-in-hand with supporting a $15 minimum wage, in that each offers an important opportunity to address income inequality on a massive scale.
Do the state’s Public Information Act and open meetings laws adequately ensure Marylanders’ ability to exercise oversight of the government?
Wells: No, because many Marylanders would not know what to look for in a PIA request. Cities like Boston offer “data dashboards” that provide real time updates on given quality of life measures that the average voter can understand and ascent to. Maryland should offer the same at a state level.