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?
Jennings: Yes, I support the commission. 83% of the Maryland’s budget is mandated spending. These are fixed formulas that automatically dictate how tax dollars will be spent. Some of these formulas date back 75 years. There should be a review of all these formulas to ensure each jurisdiction is receiving its proper allotment of school funding.
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?
Jennings: About 10 years ago the counties and local jurisdictions had roughly 98% of their transportation funds cut. Due to these cuts, many of our roadways have not been properly maintained. Potholes, cracks and erosion are causing serious traffic issues. These funds need to be restored so that these failing roadways can be repaired. Additionally, new technology, such as ‘smart’ stop lights need to be installed to ensure traffic moves in a more efficient manner. The complete overhaul of the city’s transportation system with BaltimoreLink has helped alleviate many of the area’s public transit concerns, such as updating antiquated systems and routes, better access to alternate transit like the Light Rail and more efficient alignment with job networks.
Do you support the legalization of recreational marijuana?
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?
Jennings: One of the biggest challenges facing the Chesapeake Bay is the hundreds of thousands of tons of sediment and pollutants sitting behind the Conowingo Dam. Another issue is the over-development of agricultural land and green space. This is taking away the natural filter that purifies the storm water before it makes its way to the Chesapeake Bay.
What steps should Maryland take to ensure the broadest possible access to affordable health care?
Jennings: The costs for individual insurer market is out of control. Rates have risen as much as 34% year after year. It has gotten to the point that many can’t afford to have insurance. This is an issue that should be addressed on a federal level. However, with the feds not acting to fix it, legislation needs to be looked at next session to see what can be done at the State level to lower these prices.
What role should the state play in helping Baltimore address violent crime?
Jennings: We need to start addressing the issue of crime by using a three-prong approach of tackling short term, mid-range and long-range problems to achieve lasting results: 1) There needs to be a zero-tolerance policy for repeat violent offenders. Double the minimum sentence from five to ten years for repeat offenders who use firearms to commit felonies and violent crimes. 2) A large percentage of people are out of work because businesses do not want to hire people with non-violent, minor offenses. If we want our community to flourish, we need to rally around this segment of the population and give them the chance to get back to work. Mentorships and partnering with government programs that offer workforce training are two ways the business community can help make a difference. 3) Early teens who are at risk of getting involved in gangs and other violent criminal activity. This is another segment of the population that needs the help of citizens, businesses and community partners to mentor, tutor and offer other means of support to end the vicious cycle of violent crime in Baltimore. If we can intervene when they are still young, the long-term results could be incredibly beneficial for the city.
How would you characterize Maryland’s business climate? What can the state do to foster the creation of more family-supporting jobs?
Jennings: Over the past three years, Maryland has gained over 125,000 jobs and the unemployment rate has dropped to 3.8%, the lowest it has been in nearly a decade. The private sector is growing and Maryland continues to be a leader in key areas like Biotechnology, Information and Technology, and workforce educational attainment. To keep this momentum, Maryland needs to increase incentives and reduce regulations. For instance, last year the More Jobs for Marylanders Act was passed to incentivize and encourage manufacturers to create jobs where they were needed most, and to offer new and expanding manufacturing businesses a ten-year tax credit for each new job created. Two new tax credits under this plan are budgeted for FY 2019, and a new expanded proposal for 2018 will open the program to industries outside of manufacturing. This plan has the potential to create thousands of jobs and attract businesses by reducing state taxes for employers that offer opportunities in qualifying high-unemployment zones.
Do you support the creation of a non-partisan, independent body to draw legislative and congressional district maps after each census?
Jennings: Yes. The process should be done in a non-partisan way that ensures politics is taken out of the process. Each district should be drawn in a way to ensure communities stay connected and not divided between multiple districts.
Does the Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights adequately balance protections for police and the public? Should it be changed, and if so, how?
Jennings: Several years ago, the legislature changed the Law Enforcement Officer Bill of Rights and made it a more fair process.
What strategy would you adopt to address the opioid addiction and overdose crisis?
Jennings: Increasing penalties for dealers of heroin to include 2nd degree murder when someone they sell to dies as a result of an overdose. Additionally, Nalaxone and expanded medically assisted treatment services should be more readily available for people to access.
What if anything should the state do to address income inequality?
Jennings: Public transit upgrades that provide better, more efficient access to high density job areas, incentivizing job growth in high unemployment zones and areas like manufacturing are a step in the right direction. Additionally, continuing to invest in public education, community colleges and workforce training initiatives that blend high school, college and workplace skills required for 21st-century jobs. These programs in particular can better prepare our students for the workforce and provide a steady pipeline of skilled professionals to some of the state’s biggest employers.
Do the state’s Public Information Act and open meetings laws adequately ensure Marylanders’ ability to exercise oversight of the government?
Jennings: I’ve always maintained that elected officials work for the people, not the other way around. I believe the more transparency in government the better, and think it’s important for people to have a better understanding of bills that are under consideration in the House and Senate as well as the process the legislature follows during session. To that end, I fully support granting even more access to the public via television and live-screening technology.