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?
Ferguson: Implementing the Kirwan Commission’s visionary framework for public schools in Maryland will be the single most important issue we address during the next term of the General Assembly. Recently released Maryland NAEP scores from 2017 highlight the urgency of this work. Maryland is one of the wealthiest states in the richest countries in the world, yet our public school students are scoring in the middle of the pack in the U.S. in math and reading, even worse when compared globally. This is completely unacceptable and avoidable. The Kirwan Commission’s recommendations rely heavily on the 9 Building Blocks of World Class Education Systems as developed by the National Council on Education and the Economy. We know what we need to do to create a more equitable and successful environment for public school outcomes, yet the ultimate question remains whether we have the political will to do it. A grand compromise is required. Additional state funding will be required, and we will have to engage in broad tax reform – particularly as it relates to the sales tax – to create the sustainable revenue streams necessary to uphold the opportunity. Yet, we must be willing to incorporate genuine and meaningful accountability measures and leverage points to ensure that additional funding is tied to associated outcome gains. I ran for office in 2010 for this purpose, and, if reelected, I intend to fully dedicate my service in office next term to achieving the potential the Kirwan Commission presents.
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?
Ferguson: No. Our state, and more specifically the Baltimore region, wholly lacks a coherent vision and plan for public transportation. We are currently investing too heavily in an automobile-based transportation system, and we are falling behind our peer regions. With the passage of the gas tax increase in 2013, we have sufficient funds at the state-level to provide a more comprehensive transportation vision, and we have sufficient funds to implement it. BaltimoreLink has been an objective failure, resulting in a net decrease in transit ridership since implementation. Furthermore, the current Administration has an unbalanced focus on building roads and highways instead of focusing on how to most effectively and efficiently move people and goods. During the 2018 Session, the General Assembly worked to bolster capital improvement funds for WMATA metro. Concurrently, the Maryland Transit Administration (MTA) shut down the Baltimore subway for a month for emergency repairs. The juxtaposition is clear. We worked with our colleagues from the Washington area to ensure that investments in WMATA accompanied a new plan and new investments for transit in the Baltimore region. At passage, the legislation authorizing a long-term commitment to WMATA included three important provisions: (1) mandated annual funding increases for MTA’s operating budget, (2) development of a new long-range transportation plan for the Baltimore region, and (3) a requirement for MTA to develop a comprehensive capital improvement plan for existing transportation assets. During the next term, it will be essential that we hold MTA and MDOT accountable to these commitments.
Do you support the legalization of recreational marijuana?
Ferguson: Yes. Should we move forward and legalize recreational marijuana, we must be intentional in our regulatory systems, learning from both the best practices and mistakes other states have experienced. We should allocate the revenues from taxation of marijuana to the Education Trust Fund for the purposes of funding Kirwan Commission reforms for Maryland’s public schools.
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?
Ferguson: The federal government’s retreat from environmental protections for our air and water is severe and will have lasting impacts for Maryland. Where the federal government withdraws, Maryland must fill the void more urgently. We can do this most efficiently by rigorously enforcing existing laws aimed at protecting our State’s most critical natural resource, the Chesapeake Bay. Under the O’Malley Administration, we passed significant legislation to protect our Bay with phosphorus management plans, stormwater management fees, and limits on the use of septic systems in new developments. Over the last four years, the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) has relented on enforcement and shifted operations towards accommodation. Similarly, the State’s Department of Planning has suffered from absent leadership and a full retreat from active management of sustainable growth policies. To protect our Bay, this must change. As we look forward, we must do more to protect the Bay’s oyster population and encourage more sustainable farming practices. We’ve made reasonable progress with aquaculture, but our oyster populations still lag optimal levels. We should be doing more to protect our State’s forests and priority preservation areas. Sprawled development has led to the elimination of Maryland’s tree canopy and vegetation, which serve as key buffers to harmful pollutant runoff into the Bay. Over the next term, we must develop a more comprehensive policy to limit deforestation and tree replacement.
What steps should Maryland take to ensure the broadest possible access to affordable health care?
