On the Prince George’s County Council I was a strong supporter of increasing our minimum wage to the highest in the state, $11.50 as of October 1, 2018. It is not enough. In Maryland, where there is a very high cost of living, I will advocate for a $15/hr statewide minimum wage. It can be phased in over 4 years, with larger employers required to pay it first (50+ workers) followed by smaller employers.
Public and private sector labor unions are still relevant despite efforts around the country to shut them down. Unions provide important apprenticeship and job opportunities and most importantly they ensure workers receive good wages and benefits. I will advocate for Project Labor Agreements on public works projects with no end runs around the formula that triggers a PLA, strict enforcement of prevailing wage laws (Davis-Bacon) and serious penalties for violators. Organized labor is largely responsible for creation of the middle class in this country and the decline of unions has hurt our standard of living nationally. I grew up in a union family, so this issue is personal for me.
Infrastructure investments in roads, bridges, airports, dams and ports, transit systems, water and wastewater infrastructure and public schools and parks have been insufficient for decades in Maryland and across the country. On its 2017 Infrastructure Report Card, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) gave the nation a D+ rating.
Investing in public infrastructure and continued maintenance and upkeep of those systems will create long-term, living wage jobs. I will advocate for greater investment in those systems, with a focus on school modernization, wastewater infrastructure, parks upgrades, road investments and better linked transit. ASCE reports that the state has at least a $615 million gap in school capital expenses (this is likely much higher) and a need to invest $10 billion in wastewater infrastructure over 20 years. Our coveted public parks have $80 million in deferred maintenance and 24% of Maryland’s public roads are in poor condition. Not only are we not spending money properly on these systems, the failure to invest is costly. ASCE estimates that it costs Maryland motorists $550 per year driving on roads needing repair. For workers who rely on transit – bus, light rail and commuter trains – there were a staggering 154,507,328 unlinked passenger trips. These missing connections mean higher transportation costs for workers, lost productivity and lost wages. Smart investments require “leadership, planning and a clear vision” says ASCE. I commit to be a part of that wise investment strategy.
In Western Anne Arundel and Northern Prince George’s counties we have transportation deserts with little or no transit options. There is limited MARC commuter rail service, no light rail and spotty bus service that ends too early in the evening and has limited or no weekend hours. This is especially hard for lower skilled and hourly workers who can’t afford to own cars and can’t afford to miss a bus or a connection between buses or bus and train. I will support increased state grants to counties for local and regional bus service and expansion of weekend service on the MARC Camden line. In addition, I will be making a push in Prince George’s this year and will advocate in Anne Arundel as well for adequate bus shelters that provide seating, are well lit, and safely set back from travel lanes. These can be paid for, at least in part, with advertising.
The proposed high speed Maglev (Magnetic Levitation) train that would link Washington, D.C., and Baltimore sounds good in theory until you hear the details. I oppose Maglev for economic and quality of life reasons. Specifically, of the $10 billion cost of the train, 50 percent of the upfront investment would be paid for by a Japanese bank; the remainder would be an unidentified combination of federal, state and private sources. Maglev will not take cars off the road during daily commuting times; it will be unaffordable for the vast majority of workers (fares are unknown); and it will not create spin off economic development or jobs beyond the construction phase because Maglev would stop just once between Washington and Baltimore at BWI Airport. There would also need to be dedicated funding from fares or government support to repay the Japanese investment bank. Finally, Maglev would have a negative economic impact on neighborhoods where homes in its path would be lost and property would be devalued by the noise/vibration and visual impacts of the train. The environmental impact of tunneling an estimated one-half to two-thirds of the 40 mile track are unclear.
