Mizeur Responses to PN Questionnaire

 

Progressive Neighbors

Questions for Maryland Gubernatorial Candidates

2014

Delegate Heather Mizeur

Better government

Question:  Progress has been made in improving transparency in the General Assembly over the past four years, with greater access to online tools for the public, the posting online of committee votes, and increased audio and video coverage of legislative deliberations. Much still remains to be done, however, including posting of subcommittee votes, committee amendments and votes, and the institution of a system to allow constituents to sign up to testify online the day before a committee hearing so they don't have to spend all day in Annapolis waiting to testify. Do you support these improvements, and do you have others you’d like to offer? What would you do to make the Assembly a more democratic institution? Do you support stripping the party central committees of the power of appointment, which ultimately lies with the Governor, and are you willing to support special elections to fill legislative vacancies?

Open government is a cornerstone of democracy, and Annapolis has a long way to go before it is considered the most accessible and transparent capital. As governor I will include more voices and opinions in the conversations and solutions, which is why I strongly support improving open access and government transparency in state government.

I have been dubbed by the Baltimore Sun as “the Transparency Queen” in Annapolis for legislation I advanced with Progressive Neighbors in 2010 called the Maryland Open Government Act (MOGA). Our advocacy led to posting committee votes online, webcasting committee hearings, and eliminating the $800 access fee for the General Assembly website. We followed that up in 2011 with creation of the Joint Committee on Transparency and Open Government, a permanent legislative body tasked with promoting transparency and open government.

These advancements were just a first step - we have a long road ahead to achieve full transparency. The original version of MOGA would have enabled constituents to sign up online to testify at public hearings and would have required standing committees to publish their bill hearing order in advance. Sometimes we have to crawl before we walk before we run. As Governor, I will work with the legislature to adopt these and other reforms, including the posting of budget, subcommittee, and amendment votes online; stronger disclosure rules for lobbyists with personal and professional relationships with current legislators; and streamlining budget and other legislative documents to make them more readable and accessible to the general public.

We live in a representative democracy, and we should always look to voters to choose their representation, which is why I support special elections to fill legislative vacancies. I believe any move in this direction must first involve considerations about the best approach to ensure strong voter turnout and limit the costs of a special election.

Question: Maryland is one of the wealthiest states in the US. Unfortunately, some of our state’s wealthiest residents and most successful corporations avoid paying their fair share of taxes. Assessing luxury taxes and requiring that businesses file combined tax reports would generate revenues and help small and local businesses compete.

Would you support combined reporting and luxury taxes? Please explain briefly.

I strongly support closing the combined reporting tax loophole and restoring the millionaires’ tax, and have been a supporter and lead co-sponsor of both efforts. It is shameful that Maryland allows some of our largest corporate titans like Verizon, Pepco, and Comcast to not pay a penny in corporate tax. Thousands of small businesses based here in Maryland operating with far tighter margins and without the resources to seek tax avoidance must pay this tax every year. I introduced the Main Street Employer Tax Rebate Act in 2013 to close the combined reporting loophole and use the revenue for targeted tax breaks for our local businesses. This approach levels the playing field and puts money back in the hands of small businesses, which are our proven job creators. This will be one of my top priorities as Governor.

Question: The juvenile justice scandal in Baltimore raises immediate concerns, and Maryland’s prison population has nearly tripled to over 22,000 since 1980. People of color are disproportionately arrested, convicted, and incarcerated. This is a civil rights issue.

Would you advocate for legislation and policies establishing creative approaches to crime and rehabilitation--alternatives to incarceration? Please explain briefly.

Yes, I will advocate strongly for criminal justice reform and plan to make it a central piece of my campaign policy platform.

To take on the issue, I want to us tackle generational problems affecting our struggling communities, like improving every school; ending racial bias within the criminal justice system; reforming drug laws that incarcerate non-violent offenders; offering better access to re-entry and workforce programs; expanding more afterschool opportunities; ending restrictions on voting for ex-offenders; and improving access to jobs and housing.