Ferguson: Access to basic health care is a right, and Maryland should be a leader on this issue given the remarkable health care assets we have in this State. Unfortunately, the politics of healthcare access hamper our ability to meet our fullest potential. Until we reach a point where a single payer system is feasible, we must protect existing programs and build on recent successes in expanding access and insurance coverage. Specifically, we must protect Maryland’s Medicaid waiver. This waiver ensures hospitals and healthcare providers have an incentive to focus on population health instead of a fee-for-service delivery model. Losing Maryland’s waiver would severely limit health care access across the State. We must also continue to monitor the Affordable Care Act’s implementation in Maryland, especially as we’ve seen the federal government intentionally undercut the law’s prior successes in expanding insurance coverage. This year we worked in a bipartisan way to save the individual marketplace, but the fix is temporary. We must make sure that the ACA’s insurance marketplace exchange is accessible and affordable with competitive options that benefit Marylanders. I also strongly support the exploration of models to make Medicaid more accessible, as states like New Mexico are considering. Movement towards single payer must be balanced with the realities of today’s insurance marketplace, yet I am committed towards ensuring that we are continuously working towards universal health care access for Marylanders.
What role should the state play in helping Baltimore address violent crime?
: Ensuring the safety of all Marylanders is a foundational purpose of government. State government has an obligation and duty to work with local officials to reduce violence and create genuine safety in all of Maryland’s communities. This past summer, I worked with my fellow 46th District Delegates Luke Clippinger, Brooke Lierman, and Robbyn Lewis to present a framework for reducing violence and creating safe communities in Baltimore City (see: http://www.billforbaltimore.com/baltimore_prospers
). I supported the balanced approach the General Assembly took to reduce violence in Baltimore this past Session – investing in prevention while holding repeat violent offenders accountable. Fundamentally, I believe the best crime fighting strategy available is one that approaches violence as a public health crisis and allocates resources towards prevention and diversion, but when individuals choose to repeatedly break laws and victimize communities, they must face tangible consequences. Additionally, I believe the State has a primary responsibility in restoring faith in law enforcement in Baltimore City. The Police Department of Baltimore City is a state agency, and state oversight is essential. This past year, I passed legislation to establish the Commission to Restore Trust in Policing, an investigatory body charged with reviewing the tragic and unacceptable crimes committed for years by the Baltimore Police Department’s Gun Trace Task Force. Until we get to the bottom of the abject failure that led to the Gun Trace Task Force’s rampage on Baltimore citizens, progress will be impossible. The State must be a partner in helping Baltimore heal and move forward.
How would you characterize Maryland’s business climate? What can the state do to foster the creation of more family-supporting jobs?
Ferguson: Maryland is underperforming our potential. We are a wealthy state with one of the most highly educated populations in the country. Yet, we trail peer states dramatically in formation and sustainability of innovative, high-growth firms. We do not have a clear strategy around leveraging our sectors of competitive advantage like cybersecurity, biotechnology, and robotics. Instead, our economic development model is too reliant on strategies from last century’s playbook. We need to get away from the model of throwing incentives at individual companies in a race to the bottom, and focus instead on creating the climate where Maryland companies expand. We do this best by broadly investing in infrastructure improvements, enhancing our education and vocational training pipelines, and creating a better quality of life across the State. We, of course, have to be mindful of Maryland’s tax burden to remain competitive overall, but I deeply believe tax rates are a marginal issue in the overall assessment of business climate. Finally, as our economy gets ever more sophisticated and globalized, we must do more to ensure all Marylanders have access to a world class education. Technology is changing the economy and workplace faster than we can keep pace, and we must prepare our State’s residents for this changing world by doubling down on our public education systems. The Kirwan Commission’s framework offers the State the opportunity meet this challenge, and our State’s economy will be the beneficiary if we adopt this vision and hold ourselves accountable to implementing it over time.
Do you support the creation of a non-partisan, independent body to draw legislative and congressional district maps after each census?
Does the Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights adequately balance protections for police and the public? Should it be changed, and if so, how?
Ferguson: In Baltimore City, the practical application of the Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights (LEOBR), specifically with regard to the alternative trial board process, likely contributes to ineffective management and oversight of the police department. LEOBR has created an environment in Baltimore where the constraints on disciplining sworn officers likely gave rise to an environment where the Gun Trace Task Force was capable of inflicting years of criminal behavior before facing any consequence. Furthermore, the lack of trust that exists between law enforcement and too many communities in the City serves as a foundational roadblock to creating a genuine sense of safety across Baltimore. There are thousands of Baltimore officers who do their jobs honorably and justly each and every day, putting their lives on the line to serve Baltimore’s residents. Yet, instances like the Gun Trace Task Force undermine their work and create a cloud of doubt that permeates the system. The Commission to Restore Trust in Policing is the appropriate vehicle to approach this challenge. By reviewing the series of events associated with the oversight of the GTTF in depth, the Commission provides the process and means to present to the public an objective assessment of the scope of the problem and potential reforms that may be necessary to remediate. I firmly believe that components or application of LEOBR in Baltimore will be a necessary, although not sufficient, subject of recommendations for change.