I support a continuation of the federal and state subsidies for capital costs for Metrorail that are set to expire in 2019 as well as a special sales, gasoline or other designated tax or funding source for a $3 billion agency without a dedicated funding stream. (It is the only major subway system in the country without designated funding.) Opened in 1976, Metrorail ridership peaked at 225 million in 2009 and remains a major economic driver in the Washington, D.C., region; however, ridership has fallen because of legitimate concerns about safety and reliability. Railcar, track and power problems have caused longer commute times that have hurt confidence in the system and ridership is down 5% since 2010. WMATA, the agency that operates Metrorail, needs approximately $1 billion annually for capital improvements, but there must be consensus by the political leaders in Maryland, the District of Columbia and Virginia to support a special regional tax by the jurisdictions that WMATA serves – Prince George’s and Montgomery counties in Maryland, the District of Columbia, the cities of Alexandria, Fairfax and Falls Church and Arlington, Fairfax and Loudoun counties in Virginia.
Gun Control and Public Safety
The need for gun control in our nation as whole can not be overstated. Maryland has a record and reputation as a state with strict control laws, however, there is still more to be done to keep our residents safe. I support HB1646/SB1036, a bill to prevent those convicted of domestic violence from keeping firearms in their possession, and providing a mechanism for tracking the safe and legal surrender of weapons by those who have been convicted of such a disqualifying crime. Reasons to support such a bill are numerous, among them:
- Of the total lives lost in 2016, 18 of the 55 people killed due to domestic violence lived in Prince George’s County, according to Maryland Network of Domestic Violence’s most recent study. That is twice as many deaths due to Domestic Violence as any other county in Maryland. Based on this statistic, HB 1646/SB 1036 would have the greatest impact for victims of domestic violence residing in Prince George’s County. I am committed to reducing this statistic and helping families access the services they need to escape abuse.
- According to a report by the National Law Enforcement Memorial Fund entitled Deadly Calls and Fatal Encounters, police calls related to domestic disputes and domestic-related incidents represented the highest number of fatal types of calls for police officers. With this in mind, HB 1646/SB 1036 serves as much to protect police officers as it does to protect citizens of the community who may be impacted by domestic abusers.
It is my hope that this legislation passes this session and goes into effect as soon as possible. With a place in the Marylad General Assembly, I would sponsor and support tough gun legislation, including raising the age of legal purchase, and solidify our state as a leader in efforts to stem the tide of gun violence. Further, I would be mindful of the NRA and gun lobbyists working to circumvent or modify the safeguards already in place.
Education and School Facilities
We have nearly $3 billion in unmet needs facing Maryland schools at this time. According to Feb. 8, 2018 USA Today article, Maryland dedicates 3.7% of its taxable resources to education, higher than the nationwide average of 3.3% among states. However, Maryland has the highest median household income in the country ($78,945/year) and could afford to dedicate more to K-12 education. I do believe Maryland should spend more money per pupil but that it should also spend money more wisely, targeting it to hire more classroom teachers to keep pace with the growth in student population and add more paraprofessional support staff, media specialists and school counselors. Smaller class sizes and highly qualified teachers really do boost student achievement. The Kirwan Commission is due to recommend ways to close the education funding gap in mid-2018, but I would begin with treating the Education Trust Fund as a lockbox that cannot be raided and to adopt the proposal announced by Democratic state legislators in January to dedicate $500 million in gaming revenue to education on top of the baseline schools budget.
As a resident of a county in which 62% of public school children are living below the poverty level, I am very much in favor of community schools. Public school buildings are often the center of communities and natural gathering places for neighborhood meetings, civic activities such as Scouting, social events, extended learning opportunities and more. Bringing in community partners and adding a full-time coordinator to support children, families and seniors with added services and programs makes sense from an economic, social and cultural standpoint. Community schools can function as combination social services, recreational and senior centers that most low income neighborhoods lack.
I support increasing the school construction floor in the capital budget from $350 million to $700 million. We need to think creatively about CIP funding to possibly include a P3 approach that allows private companies to build or substantially renovate and maintain schools at a lower cost. There would have to be controls to ensure fair and competitive bidding and quality construction materials and methods.