State candidates discuss ballot questions at NAACP forum
Topics covered also include health insurance premiums
Candidates for Charles County’s General Assembly delegation had an opportunity Thursday evening to explain where they stood on the two constitutional ballot questions facing voters on Nov. 6.
Sponsored by the Charles County branch of the NAACP and held at the Historic Willing Helpers Society in La Plata, the two-hour forum was the second in as many weeks to feature Republican senate candidate Bill Dotson and delegate candidates Maureen Woodruff and Jim Crawford, and Democratic incumbent Del. C.T. Wilson (D-Charles).
Democratic candidates for delegate Del. Edith Patterson (D-Charles) and Commissioner Debra Davis (D), Democratic senate candidate Arthur Ellis, and Republican delegate candidate Dave Campbell did not attend.
On the issue of whether to pass a constitutional amendment specifying the use of commercial gaming revenues to supplement public school funding, which will appear on ballots as Question 1, the candidates’ responses were mixed.
Crawford said that he would want first to hear from Charles County residents about what their priorities are so that he could take those concerns to Annapolis. That being said, he chided the legislature’s “dishonesty” in reallocating casino revenue from education to the state’s general fund to make up for revenue shortfalls.
“We were sold a bill of goods,” Crawford said. “There’s not enough honesty in Annapolis.”
Wilson argued that the only way such an arrangement would work is if the allocation of gaming revenues was “blind” — that is, as a supplement to the state’s education budget. Because the amount of money generated by casino gaming would likely vary from year to year, Wilson said, it would be unwise to build that revenue into the budget as a line item.
The state constitution currently authorizes the issuance of video lottery licenses for the purpose of putting the license revenues toward public education. The proposed constitutional amendment would require the governor to direct revenues from video lottery licenses “and any other commercial gaming dedicated to public education” into the state budget in the form of supplemental funding for the state’s public schools.
The initial minimum amount to be allocated to the supplemental budget would be $125 million in the 2020 fiscal year. The minimum amount would then rise in $125 million increments over the next two years, with 100 percent of commercial gaming revenues being allocated to public school funding beginning in 2023.
Candidates’ opinions on the question of same-day voter registration, which appears on the ballot as Question 2, broke down along party lines, with Wilson agreeing with the idea and Crawford, Woodruff and Dotson opposing it.
“This is one of those Bloods and Crips questions” designed to fracture voters into ideologically opposed camps, Wilson said.
“If people want to vote, they need to get out there early,” Woodruff said.
Dotson agreed, pointing out that in Maryland people can register up to nine days before the start of early voting. “I think that’s fair,” he said. Question 2 on the ballot is a state constitutional amendment that would authorize the General Assembly to pass legislation “to allow a qualified individual to register and vote at a precinct polling place on Election Day.” Current state law requires voters to register prior to Election Day.
On the question of whether voters should be required to provide proof of their identity at the polling place — something that is not part of the ballot question but that is a contentious issue elsewhere in the country — the candidates all agreed that voter fraud was not a concern in Maryland, though they split on whether a photo ID should be required anyway.
Wilson argued that voter ID requirements were being used in some states as a means of voter suppression, rather than as a means to combat vote fraud, which he described as a “minuscule” threat.
Woodruff, Dotson and Crawford said that they did not believe it was an unreasonable requirement since many other daily activities require the production of a photo ID, such as boarding an airplane or buying an alcoholic beverage in a restaurant.
In response to an audience question, the candidates also discussed how they planned to bring health insurers back to Maryland and keep health insurance premiums low.
Earlier this month, insurance providers CareFirst and Kaiser Permanente both announced annual rate decreases for individual health plans beginning in January, the result of emergency legislation passed during this year’s General Assembly session that redirected federal funds to temporarily reduce insurers’ financial risk. The legislature still needs to find a permanent solution to the problem.
When the individual health insurance exchange launched in 2013, eight carriers offered qualified health and dental plans through it. Five years later, only Kaiser and CareFirst remain.
All of the candidates agreed that it was important to keep health insurance rates low and to find ways to bring back more insurers into the exchange to help keep rates low through competition, though none offered specific plans for making either of those things happen.
Wilson urged the legislature to look into the possibility of drafting regulations that would moderate the spiraling costs of pharmaceuticals, which he said were the single biggest cost in health care today.
Crawford said that as a free marketer, he preferred to find a solution that was market-based that involved a minimum of government intervention. Part of the problem, he said, was that it was difficult for patients to find the actual costs of their treatments because insurance pays most of it.
Thursday’s forum was the third and last sponsored by the Charles County branch of the NAACP. In September, the organization hosted forums for candidates for the Charles County Board of Education and the Board of County Commissioners.