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?
Wright: In order for Maryland to continue to maintain its leadership in educational achievement for its students, updating the funding formula for state support for k-12 education to devote more resources to at risk youth, those living in poverty and special education students. is important. I am in favor of early childhood education programs for 4 year olds based on ability to pay and leadership development program that strengthens management and leadership at all levels. Reforms should be supported through both state and county funding sources.
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?
Wright: This past legislative session was notable for increased funding for 4.4% increase in the MTA’s operating budget for each of the next 3 years starting in 2019 and a capital infusion of $29 million for the Baltimore subway or other MTA systems, which includes the MARC system and commuter buses. In addition, Maryland’s share of $167 million is to be awarded to the Washington Area Metropolitan Transit Authority which operates the Washington Metro. Of primary importance to rural areas of the state was the 2010 reduction by 90% of highway user revenues for most jurisdictions. The past two legislative sessions have produced improvements providing increased local transportation aid. I am in favor of continued progress in restoration of the highway user revenues.
Do you support the legalization of recreational marijuana?
Wright: With marijuana is now available for medical purposes and its use largely decriminalized, an estimated majority of Marylanders may support the legalization of recreational marijuana. There is no way under the Maryland constitution currently to directly propose legislation through a ballot initiative. I would be in favor of a constitutional amendment that would provide the mechanism for a ballot initiative on legalization.
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?
Wright: Many and complex issues surround the health of the Bay. We need to prioritize funding for public sector natural resource conservation, protection, research and management programs. A major concern with regard to the continued progress in Bay restoration and other aspects of environmental protection is the undermining of the mission and funding for the Environmental Protection Agency. That notwithstanding, the omnibus appropriations bill passed recently reversed the announced defunding of the Chesapeake Bay Program, restoring $73 million. Agriculture, oysters and crabs, and changing land use issues challenge progress forward to achieve the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint. Among priorities should be financial support for cover crops and drainage control structures for Shore farmers to use in a coordinated way to decrease the concentration of nitrogen. By strengthening the forest conservation act and requiring replacement of priority forests, the net loss of forest land to development can be reversed which will further sustain and improve air and water quality.
What steps should Maryland take to ensure the broadest possible access to affordable health care?
Wright: The stabilization of Maryland’s Affordable Care Act through the recent actions during the 2018 legislative session to establish and fund a reinsurance pool was an important step. This has been accomplished through a tax on all health insurers and will moderate increases to insurance rates on the exchange. Beyond this temporary fix to stabilize the individual market place, I support a public option while working on a system for health care for all in the longer term. I believe adding the public option is a necessary transitional step to any system for universal coverage. Establishing a state level commission to control prescription drug prices, like the hospital rate setting commission, is essential to assuring access to this important component of health care.
What role should the state play in helping Baltimore address violent crime?
Wright: It is a hopeful sign that so far in 2018, non-fatal shootings, homicides and other violent crimes are 30% below that of this period in 2017 and that groups like Baltimore Ceasefire, Safe Streets and the No Boundaries Coalition are working hard to continue to address the problem of Baltimore’s violent crime. The interconnection of social and economic forces are at the root of this human tragedy. The Justice Reinvestment Act that increases the chances nonviolent offenders to reintegrate into the community and the legislation during the last session to allows those who have committed certain felonies to have their records expunged after 15 years goes in the right direction but not far enough. Moving ex-offenders into purposeful roles in the community is the most valuable investment the state can make.
How would you characterize Maryland’s business climate? What can the state do to foster the creation of more family-supporting jobs?
Wright: Maryland has a strong business climate, but we can do better. According to a recent CNBC analysis, Maryland ranks 4th in technology and innovation and our overall economy ranks 7th in the nation. We need to leverage these strengths by retaining more of the startups that hatch in Maryland and move elsewhere. We also need to make staying and expanding in Maryland less costly for existing and potential new businesses. Maryland ranks near the bottom of all states in the cost of doing business here, and that, quite frankly, is hurting us and means that there are less jobs in the state for Maryland families than there could or should be. The state legislature showed that it believes that Maryland families deserve dignity by overriding Larry Hogan’s veto of legislation allowing five full days of paid sick leave a year. This is a good start in fostering more family-supporting jobs. But so too is attracting and retaining any jobs that pay more than minimum wage. With our high levels of innovation and technology in the state, we could and should become a clean tech center, generating many high-paying jobs. Quite simply, the more high paying jobs we can attract and retain, the better for Maryland families.
Do you support the creation of a non-partisan, independent body to draw legislative and congressional district maps after each census?
Wright: The Maryland Redistricting Reform Commission recommended a nine-member commission three each from the Republican and Democratic parties and three non-aligned citizens. States that have moved toward similar entities to carryout redistricting include Iowa, Washington, Arizona, California, New Jersey and Rhode Island. Whatever entity is charged with redistricting, I am in favor of districts that are compact and contiguous, and reflect more nearly county and municipal boundaries rather than voter registration, previous election results and office holder’s addresses. According to a February Goucher College poll, over 70% of Maryland residents agree.
Does the Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights adequately balance protections for police and the public? Should it be changed, and if so, how?
Wright: The 1974 Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights was meant to address a particular circumstance in which police officers’ rights were not being protected as they should be. Today where public trust, essential to the effective and efficient conduct of law enforcement, is at issue, a new balance must be struck. Procedures to accommodate the need for transparency are required so that members of the public are able to follow investigations into possible wrong doing and have confidence in the system.
What strategy would you adopt to address the opioid addiction and overdose crisis?
Wright: Addiction to opioids, like other substance use disorders, requires a continuum of services including prevention, inpatient detox, inpatient rehabilitation, outpatient therapy and medication assisted treatment, supportive housing and recovery resource centers. Recovery resource centers, with 12-step fellowships, education and training programs, and a sober social setting has been shown to help individuals develop and maintain a healthy lifestyle which supports recovery. A separate and secure source of funding should be established for this important component of recovery.
What if anything should the state do to address income inequality?
Wright: Reforms in the state funding of k-12 education and universal pre-kindergarten can help support those in at risk communities to get a better start in school to address issues of multi-generational poverty. As the Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education has recommended, the state should provide more funding for pre-kindergarten with no charge for four year olds from families at or below 300% of the federal poverty level while higher income families would pay a portion of the cost. Income inequality could also be addressed through an increase in the minimum wage, with more gradual rate increases for companies with less than 50 employees. The Consumer Price Index, should used to keep the rate of increase in keeping with the conditions of the economy.
Do the state’s Public Information Act and open meetings laws adequately ensure Marylanders’ ability to exercise oversight of the government?
Wright: More effective procedures for public notice of permitting processes should be required so that on major development or infrastructure projects the public is aware from the beginning.