And other legislative updates in this week’s Up the Street
Maryland received fresh public opinion data on a range of issues this week with the release of the latest Goucher Poll. Maryland residents were once again asked if they think the state spends too little, too much, or about the right amount on public education. Respondents overwhelmingly said schools receive “too little” funding, with 64% picking that option and just 31 % saying “too much” or the “right amount.” This is the fourth year in a row that the Goucher Poll has released results showing at least 64% of the state saying that schools are underfunded.
While this public opinion is strongly held in Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties (67% say schools are underfunded) and the Central Baltimore region (65% say schools are underfunded), it is also held by a majority of Maryland residents who live in Western Maryland, Southern Maryland, and on the Eastern Shore (56% say schools are underfunded). More Marylanders who identify as “conservatives” believe schools receive too little funding than those who say they receive the right amount. This opinion also spans all age groups: 19–34, 35–54, and 55+.
On Tuesday, leadership in the House and Senate announced the creation of a legislative workgroup to study how Maryland could legalize the recreational use of marijuana. The group of lawmakers would meet throughout this year and then make recommendations to the full General Assembly before next year’s legislative session.
The committee will study how best to tax marijuana sales, how to ensure small businesses and minority-owned businesses can compete in the industry, how to make sure communities who have historically suffered from racial bias in marijuana possession enforcement are equitably employed in the industry, and whether or not to put the question of legalization to voters on the 2020 ballot.
Tax revenue from marijuana legalization could generate several hundred million dollars, depending on how pricing is set and the excise tax rate, and is often mentioned as a possible funding source for the Kirwan Commission recommendations. According to recent Goucher Polls, about 60% of Marylanders support legalizing marijuana — a number that would likely increase if respondents were told the revenue would go towards increasing education funding.
Also popular on the latest Goucher Poll? Raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour. The legislation (HB 166/SB 280) to get that done by 2023 — a priority for MSEA because it could lift many ESP wages — is supported by 67% of Maryland residents.
MSEA continued to voice support for the bill this week by testifying before the Senate Finance Committee (we supported the legislation at its House bill hearing two weeks ago). The House Economic Matters Committee is expected to begin moving the bill forward starting next week.
Based on initial RSVP counts, we’ve now gone public with our projection of 5,000 or more attendees for the March for Our Schools on March 11. But we don’t just want to reach that goal — we want to blow past it. Help us beat our goal and RSVP here and then recruit five or more of your friends today.
Long-time Maryland Treasurer Nancy Kopp was re-elected by the Maryland General Assembly this week to her fifth term in office. While there had been rumors of a possible challenge from the Legislative Black Caucus, Treasurer Kopp ended up receiving 134 out of 183 votes cast. The treasurer is selected by the legislature once every four years.
The treasurer is responsible for managing the state’s investment and retirement funds, including teacher pensions. The position also has a spot on the three-member Board of Public Works, where school construction projects and testing company contracts have often been debated and voted on. Maryland has long held a AAA bond rating under Treasurer Kopp’s financial management.
The Baltimore Sun editorial board continued courting Gov. Hogan to take more of a leadership role in pushing for the Kirwan Commission recommendations this week, citing the growing budget woes of county governments and the need to build public will for potential tax increases.
They wrote: “Maryland’s school systems are at a turning point. We can adopt the Kirwan reforms and produce a system that will rank among the world’s best, or we can accept a steady backsliding toward mediocrity or worse. The Kirwan Commission’s findings tell us that excellence is possible, but it will take a monumental effort to build political support in every county for the sacrifices necessary to achieve it. Only Governor Hogan has the standing to do that.”
But for now, Gov. Hogan is focused…elsewhere.
MSEA testified in support of SB 449 this week, legislation in the Senate to permit voters to register and vote at the same time on Election Day. Currently, voters can register and vote at the same time but only during early voting. This is now allowed after a ballot initiative (Question 2) successfully amended the Maryland Constitution in November.
Meanwhile, similar legislation (HB 286) in the House of Delegates passed 98–41 this morning, drawing Republican opposition despite the fact that it was supported by two-thirds of voters when on the ballot. It had previously been voted out of the Ways and Means Committee by a 15–7 vote.