I also want to thank Governor Hogan for submitting a budget proposal that funds so many of our collective priorities, including employee raises, increases to education funding and increases to mental health providers — each mandated by the General Assembly. We look forward to working together to fund more school construction. But the General Assembly will also need to make the hard decisions to cut tens of millions of dollars to balance the governor’s budget — since the governor left a deficit.
Unlike Washington, we know how to find common ground when we need to — but we also have a different view from the governor of the state’s role and ability to improve the lives of everyday Marylanders.
The Democrats in the General Assembly are focused on building the middle class and helping working families create opportunities to get ahead. Yesterday, we announced a package of legislation to move Maryland families to opportunity:
Increasing Maryland’s minimum wage to $15
Protecting pre-existing conditions in all health insurance coverage
Increasing the child care tax credit
Curbing the costs of prescription drugs for Marylanders and state retirees
Banning 3D guns and ‘ghost’ guns
Increasing the age for tobacco sales to 21 years old
There will never be a magical right time to invest in our students. The right time is now.
This session, we will also be working to implement the framework of policy recommendations to improve our public schools — referred to as the Kirwan commission. While the governor has said the recommendations are too expensive, we cannot afford to overlook a generation of public school students who are the future of Maryland. While we applaud the governor’s desire to increase funding to build new schools in the state. We must improve the quality of education inside those buildings as well: without an engine, a shiny, new car won’t go anywhere. The Kirwan commission found that Maryland students are underperforming in reading and math; only about a third of high school graduates are college and career ready; over half of Maryland schools have a significant population of poor students; and, average salaries for teachers are 25 percent below comparable professions.
A United Way study last fall found that 38 percent of Maryland families are not able to afford basic necessities. We need to help every Maryland family find a pathway to opportunity through education, apprenticeships and career technology programs.
The General Assembly has lead the way for over a decade in improving the health of the Chesapeake Bay — despite some of the governor’s efforts to roll back environmental protections over the past four years. One key fight this year will the future of oysters in the Chesapeake Bay — the natural filter that has cleaned the bay for centuries. We will also ban the use of Styrofoam and foam byproducts this year — the first state in the country to ban foam packaging.
Last year, we worked together with the governor to make health-care companies cover more of the cost of insuring the sickest Marylanders. This helped us lower the health-care costs for every Marylander in the health exchange. The toughest decisions on healthcare are in front of us — not behind us, however. We challenge the governor to come to the table and work with us to find a permanent solution for those families for whom health care is quickly becoming unaffordable.
Nationally, prescription drug costs per capita is more than 19 other First World countries. Costs this year are expected to rise again. Despite that, Governor Hogan has opposed General Assembly attempts to make prescription drugs more affordable. The legislature will take on this problem once again this year.
We will work with Governor Hogan when we can. But we will not sacrifice our Democratic values and principles to cut deals. We will stand up for the middle-class families in this state. We will fight for the schoolchildren of Maryland. We will defend the workers, the teachers and the public servants of our state from harmful policies that undercut their ability to get ahead. We will be uncompromising in ensuring that every Marylander has the opportunity to support their families, live up to their potential, get a quality education and have access to the strongest healthcare system in the country.