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Democratic candidates discuss transportation, schools

BETHESDA – The eight Democratic candidates in Maryland’s primary race for governor gathered for a panel discussion in December to discuss significant issues in the state, including traffic congestion and disparities in school funding.

The Committee for Montgomery sponsored the Dec. 14 panel discussion and moderated by Josh Kurtz, founder, and editor of Maryland Matters.

Democratic candidates who participated in the event were: Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker, III, founder of Global Policy Solutions Maya Rockeymoore Cummings, former President and chief executive officer of the NAACP Ben Jealous, Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, State Sen. Rich Madaleno, former Senior Adviser to the U.S. State Department Alec Ross, former Chair of Venable LLP Jim Shea and former Policy Director to First Lady Michelle Obama Krishanti Vignarajah.

Rockeymoore Cummings has since suspended her campaign “due to personal considerations.”

Gov. Larry Hogan was also invited but did not attend.

Kurtz asked the candidates for their opinions on Hogan’s proposal, which would be partially funded by tolled express lanes, to widen I-270, the Beltway, and the Baltimore-Washington Parkway.

He asked them also to say what they would do to “alleviate the choking traffic” in the region.

Each candidate criticized Hogan’s plan, and many emphasized the importance of improving state-wide mass transit, including the Metro.

Vignarajah said she’s “not against us increasing the number of roads we have,” but that Hogan’s plan is not a long-term solution to the traffic congestion in the region.

“Can we use the expansion of roads to put reversible lanes, as (Madaleno) mentioned. Can we use rideshare? Can we use buses? We know all those options, as well as mass transit, are there,” she said.

Jealous said mass transit options, such as a “bus-rapid transit as a plan coming down (U.S. Route) 29,” could help lessen congestion.

Kamenetz said, “We need to move forward again with the Corridor Plan so that we can get (Interstate) 270, those 36,000 daily trips off of the highway and into mass transit.”

Baker said the state would also benefit from mass transit projects because they give “us the greatest opportunity to grow our business here so that we can deal with the other issues.”

However, he added that every jurisdiction is “fighting for transportation dollars,” so the state must consider “what is the greatest impact of taking those dollars and making sure they’re invested right for the state.”

“I embrace a truly multimodal, interconnected transportation system…I think we need to think about it beyond just Baltimore City and Montgomery County," Rockeymoore Cummings said. "I think we need to think of it as a regional transportation system that’s statewide.” and emphasized the importance of “complete streets,” shared by bikers, cars, and buses.

Madaleno was the only candidate who explicitly stated he would reverse Hogan’s plan if elected governor.

None of the candidates mentioned the maglev or hyperloop, both of which were introduced by Hogan. The governor maintains these high-speed rail projects, if completed, would alleviate traffic in the region.

The maglev, in particular, has stirred considerable controversy throughout Prince George’s County for the potential disruptions it could cause, as construction would cut through existing communities.

Kurtz then asked the candidates to respond “yes or no” to whether, if elected governor, they would “introduce or support a bill to provide dedicated state funding for the Metro system.”

Every candidate responded “yes.”

In response to a question about school funding, multiple candidates spoke about adjusting the budget to reflect the education needs of the state better.

“Montgomery County has 17 percent of the state’s student population, but only gets about 11 percent of state’s school construction funding,” Kurtz said.

“Do you think that’s fair, and what would you do to minimize the discrepancy?”

Several candidates spoke about making changes to the state budget.

Kamenetz said the state capital budget for school construction should be increased from $250 million to at least $400 million a year.

Shea said the budget should be balanced in regards to all education costs, including early childhood through to higher education, and Rockeymoore Cummings said the budget should be adjusted “based on the dynamics of demographic shifts.”

Vignarajah emphasized the need to repair schools that are “literally crumbling,” and that “cracks in the infrastructure” in schools “in Montgomery County, in Baltimore County and across the state” ought to be addressed.

Baker also said Montgomery, Baltimore and Prince George’s Counties have outdated schools. He stated that increasing student population is an issue not only in Montgomery County but also in the other two major counties.

However, Jealous said the issue of school funding extends beyond those three largest jurisdictions.

“We can find that money if we’re willing to do our state budget frankly the way that we budget for small businesses,” he said. “It starts with us deciding once and for all that we will fully fund the schools of our state.”

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