Question: In 2013, the General Assembly passed a law providing for same day voter registration, but only during the early voting period. The State Administrator of the Board of Elections objected to providing same day registration on Election Day itself, when the vast majority of votes are cast, claiming that it was not feasible. Do you support expanding same day voter registration to Election Day, and if so, what steps would you take to see it become law?

Protecting the right to vote is one of the most sacred duties we have, and I take the act of voting very seriously. On my 18th birthday, I requested an excused absence from school so I could register to vote. As a legislator, I was a strong advocate for adoption of early voting, expanding our early voting sites, and same-day registration during early voting, and believe we should act immediately to expand same-day registration to Election Day. As Governor, I will use the power of the office to win its passage, regardless of the support or opposition of the State Administrator of the Board of Elections.

Question: Do you support enacting state campaign finance reforms and laws that curtail corporate influence on elections, and laws that enable voluntary public financing of campaigns for state office in a manner that would allow candidates to receive funding after demonstrating significant community support?

Money plays far too great a role in state and federal politics. I am a strong supporter of campaign finance reforms that curtail the level of spending on our elections. I have consistently supported state bills seeking to turn back the impact of the Citizens United decision here in Maryland. I have also been a strong supporter and co-sponsor of legislation seeking to establish public campaign financing in Maryland.

 

Human Rights

Question: The transgender community has been fighting to be included in statewide civil rights protections since 2007. While there are ordinances in Montgomery, Howard and Baltimore counties, as well as Baltimore city, there is no statewide law (as there is in 17 states, DC and Puerto Rico) to go along with the sexual orientation antidiscrimination law passed here in 2001. Do you support a comprehensive gender identity law for Maryland, including public accommodations protections, and will you actively lobby the legislative leadership to make it happen?

I strongly support a comprehensive gender identity law for Maryland that includes public accommodations, and have long been a co-sponsor of this legislation. I will commit the same level of passionate, committed advocacy for passing the gender identity bill that I did during our fight to pass marriage equality, and will make it a legislative priority for my administration.After the passage of federal legislation (ACA aka Obamacare), it falls to the Maryland State government to establish “exchanges” to provide healthcare to people in our state; therefore the next governor’s actions will be critical on this issue.

Question: Do you agree that healthcare is a human right? How would you lead efforts to improve healthcare in Maryland? Would you support legislation and policies to begin a transition to a state-financed public health system? Please explain briefly.

Access to quality, affordable health care is a right, not a privilege. I’m determined to chart a path forward that best meets the needs of all Marylanders in both the short-term and long­term as we continue to expand affordable health care. There is no silver bullet to solve the crisis of underserved communities, but if we collaborate and ensure this remains a priority, we can successfully ensure affordable and comprehensive care for all Maryland families.

I will bring nearly two decades of health policy experience to the governor’s office. During my seven years in the legislature, I advanced a number of bills to expand health care access to a range of vulnerable communities. These efforts include allowing young adults to remain on family health plans to age 25; covering uninsured children and former foster youth; expanding access to family planning; and improving coverage for amputees.

My experience and record will inform how Maryland proceeds in the coming years on health care. I will push Maryland to use every lever available through the ACA and elsewhere to expand coverage, lower costs, and improve access. That includes expanding coverage options for low-income women and children to draw down more federal resources; expanding provider flexibility and support to improve access to services; reforming long­term care; and exploring universal coverage options similar to Vermont’s approach.

Question: In 2013, a bill to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana passed the State Senate with 30 votes. The chair of the House Judiciary Committee did not allow the bill to be voted on either in committee or on the floor of the House of Delegates. If this bill is put forward while you are governor, will you support it and if so, what specific actions will you take to ensure the bill’s passage in the General Assembly?

Yes, I strongly support efforts to de-criminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana. How we achieve success on this issue is closely tied to why I am running for Governor: we need to change the conversation about what is best for our communities and our future, and re-focus on bringing people together to achieve consensus-driven results. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle support reducing or eliminating penalties for marijuana possession. If we commit to utilizing this consensus-driven approach, we will build stronger coalitions to secure passage. De-criminalization will reduce prison costs, reduce violent crime, and help end the cradle-to-prison pipeline affecting many urban communities.

