State can­di­dates dis­cuss bal­lot ques­tions at NAACP fo­rum

Top­ics cov­ered also in­clude health in­sur­ance pre­mi­ums

Maryland Independent - - News - By PAUL LAGASSE pla­gasse@somd­news.com Twit­ter: @PaulIndyNews

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.

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