What strategy would you adopt to address the opioid addiction and overdose crisis?
Ferguson: I was proud to support the General Assembly’s evidence-based initiative to address the opioid crisis during the 2017 General Assembly Session with passage of the HOPE Act. We need more resources for this problem, but we need those resources to be appropriated on the basis of evidence-based treatment and with purposeful coordination. Specifically, ongoing strategies must include the basic initiatives provided for in the HOPE Act: - Enhanced education efforts through crisis hotlines, treatment center access, and opioid abuse resource guides; - Oversight of controlled dangerous substance registration systems; - Expansion of the use and scope of drug courts; - Coordination of local fatality review teams for overdose cases; - Expanded access to overdose reversal treatments; - Greater funding for community-based behavioral health providers; and, - Revision of healthcare providers’ discharge protocols in cases of presumed drug abuse. Ultimately, though, effective implementation and program oversight are essential. We have consistently seen the current Administration fail to implement programs with fidelity and effectiveness. Despite the Hogan Administration issuing an executive order labeling the opioid crisis a state of emergency, opioid overdose deaths have only increased. In the first three quarters of 2017 (most recent data available), over 1,700 Marylanders died from unintentional intoxication deaths, a record for Maryland and a nearly 20% increase in overdose deaths from the same time the prior year. We must continue to allocate resources purposely, but we also must hold the executive agencies accountable for failing to address this problem sufficiently.
What if anything should the state do to address income inequality?
Ferguson: The growing structural income inequality in Maryland and across the United States signals severe foundational challenges in our economic system. As capital becomes more valuable in a globalized marketplace, and as technology and the robotic revolution further disrupt traditional labor markets, the concentration of wealth has become increasingly segmented. Without major systemic changes in our capital and labor markets, society faces dramatic challenges that have enormous consequences for all parts of daily life. Thus, it is absolutely essential that the State play a role in better preparing Maryland residents for a new economic future while regulating abuses in the free market that perpetuate inequality. Specifically, Maryland should: 1) Comprehensively reform our State’s public education system aligned to the Kirwan Commission’s framework for world class schools; 2) Move towards publicly funded post-secondary degrees/industry-recognized certificates; 3) Increase the State’s minimum wage and index the minimum wage to inflation; 4) Enhance access to high quality early childhood education and childcare opportunities; 5) Enhance the earned income tax credit; 6) Develop stronger industry-aligned career and vocational workforce development programs; 7) Enhance income tax progressivity; 8) Increase transparency and accountability for tax credits and incentive programs; 9) Invest in a better transportation infrastructure to more effectively move people and goods; 10) Increase the availability of affordable housing; and, 11) Enhance low-cost lending opportunities for small businesses, particularly those owned and operated by women and minorities.
Do the state’s Public Information Act and open meetings laws adequately ensure Marylanders’ ability to exercise oversight of the government?
Ferguson: While we’ve made significant strides in making government more open and transparent in recent years, we still have a ways to go. On the front end, we should expand upon Maryland’s Open Data Policy through the Open Data Council, a policy I authored and passed in 2014. If documents and materials are public and open by default, concerns about later releases diminish. To do this effectively, we must invest more fully in our information technology infrastructure, as the State remains woefully behind our peer states. Also, we must hold agencies accountable for meeting open data policy targets to tangibly shift the culture of state government. In 2015, we passed legislation related to the Public Information Act and Open Meetings Law to update applicability; enhance training on how these laws apply to public bodies; reduce fees for access where feasible; establish a new compliance board; and, create a new Office of the Public Access Ombudsman under the Office of the Attorney General. We must continue to build on these recent improvements. Finally, as cybersecurity failures and personal data breaches have become ever more prevalent in today’s society, the balance of interests between transparency and protecting citizen privacy will become more strained. There is no reason to believe that these two interests are in full conflict, and our most effective work will hinge upon strong policy values guiding a well-maintained regulatory framework. A strong democracy relies on government operations being as open and accessible as possible.