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?
Johnson: Yes. I do. I’ve seen the proposals to change the formula including increasing the base amount that is spent on each child from $6,900 to $10,800, offset by a decrease in the amount spent on most students versus those who need additional support. Under the current formula, LEA’s get extra money for students living in poverty and who have special needs, as well as those who are new immigrants learning English. Under a new formula approach proposed, LEA’s would get far less extra money for those students than they do now. This will be controversial but needs to be fully explored. To generate the requisite revenues for these (or any changes) I would support enhancements such as legalizing and taxing marijuana, closing corporate tax loopholes, Education trust fund gaming revenue (passed this session and going to referendum which I will strongly support).
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?
Johnson: No. There’s an imbalance, weighted to roads. Yes. The State has the resources, but they’re not being appropriated effectively. No. The Baltimore region is absolutely not being adequately served by transit. See for example the calamity that was the brief shut down of the only metro servicing the region a few weeks back. Supplemental bus service was able to be provided but that was far from ideal and not at all indicative of a long term solution for an area with some of the worst traffic congestion in the nation.
Do you support the legalization of recreational marijuana?
Johnson: Yes. For fiscal (potential multi-billion dollar industry) and criminal justice equity reasons as these laws have had a grossly disproportional impact on minority and low income communities historically. Marijuana criminalization costs our state hundreds of millions of dollars every year without making us any safer. Legalizing, taxing, and regulating marijuana will provide Maryland with a dedicated revenue stream to make overdue and critical investments in other areas. I understand estimates to be upwards of $150 million dollars a year in projected revenue to state coffers and upwards of 18,000 jobs in a new industry.
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?
Johnson: The key is to be proactive. We should perhaps require the integration of coastal erosion, coastal storm, and sea-level rise response planning strategies into existing state and local policies and programs. Develop and implement state and local adaptation policies (i.e., protect, retreat, abandon) for vulnerable public and private sector infrastructure. Strengthen building codes and construction techniques for new infrastructure and buildings in vulnerable coastal areas. Because the agricultural sector is the largest source of pollution in the Bay and local waterways, and urban and suburban storm-water sources and rural septic systems also are pollution sources, we should buttress the multi-state, bipartisan partnership to restore the Bay, and promote policies or programs that address Bay pollution by reducing agricultural pollution, mitigating pollution from new development, reducing use of and pollution from septic systems, and/or improving storm-water management such as nutrient trading and the Watershed Protection and Restoration Act.
What steps should Maryland take to ensure the broadest possible access to affordable health care?
Johnson: Shoring up the Affordable Care Act and protecting it against rollbacks from the current federal administration is a good place to start, until we can further explore something like a single payer program for the state. Now, I understand that the Department of Legislative Services has not conducted any recent studies of what it might cost to set up such a system in Maryland so this might be a good place to begin. I would also consider a state-run public option, under which the state would set up a health program to compete with private insurance rather than the state providing the coverage if that makes more sense fiscally.
What role should the state play in helping Baltimore address violent crime?
Johnson: The State should NOT be passing legislation that does anything to increase mandatory minimum sentences. Right now there’s a severe crisis of basic confidence and trust from community to community, between communities and government, between communities and law enforcement. So that means we have to be very creative in any approach we pursue in this area. The DOJ consent decree reached last year will help address some of the trust issues, but until that plays out, one thing that should be considered is having police departments hold ongoing reconciliation meetings between police officers and community residents to discuss past incidents and air grievances or team up officers with community organizers to better understand neighborhoods thereby identifying violent offenders and potential victims along the way. An idea I’ve read about would involve the state funding a special training academy for the BPD’s mid-level management and putting more resources into recruiting talent into the department. I understand in Baltimore, unlike most major city police departments, something as basic as the patrol cars not having on-board computers is still an issue…in 2018. That means City officers spend thousands of hours writing out reports that then have to be re-typed, with data errors and omissions every step of the way. As a member of the State Juvenile Justice and Grant Monitoring Council I know that there is work afoot already when it comes to youth violence, wherein we might expand the use of community mediation, community courts and diversion programs to reduce repeat offenses.
How would you characterize Maryland’s business climate? What can the state do to foster the creation of more family-supporting jobs?
