Maryland has an extra $6 billion in its bank and a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to invest in its people in meaningful, life-changing ways that deliver immediate results. With rising COVID-19 cases, we must use our historic surplus to help fellow Marylanders who continue to struggle, while also investing wisely for the future by shoring up our Rainy Day Fund and funding critical infrastructure projects.
First, the state should immediately enact another round of economic survival payments for the most financially insecure, but this time increase the amount to $2,000. I advocated for this proposal last year, but opponents said we couldn’t afford it. Now we know that we can, and tens of thousands of Marylanders still need our help. Price tag: $1 billion.
Second, we must provide immediate financial support to our child care industry. Over the past 20 months, more than 750 child care providers have closed due in large part to the government’s inability to distribute promised financial assistance in a timely manner. Without reliable, accessible and affordable child care, our economic recovery will be stunted. To ensure this access, we should use a portion of these revenues to incentivize operators that are closed to re-open and follow the federal government’s lead by subsidizing the cost of child care for families that may not be able to afford it. Price tag: $500 million.
Third, with potential health and safety measures being necessary to prevent the spread of Omicron and as small businesses continue to struggle to keep the lights on, we must work together to provide direct financial relief — not through the form of tax breaks — to small businesses in hard-hit industries, particularly our minority-owned and women-owned small businesses, which bore the disproportionate brunt of the economic impact of COVID. We must remedy that injustice, and we can do so with a new round of economic relief. Price tag: $500 million.
Fourth, the state should shore up our Rainy Day Fund. We must do a much better job at financially preparing for the next economic crisis. We should deposit a third of our historic surplus — $2 billion — into our reserves. This action strengthens our ability to adjust for economic downturns without the need for painful budget cuts, allows swifter and more robust disbursement of economic aid, and reduces disruptions in core government services.
Lastly, the state should allocate the remaining $2 billion to fund its share of high-priority infrastructure projects that will have lasting impact. Specifically, the state should invest in three critical infrastructure areas: Baltimore City’s abandoned Red Line, green energy projects that will allow the state to transition to 100% renewable energy by 2030, and high speed internet connectivity for all Marylanders. These infrastructure priorities reflect the one-time nature of this surplus. We can and must invest in projects that help tackle critical issues like climate change and mass transportation, while creating high paying jobs and generating significant and sustained economic activity.
This ambitious proposal for economic relief and investment isn’t cheap. While $6 billion may seem like a lot of money, the truth is our inaction — or failure to meet this crisis with a proportionate response — will have far more devastating financial consequences.
This road map allows our state to shore up its finances, invest in highly productive infrastructure projects, and provide support to those small businesses and state residents who have been most impacted by the pandemic. We can’t Build Back Better if everyone doesn’t have the opportunity to share in the prosperity of this economic recovery.
Peter Franchot, Annapolis
The writer, a Democrat, has served as state comptroller since 2007. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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