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Politics

Maryland gubernatorial nominees Dan Cox, Wes Moore talk child care, paid leave and budget surplus in virtual forum

Republican Dan Cox and Democrat Wes Moore, in a public forum Wednesday, both vowed to expand economic and educational opportunities for Maryland families, but differed in how they would approach policies around child care, mandatory paid family leave and spending a billion-dollar state surplus.

Though it was not a formal debate — the candidates spoke back-to-back for an hour each — it was one of the first instances in which Moore and Cox, competing to succeed Gov. Larry Hogan this fall, have answered the same questions in a similar setting since they won their respective primaries in July.

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Sponsored by the nonprofit group Maryland Family Network, the virtual forum focused on the group’s priority of supporting children and families.

Moore, for one, said he would fully implement the state’s newly passed paid family and medical leave program, slated to start in 2025.

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A priority for the Democratic-controlled General Assembly earlier this year, the program will offer nearly all Maryland workers up to 12 weeks of paid time off and will be funded through payroll taxes. Hogan opposed the plan, in part, for its potential costs to small businesses.

Moore said there are “about 60% of workers that are forced to choose between caring for their child and their paycheck. There’s no reason that we’re asking families to make these kinds of choices.”

Cox voted against the bill during the legislative session. He said Wednesday he would be “a strong advocate to make sure that this works.”

Still, he focused on the cost to businesses, saying he would push for a “dollar-for-dollar” tax credit so that employers don’t have to pay for what he called an “unfunded mandate.”

“That’s the minimum we should be doing to make sure that this works. Otherwise, we’re going to cancel the businesses and the jobs will go to other states and we can’t afford that.”

Tax credits — for employers, property owners and workers directly — were Cox’s answer to most of the questions asked during the forum.

Asked about how to support child care providers who can’t afford to stay open and families who can’t afford care, Cox talked about lowering the tax burden on businesses. He said he would look to cut Maryland’s 8.25% corporate tax rate, personal income tax rates and property taxes, which he said would in turn help renters facing higher monthly rents.

“These issues hurt our working families and impact our family and child care needs,” Cox said.

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Gubernatorial candidates Dan Cox, left, and Wes Moore, right.

Moore said the state’s child care system is “functionally ruptured and needs to get fixed.” He laid out a vision for the state to financially support providers, enhance job training opportunities and connect students in community colleges to jobs in the child care industry.

Among some of his specific proposals, Moore reiterated his support for speeding up the state’s $15 minimum wage increase — from its scheduled 2025 implementation to next year — and reinstating a specific “office for children and families” under the governor.

“I am not interested in doing Band-Aids. I’m not interested in working on the margins. I’m not interested in creating more exceptions. I’m interested in actually fixing systems,” Moore said.

Cox indicated at least some of the tax credits he was referring to would come from the unallocated $1 billion portion of a state budget surplus announced Wednesday.

“The last thing we want to do is to spend that money with a free-for-all approach,” he said. “We’ve got to be financially and fiscally frugal and careful and making sure that we target the refunds to be tax credits that come back to the people and are not just inflating the economy through spending.”

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Cox also said some of the money could go toward building “community schools,” such as charter schools.

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Moore, meanwhile, said decisions on how to spend the remainder of the surplus should be viewed as partly a result of a “massive amount” of staffing shortages in state government jobs, which he said have hurt social services. He said that money, in conjunction with billions in federal money waiting to be spent, also should go toward transportation and infrastructure projects, including in schools.

A formal, televised debate between the candidates is set for Oct. 12.

Cox has challenged Moore to agree to additional debates. He criticized the setup of Wednesday’s forum at the beginning of his remarks, calling it a “separate but equal political format.” Also, he renewed his call for Moore to join him at a forum scheduled for later this month at Morgan State University in Baltimore, an invitation that Moore declined.

“He should step up to the plate and not avoid this debate,” Cox said.

Cox’s jabs at Moore throughout the forum included statements that he was “more Democrat than the Democrat that’s running” because he was raised in a “lower middle class” family on a farm. When answering a question about equity, Cox said he was the only candidate with a “Black agenda.”

Moore, who would be Maryland’s first Black governor, largely avoided referring to Cox other than to end his remarks by saying “there are going to be real differences” in how he and Cox would handle many aspects of governing, including “basic measures of humanity.”


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