My Policy Agenda
A major objective of my campaign is to show that the climate crisis can be addressed locally. I love how Congressman Jamie Raskin frames its importance and cross-cutting nature: “Climate change isn’t just an issue,” Jamie said at his kickoff announcement in 2016. “It is the entire context in which we have to make all our public policy decisions. If you get your science from scientists instead of Fox News, you know this is an emergency, not a myth.”
Climate change solutions such as improved transportation systems, energy efficiency, and renewable energy improve our local quality of life and ultimately save money and create jobs. Reducing greenhouse gas emissions by improving local bus service would cut down on commuting time and improve our air quality. Supporting energy conservation reduces household and business utility bills. We also have to prepare for the escalating costs of damage from extreme weather events exacerbated by climate change.
Economy & JOBS
There is tremendous inequality in Montgomery County. Ranked by median household income, 2012-2016, MoCo is the 14th richest county in the United States. Yet 7% of residents live below the poverty line and many more struggle to make ends meet. In my neighborhood, defined as Greater Lyttonsville, the County found in 2014 that 12% of residents have incomes below the poverty level. The average mean household income in Greater Lyttonsville was $70,623, which is 85 percent lower than the County’s $130,415 in 2012.
I will ensure that the Democratic Party and our local government support economic growth that improves the quality of life for all citizens, supporting small businesses and investing in day care, education, job training, and public transportation. Promoting job growth that is inclusive, that provides good wages and benefits, is the key to economic opportunity and prosperity.
Locally based jobs reduce commuting time and generate tax revenues for public services. Supporting unions, and expanding union representation, benefits all workers. We are making progress on increasing the minimum wage and mandating paid sick leave, but there is much more to be done to promote job creation and improve working conditions that benefit families throughout the county.
Education is as fundamental as any policy issue. The public school system is perhaps our most valuable asset and best example of the value of local government and taxes put to good use. Approximately half the County budget, about $2.5 billion in 2018, goes to Montgomery County Public Schools, which with 162,000 students is the largest school system in Maryland. 18% of all students participate in English for Speakers of Other Languages. 12% receive special education services. 35% are in the Free and Reduced-price Meals System, generally meaning they are in poverty.
We need to hold the County Council and Board of Education accountable to ensure that they support students effectively and equitably. We also need our state legislators to lobby for funding to maintain low student-teacher ratios, quality facilities, and support to students of all abilities and backgrounds. To provide top-quality education to all students, we need to recruit and support top-quality personnel by providing competitive salaries and professional support to our teachers, support staff, and administrators.
When the Democratic Party promotes public education, the discussion should include increasing access to affordable day care, pre-school, after-school activities, mental health and other support, and vocational training. We should invest more in Montgomery College to keep it affordable, vibrant, and innovative and provide extensive continuous learning and training opportunities to adults.
We cannot take basic environmental quality for granted. Montgomery County is not necessarily immune from the type of catastrophe that devastated Flint, Michigan. Democrats should promote improved access to public information on air and water quality and enforce the highest environmental and public health standards. The County should move more quickly to test for lead in the water in schools. We can mobilize MoCo Democrats to work with neighborhood associations and advocacy groups to support thoughtful land-use planning and infrastructure investment to protect our environment and natural resources, including the watershed and the Agricultural Reserve.
Governance and Reform
Montgomery County and Maryland government work fairly well. Our public schools are excellent, crime is relatively low, and we have reasonable social services. However, there is much room for improvement and there are serious problems such as an excessive emphasis on roads as opposed to mass transit. The County and State have failed to manage some major infrastructure projects properly, as evidenced by the long delays and corresponding inflated costs for the Silver Spring (Sarbanes) Transit Center and the Purple Line.
Increased civic participation and transparency, and reducing the influence of money in electoral campaigns, are the best ways to improve governance. The Central Committee should push for public financing of elections for state legislators based on the MoCo model. We can promote voting by mail. Providing better publicly accessible, neutral information about candidates can reduce the importance of campaign spending. The State should make voter registration automatic upon issuance of driver's licenses.
Within the Committee, I will be a voice for accountability and transparency, making the process through which the Committee makes its recommendations to the governor to fill vacancies in the General Assembly as fair and open as possible while advocating for special elections.
As State Senator Rich Madaleno says: "We can demonstrate to the rest of the country what good democratic governance looks like."
I will lead an effort to make tax reform a top priority. The Democratic Party needs to advance clear proposals for a progressive tax code. Too many Democratic officials talk about inequality and promise to expand public services but fail to support specific tax reform measures because they are afraid of alienating wealthy donors. We need to open up a public conversation about how Montgomery County and Maryland can increase tax revenues in an equitable manner, building support for reasonable increases on income tax for the top one percent that can have a tremendous benefit for the entire community.
The County income tax is only 3.2% regardless of income levels. This is the kind of "flat tax" that Republicans generally prefer because it hits low and middle-class taxpayers harder than the wealthy. For tax year 2017, Maryland's personal tax rates begin at 2% on the first $1,000 of taxable income and increase up to a maximum of 5.75% on incomes exceeding $250,000 (or $300,000 for taxpayers filing jointly, heads of household, or qualifying widow(ers)). A modest adjustment to the income tax could enable a vast improvement in public services.
Low income tax rates on the wealthiest households force local governments to rely on property taxes, which place a particular burden on people who have seen their property values rise faster than their income and savings, and sales taxes that are also regressive. The new cap on the deduction for state and local taxes and other changes made in the 2017 federal tax law will have a substantial negative effect. It is more urgent than ever that we take a hard look at the local tax code beyond the property tax in order to reduce the burden on the middle class and provide adequate, sustainable public investment and services.