Question: Maryland’s minimum wage, currently tied to the federal minimum wage, is $7.25/hour.

Economic analysts across the political spectrum agree that it is extremely difficult for a family to survive in Maryland on this level of income. In 2013, a bill to raise the minimum wage to $10/hour failed to pass a House committee vote. Do you support an increase in the minimum wage, and, if so, what is the hourly wage that you would recommend that the General Assembly adopt?

Families cannot live on the current minimum wage. A worker can spend 40 hours a week at $7.25 per hour and still live below the federal poverty line. We need to change this conversation from that of minimum wages to one of living wages. I was a co-sponsor of the minimum wage bill in the 2013 session and strongly support meaningful increases. The minimum wage needs to be as high as $15 to fully support a working family in this state, and I will support and actively fight to increase it to levels no lower than $10 per hour.

Question: A bill requiring employers to provide at least seven days of sick leave per year received an unfavorable report in the House Economic Matters Committee in 2013. Do you support this bill, and what if any improvements to the bill would you recommend as governor?

Federal law currently requires that employees be given as much as 13 weeks of unpaid leave in case of illness or other conditions of the employee or a close family member. Federal law, however, only applies to employers with more than 50 employees. Very few Maryland businesses meet this requirement, such that the vast majority of Maryland workers get no family leave protection at all. In 2013, a bill to provide six weeks of unpaid family leave to employees of Maryland businesses with at least 15 employees did not pass. Do you support this legislation, and if so, what would you do as governor to see it become law?

Paid sick leave is smart public policy and to truly claim ourselves a progressive state, Maryland must pass legislation requiring that our workers are granted this dignity. It is shameful that 800,000 Marylanders are forced to choose between their health and their economic livelihood, and it does not make sense for our economy.

In 2009, I was the lead sponsor of paid sick days legislation (HB1296), known as the Healthy Families Healthy Workplaces Act. In 2013, as a lead co-sponsor of the paid sick days legislation with Delegate Olszewski, and I authored the following Gazette opinion editorial:http://www.gazette.net/article/20130301/OPINION/130309838/1014/heather-r-mizeur-paid-sick-days-give-economy-shot-in-arm&template=gazette

To ensure a minimum wage increase and paid sick days law become a reality, we need a governing approach that stops settling for policies that pit workers against business. Increasing the minimum wage and providing paid sick leave are not incompatible with a thriving small business economy. We do not have to help business at the expense of workers, or vice versa.

 

The Environment and Transportation

Question: There is a nationwide boom in hydraulic fracking in America today, giving us a greater degree of energy independence than we’ve seen in years. However, there are serious environmental consequences to such drilling, and there has been a moratorium on fracking in Maryland to give the government time to study the current state of the art.

What are your thoughts about fracking in Maryland, in anticipation of the government study? Do you believe we should prioritize fracking or spend our resources in developing green energy sources? How serious must the environmental degradation be for you to ban fracking? Are you concerned about the future of western Maryland’s tourist and farming industries if fracking is permitted?

For more than three years, I have been the state’s leading voice raising concerns about the threats of unregulated shale gas fracking. Maryland should not drill for natural gas until and unless it can be proven through scientific evidence that it can be done safely and without negative impacts to our environment, public health, economy, and local communities.

My work to create a Marcellus Shale study and establish a moratorium on drilling until completion of the study has been driven by my belief that there is far too much at stake for Maryland to rush headlong into drilling without first fully assessing the possible consequences. Second chances are expensive, and whether it is flammable tap water, seismic activity, or harm to livestock, we have seen in neighboring states what happens when they rushed to drill first and ask questions later.

As Governor, I would introduce a strict moratorium bill similar to the legislation I introduced in 2013 with the support of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, the Sierra Club, western Maryland advocates, and a range of other organizations. As part of this work, we would assess whether the results of the studies conducted by the current Marcellus Shale Safe Drilling Commission are thorough, complete, and had sufficient resources to comprehensively assess the risks of fracking in Maryland. If the Commission’s work is deemed incomplete by my administration, I will increase funding and further extend the studies to get us the answers we need.