Johnson: Overall developing. What I hear from small business owners in western Baltimore County is that there’s a gap between the skill sets they need to grow their businesses and those that prospective employees possess. So supports on the educational side to boost technical skills via job training or apprenticeships may help. But also, there’s an ongoing issue with what I call the incubation period for businesses (years 3 to 7 or so) when the euphoria of launching has faded and the hard task of building into something sustainable really takes hold. The irony is that better wages for workers (instead of being a detriment) might actually help as businesses will attract and retain (thus saving $) better personnel. The State should boost incentive programs to lure development in areas of need. Perhaps extending the time period for tax abatement that’s afforded start ups a few more years. Assist with or give bonus/credits to companies that invest in training supports for workers, provide sick leave, or better wages. The public and private sector have to work together to realize that it’s in everyone’s best interest to have an economy that’s thriving and people generally happier. Happier, respected, appreciated workers with more disposable income themselves produce more activity and great economic benefits for society overall which includes Maryland Businesses large and small.
Do you support the creation of a non-partisan, independent body to draw legislative and congressional district maps after each census?
Johnson: Yes. Greater transparency is needed in the redistricting process generally. A redistricting commission comprised of average citizens independent of legislative or executive influence would lead to a better process and sounder outcomes more reasonably representative of the state’s diversity. Having any redistricting plan presented as a bill and voted up or down would mean more public input and involvement via direct testimony which we should have in redistricting processes.
Does the Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights adequately balance protections for police and the public? Should it be changed, and if so, how?
Johnson: Still not quite. HB1016 passed in 2016 was a good step in that it removed the requirement for notarization of a complaint against a law enforcement officer alleging excessive force and instead requires that a complaint be signed by a complainant under the penalty of perjury; allows a complaint to come from an individual with firsthand knowledge obtained because the individual has a video recording of the incident that, to the best of the individual’s knowledge, is unaltered; and extended, from 90 days to 366 days, the complaint filing deadline triggering the requirement that disciplinary action be undertaken by a law enforcement agency. However, additional changes could include: completely eliminating the 10 day waiting period before an officer can be interrogated by a superior, including a prohibition against officers viewing written records by other officers that describe events in question, and requiring police departments to recruit and retain officers that reflect the makeup of the communities they are sworn to serve. Of course these are contentious (which is perhaps why they didn’t make it into the 2016 bill), but the conversation should continue.
What strategy would you adopt to address the opioid addiction and overdose crisis?
Johnson: We have to start by recognizing this as a true public health crisis and avoid criminalizing people any further (this should apply and have applied to other areas and certain communities long before now, but I digress). Moving forward here, now, we should provide the overdose-reversal drug Naloxone to Baltimore and the 23 counties of the State at affordable prices by using the state’s purchasing power to negotiate directly with pharmaceutical companies for the best prices. We should boost needle exchange programs to cut the spread of infectious diseases by addicts sharing syringes. Perhaps, we might expand diversion programs for people arrested for minor offenses into treatment programs, and work with the Attorney General’s office in going after manufacturers of these prescription opioids whose products have led Marylanders into addiction and the use of cheaper, illegal drugs. Then use the proceeds of any settlements with those companies to create a dedicated fund to pay for the state’s anti-addiction efforts. I believe this is happening or is at least underway in Prince George’s County at the local level already.
What if anything should the state do to address income inequality?
Johnson: I support a stronger minimum wage. Families cannot really live on the minimum wage which at 40 hours a week worked would still leave a worker too close to the federal poverty line. CityLab just released a report this week which indicates people need to earn $28/hour in Maryland to afford a 2 BR apartment without paying more than 30% of their income on housing. I support workers’ rights to organize in the private and public sectors, so strengthening protections here would help. If the State were to move to close the corporate tax loopholes benefitting large businesses in Maryland, via combined reporting, the beneficiaries would be small businesses and lower wage workers. Roughly half the states in the nation already have some measure of combined reporting in place, including “liberal” enclaves such as Utah and Montana. Of the 15 states with corporate income taxes that had the best record in retaining manufacturing jobs in the last 10 years, 10 of them utilized combined reporting. Having combined reporting would benefit small businesses allowing to compete more effectively on a more level playing field and the revenues we would then have (estimated at $65 million per year by the Comptroller) could be put to use for small business tax credits or go to things such as enhanced child care subsidies for instance which would address inequality.
Do the state’s Public Information Act and open meetings laws adequately ensure Marylanders’ ability to exercise oversight of the government?
Johnson: Probably more can be done in this regard. For instance, many legislative activities in Annapolis are not currently subject to recording or publication, so the transparency of governmental processes and machinations could stand a little more sunlight. However, we did just recently have changes put in place re: the MD Public Information Act (MPIA). I’ve not seen any evidence as to how well these are working yet. But working in an organization subject to many requests under this law I know that there has been increased awareness and responsiveness in this domain. I’d want to see how these changes are working (detailed or documented by the data) before calling for more changes just to being doing so.