Sights and sounds from the first day of the Maryland General Assembly. (Barbara Haddock Taylor, Baltimore Sun video)
As we begin the last legislative session of our terms, we’re acutely aware of the stakes facing Baltimore City: a soaring homicide rate, freezing schools and multi-generational disinvestment in communities of color. On the other hand, the city is also opening new school buildings, investing in community development and creating over 370 jobs per month in 2017. Investment from the state can help ensure we head down the road toward sustainability and greatness, which is why each of us in District 46, which includes Baltimore ZIP codes surrounding the Patapsco River, sought public office.
Our motto is to act as if every day is the last of the legislative session, because every family and neighborhood deserves nothing less than that sense of urgency. The next three months are critical for Baltimore City to receive the attention it deserves on issues including the opioid epidemic, our juvenile justice system and the damage done by this reckless presidential administration and Republican Congress.
Along with the pomp and circumstance that traditionally open the Maryland General Assembly, lawmakers convened Wednesday facing weighty issues and asking each other to set aside politics even though it is an election year.
Ultimately, Baltimore’s success is contingent on meaningful support from our state government, and a healthy Maryland is contingent on a successful Baltimore City. We have a deep-seated belief in the potential of the General Assembly’s work; the question is if our colleagues from outside of the city share that holistic vision for our state.
Despite the challenges facing Baltimore, the last few months have only strengthened our trust in the upward trajectory of Baltimore as innumerable residents have reached out to us asking how they can lend their time and voices to creating a more equitable city. With that in mind, we want to elevate a few key issues which are especially significant this session.
Education. If it weren’t clear from the pictures of students huddled in jackets inside their classrooms, it’s imperative that Baltimore City Public Schools receive the support they need. Our schools don’t just need operating money, they need additional capital dollars. It’s egregious that only 17 percent of city schools are in “good” condition and unacceptable that the state has cut other new capital dollars that won’t be replaced under the 21st Century Schools program. City legislators must work with our counterparts to ensure that adequate capital dollars are available to meet the needs of our aging infrastructure.
Crime. The increasing crime rate in Baltimore City required immediate action months ago, which is why we offered our Baltimore PROSPERS framework in July. Although the State Legislature doesn’t direct the police or try cases, we will be fighting to ensure the city, Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice and State’s Attorney’s Office receive the resources they’ve requested. We’ll be championing bills to support evidence-based violence prevention programs and to begin a comprehensive reform of the juvenile justice system.
Paid Sick Leave. No family should face the impossible choice of losing a day’s wages or sending a sick child to school. Unfortunately, because of Gov. Larry Hogan’s veto, 700,000 Marylander’s were forced to make those decisions for yet another year. We cannot continue to put the safety of others at risk without earned sick days. That’s why we made overriding Governor Hogan’s veto one of our first legislative actions.
Transportation. Access to public transit is a leading means of providing opportunity to communities facing historic disinvestment. Instead of forward thinking ideas, the governor has proposed disastrous investments to expand highways. After years of similarly failed attempts, we know that expanding highways does nothing to get cars off the road, reduce environmental impact or invest in communities most in need.
Budget. Making this legislative session more significant is the fact that we aren’t yet fully aware of the impact of the mercurial federal budget on programs like the Children’s Health Insurance Program reauthorization and the Baltimore Package (a series of funding bills supporting city programs passed in 2016). As Maryland faces uncertainty around the impacts of federal tax changes, we will need to protect the state programs that Marylanders rely on to live healthy and stable lives.
We don’t know if we’re coming back for another term; you, the voters will get to make that decision on June 26th and Nov. 7th. What we do know is that we’ll be fighting every day like it’s our last and that we look forward to joining the voices of community leaders from across Baltimore City in demanding a more equitable and just Maryland.
State Sen. Bill Ferguson is among the four Democrats on the District 46 delegation to the Maryland General Assembly. The other members — Dels. Luke Clippinger, Brooke Lierman and Robbyn Lewis — also contributed to this article. They can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.