Unless it is proven that there will not be any harm to the environment, public health, or local communities, I will not allow any fracking in Maryland.

Question: A recent editorial in The New York Times related to their mayoral campaign which focused on public transportation, said, “Few things more directly affect the quality of a day, the stability and prosperity of a life, than the ability to get to work. And few are more vital to the larger economy — of the city and region — than the transportation system that makes it possible. Veins and arteries: everybody needs them.”

Clearly this statement applies to Maryland as well, primarily to both Baltimore and the DC suburbs. What are your plans, now that the gas tax has been raised, to prioritize public transportation projects such as the Purple Line, CCT and Baltimore Red Line? Do you support plans to extend Metro to BWI as it is being extended to Dulles? Do you have any thoughts on the institution of high-speed or next-generation maglev rail in the northeast corridor? How will you seek to work with the Governor of Virginia and Mayor of DC to craft a truly useful regional transportation plan for the 21st century?

Smarter growth and better transit options are key to both our economic future and our quality of life. The Purple and Red Lines and Corridor Cities Transitway would create tens of thousands of jobs and are crucial to the continued growth and prosperity of Maryland. As Governor, I will find the funding necessary to ensure these projects are competitive for federal resources, whether through a public private partnership structure or consideration of alternative transportation financing models like a Vehicle-Miles-Traveled (VMT) approach.

Regarding Metro-to-BWI and adoption of high-speed rail like MAGLEV, I support continued discussions about how we make these projects a reality. I have worked closely with MAGLEV over the last 7 years to improve their outreach in Maryland and remain hopeful we can secure federal and private funding to bring these projects to fruition. We have an opportunity to create a 10-minute commute from Washington, DC to Baltimore with the MAGLEV technology. Talk about an economic game-changer! We benefit from our state’s proximity to DC as the first leg of a potential pilot of this technology, and Japan is interested in partnering with the United States to test this out for the entire Northeast Corridor. Their funding, coupled with potential federal resources and private sector interest, could make this project more than a pipedream, and I am eager to facilitate those conversations as Governor. However, I will first be focused on obtaining the funding we need to build our most urgent transit projects.

Maryland, Virginia and DC are uniquely positioned to work together across jurisdictional borders through waterways, transit systems and roadways. There is much potential for smart, consensus-oriented solutions to our regional problems if we can work together to expand regional rail service, improve our metro system, and reduce Beltway traffic. I am eager for the opportunity to collaborate with my regional counterparts to improve the flow of people, goods, and services.

Question: Several states are considering passage of a GMO labeling bill which would mandate the labeling of products containing genetically modified ingredients. Would you be supportive of such legislation?

Yes, I will strongly support GMO labeling legislation. I previously supported legislation to remove arsenic from chicken and ban the toxic chemical BPA from goods sold in Maryland. Public health is priority one and consumers have a right to know.

Question: Recently, after a series of public hearings, Takoma Park, MD's City Council (as well as the Washington Adventist Hospital in Takoma Park) passed regulations prohibiting cosmetic use of pesticides on lawns and landscapes. Since the use of pesticides is directly linked to several forms of cancer, as well as endocrine disruption, and is detrimental to the fish and wildlife in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, will you support and advocate for:

  1. The elimination of cosmetic use of pesticides on state public land, schools, highways, parks and other government facilities?
  2. Encourage Maryland county and municipal governments to follow the example of Takoma Park and ban its use?
  3. Begin a public education campaign to discourage the routine cosmetic use of pesticides around homes and gardens.

Yes, I will support and advocate for A, B, and C. In May 2013, I signed a petition and authored a letter in support of the Safe Grow Zone Initiative (the Takoma Park pesticide prohibition).

Question: Montgomery County enacted legislation in 2011 that placed a five-cent charge on each paper or plastic carryout bag provided by retail establishments to customers at the point of sale, pickup or delivery. Retailers retain 1 cent of each five-cent for the bags they sell. The revenues from this charge are deposited into the County’s Water Quality Protection Charge fund. This effectively shifts the burden of litter clean up costs from taxpayers to consumers, who have a choice to avoid the 5-cent charge by bringing reusable bags.

Do you favor extending the Montgomery County “bag tax” statewide?

An industry consortium led by Owens-Illinois (glass) and Alcoa (aluminum) and major state environmental organizations e.g. the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Maryland League of Conservation Voters, strongly favors a Maryland “bottle bill,” legislation which generally requires a 5 cent deposit on sealed metal, glass or plastic containers. Enactment of this legislation would reduce litter, create recycling jobs and supplement ongoing recycling programs.

Do you favor enactment of a 5 cent per container “bottle bill” in Maryland?

Yes, I strongly support a statewide five-cent bag fee and a five-cent bottle deposit law. A five-cent fee on plastic bags has been immensely successful at reducing bag use in Montgomery County and the District of Columbia – these bags pollute waterways, harm wildlife, and clog landfills. Bottled water consumption requires 32 to 54 million barrels of crude oil each year, and only 6.5 percent of all plastic ends up being recycled.

 

Education and the Economy

To address crushing higher education costs for students, the Oregon legislature recently unanimously enacted “Pay it Forward, Pay it Back” higher education funding legislation. The Oregon legislation directs the state’s education commission to develop a plan for consideration by the legislature in 2015 under which students would pay nothing for tuition while attending college, paying instead 3% of their income each year for the next two decades or so to cover the costs of future students. Education loans from big banks would no longer be necessary.

Do you favor similar legislation in Maryland? If not, what other approaches to reducing higher education costs for Maryland students do you favor?

Despite an award-winning public education system, Maryland faces an achievement gap. What approaches would you support to address the achievement gap and maintain education excellence in Maryland? Please explain briefly.

 I strongly support exploring whether Maryland can adopt a program similar to Oregon's "Pay it Forward" model. A college degree is critical to our economic future. The unemployment rate for those with a degree is 3.8 percent, while it is 7.6 percent for high school graduates. The average salary for those with a degree is far higher than those without one, and the gap is widening.

Despite recent efforts, the cost of attending college continues to rise. With total student loan debt above $1.2 trillion, and the average debt of graduates in Maryland going up each year, it is clear our current approach is not working. The "Pay it Forward" model is a potentially dynamic solution that would erase the financial barrier to attending school and offer a fair repayment system that aligns with a graduate's income. Because future funding for higher education would be directly tied to the employability of college graduates, administrators would have to place greater focus on providing students with the practical skills needed to get a job out of college.

But there are some unanswered questions. How would we pay the enormous initial costs of allowing students to attend for free without graduates to pay back into the system? How will we enforce these contracts and pay the likely sizable legal fees? While we study different transition and enforcement models, we also need to focus on increasing the proportion of need-based aid to merit-based aid. As a possible alternative to Pay it Forward, we should also examine a state low-interest loan system where students borrowing to attend school can obtain more reasonable interest rates. Whether through these approaches or other models, I am committed to finding more innovative ways to make a college education affordable for every student. Settling for any less would greatly harm our state's upward economic mobility.

Achievement Gap

I am proud of Maryland’s “first in the nation” public education ranking. That was earned through hard work from our educators and a renewed commitment to public education by our state government. However, that ranking does not apply to every child in every classroom in every community. Large achievement gaps exist among varying racial and socioeconomic backgrounds and bridging this gap will be among my first priorities as governor. I will tackle this problem from multiple angles: through a significant investment in early childhood education and after-school programs; a large-scale, innovative approach to rebuilding crumbling classrooms and school facilities; and ensuring that educators teaching in our toughest schools have the tools they need to succeed.

Question: Inspired by the Bank of North Dakota, legislators in several states, including Maryland, have proposed the creation of a state bank. In North Dakota, the nine-decade old bank serves as a depository for all state tax collection and fees, and deposits are reinvested in North Dakota in the form of loans, thereby enhancing the availability of credit in the state. Do you support setting up and funding a commission to study the feasibility of establishing a state bank in Maryland?

Yes, I support a commission studying the feasibility of a state bank.

Question: The State of Connecticut recently enacted policies aimed at “diversifying or converting defense-related industries to other nonmilitary products, emphasizing environmentally sustainable and civilian product manufacturing.” Would you advocate for similar legislation and policies? Please explain briefly.

 Yes, I am open to advocating for similar policies here in Maryland. At minimum, I support ensuring that we end exemptions and taxpayer subsidies supporting large corporations, including defense contractors, for activities that do not serve the best interests of our state’s future. That is why I strongly opposed and voted against a retroactive exemption from hotel taxes for Lockheed Martin in the 2013 session.

Question: Please provide specifics on how you would promote job creation and job retraining in Maryland. Are there changes in the Maryland tax system which may be appropriate to encourage job creation and job retraining?

Do you support the right of Maryland’s private and public sector workers to have collective bargaining rights and union representation?

Job Creation

Innovative School Construction – Building new schools creates more jobs than almost any other activity in which government engages. Maryland has a backlog of roughly $5.5 billion worth of school construction projects. Whether through public-private partnerships or a local sales tax option approved by voters, we can use creative financing options to fund sweeping school construction projects.

Solving workforce challenges – By 2018, an estimated 66 percent of Maryland jobs will require a postsecondary education. As ACA takes full effect, we will need as many as 100,000 additional health professionals to serve the newly insured. There is a major opportunity in the coming years for partnerships with businesses, state government, and our colleges to better align student curriculum with market-based job opportunities.

Small Business Tax Rebate – My Main Street Employer Tax Rebate Act will close the combined reporting loophole and use the new revenue for targeted tax breaks for small businesses.

Improving MD’s regulatory environment – We can vastly improve Maryland’s regulatory environment to help businesses succeed. Maryland has the 10th most-burdensome occupational licensing laws in the nation and is the 14th most extensively and onerously licensed state, according to a 2012 study. My recent efforts to reduce regulatory burdens associated with residential and commercial composting will help bring an estimated 1,400 jobs to Maryland. We can apply a similar approach to other niche industries.

Collective Bargaining

My dad was a union factory welder for his entire career. When I was 9 years old, our family endured a 6-month strike living on $45 a week while my father and his union brothers and sisters stood together on the picket line. I watched unions protect my family and my neighbors from unfair working conditions and demand fair wages and benefits for a hard day’s work. From their example, I learned to stand in solidarity and speak out with the courage of my convictions.

I carried these early lessons from days spent on the picket line with my father to the General Assembly and I will carry them with me to the Governor’s office. It is no coincidence that as union membership has declined in this country income inequality has risen. Unions make us strong, and if we are to restore Maryland's middle class, every worker deserves the opportunity to join a union and collectively bargain. Each time a collective bargaining issue has come before the House Appropriations Committee in Annapolis, I have stood shoulder to shoulder with labor. I have stood with law enforcement; health care workers; campus employees; educators; and correctional officers, and I will keep standing with all our union brothers and sisters.

 

Housing

Question: Nearly one third of Maryland residents live in rental housing, and the number of Maryland renters increases every year. Yet since 2000, the median rent for Maryland residents has increased approximately two-thirds, pricing many families out of their homes. In 2013, a bill was introduced in the House of Delegates to stabilize rent increases at 5% per year and require landlords to provide a just cause for refusing to renew a lease. Do you support this bill? What other actions would you take to promote affordable housing and expand renters' rights?

We need far greater commitment and attention paid to affordable housing and protecting renters. Yes, I strongly support rent stabilization and adoption of a statewide just cause eviction law. I supported renter protections as a Takoma Park City Councilmember and was the lead sponsor of local Just Cause eviction legislation for Montgomery County. I remain committed to advocating for passage of this legislation at both the County and state level.

We will not make significant progress on affordable housing until political leaders at the highest level choose to make it a priority. My vision for Maryland includes significant community revitalization efforts, such as making new schools the anchors of our communities, fighting for a living wage for every worker and family, and creating affirmative opportunities for every Marylander. Access to affordable and fair housing will be a cornerstone of all these efforts.

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