Development can benefit communities by providing housing, jobs, and businesses, as well as increased tax revenue for improving county services and infrastructure. However, poorly managed development creates traffic congestion, parking shortages, overcrowded schools, environmental harm, and unattractive landscapes. The County Council often rubber-stamps development driven by developers’ profit, not community benefit. One only has to look at the badly managed Towson gateway project.
The Baltimore County 2020 Master Plan has high ideals about smart growth development: “compact, mixed-use, walkable design consistent with existing community character.” To promote a healthy people and planet, we must push the county to build communities with eco-friendly infrastructure, mass transit, greenspace, and easy access to jobs, homes, recreation, and retail.
Baltimore County schools have serious infrastructure and overcrowding issues. Studies have clearly shown that the school environment affects student learning, and that overcrowding is linked to increased aggression, decreased student engagement, and poor learning.
The county has spent $1.3 billion to repair our schools, but it's not enough when children still attend overcrowded, crumbling schools. Baltimore County needs a comprehensive, detailed ten-year plan developed by independent experts that details exactly when each schools will see its needs fully addressed and short-term fixes. Pitting schools against each other in a contest of the neediest is not fair or effective.
In addition, many students are hungry. According to Strong Schools Maryland, 65% of Baltimore County schools have at least 40% of their student population eligible for free or reduced price meals. Universal free school breakfast and lunch would provide children the energy they need to learn in a stigma-free environment.
Climate change is already hurting people through sea level rise and extreme weather events. If we don't achieve a clean energy economy soon, we could see sea level rise of 3-6 feet, decreased quality and quantity of crops, and the extinction of food and animal species.
The fight against climate change is best waged at the federal and state levels, but the county can make a difference.
- The county should power all its buildings and resources using 50% clean energy by 2030, and 100% by 2035.
- We must support the training and transitioning of fossil fuel workers to clean energy jobs.
- We must reinstitute the Stormater Remediation Fee. This fee to businesses and homeowners funded EPA-required projects to control the quantity and toxicity of stormwater runoff. Since the fee's repeal, Baltimore County has received dismal ratings on its funding for stormwater management projects, and taxpayers have paid businesses' share of the fee.
A worker earning the current minimum wage of $10.10 must work 86 hours/week to afford a one bedroom apartment at fair market rent in Baltimore County, according to research by the National Low Income Housing Coalition. That's over two full time jobs just for housing. The current minimum wage is unfair, unsustainable, and harmful to our county's economy.
A $15/hour minimum wage would be a step towards a living wage. It must be phased in—with special consideration to small businesses—to avoid disrupting the economy, then indexed to inflation to keep pace with the cost of living. After that, businesses, workers, and the county will all benefit, contrary to concerns that a $15 minimum wage will eliminate jobs. Rigorous research shows that higher paid employees have more time and money to reinvest in the economy, demonstrate lower turnover, provide service that keeps customers coming, and increase the county's tax revenue.
From the county to the national level, candidates rely on big money from corporations and developers to win (re)elections. Representatives should support ordinary citizens' needs and values, not the highest bidder's.
Public campaign finance programs like those in Montgomery and Howard counties match small-dollar donations from county residents to qualifying candidates. This drives big money out of our democracy and pushes candidates to serve citizens over corporations.
Marginalized communities suffer from a long, unfair history of neglect and institutional injustices: lack of widespread affordable housing, inadequate schools, the school-to-prison pipeline, a criminal justice system that unfairly targets people of color, insufficient public transportation for people to get to jobs, and employment bias against previously incarcerated citizens. Segregation persists because these injustices hurt people of color the most. Solving these problems (and more) is overwhelming, but ignoring them is not an option. All of us, both the affected and the fortunate, must rebuild a more just and equitable society for everyone.
An essential first step in Baltimore County is passing the HOME Act, which would prevent housing discrimination by source of income. Currently, many low income families, disabled people, and seniors are herded into areas of concentrated poverty. These neighborhoods tend to have substandard schools and infrastructure, strengthening the cycle of poverty. Many landlords refuse to rent to people who rely on federal Housing Choice Vouchers. due to false stereotypes about Housing Choice Voucher recipients. Most are just good people trying to get by and support themselves and their families. 32% are senior citizens, and 30% are disabled people. Landlords could still refuse to rent to those who might pose a genuine risk due to tenant history or credit.
Passing the HOME Act and providing enough affordable housing in areas with low supply will allow lower income workers to move to places with more jobs, reducing racial and economic segregation, boosting their income, and raising the county's standard of living.
Access to the government's decision-making process is a foundation of democracy. Government should enable constituents to conveniently contact their representatives, observe/participate in legislative proceedings, and receive news on governmental affairs.
Baltimore County has room to improve in each of these duties.
- Town hall meetings in which citizens can talk to their representatives face-to-face ought to be more frequent and widespread.
- Social media and email newsletters should contain clear descriptions of government activities that impact residents' lives.
- You shouldn’t have to take off from work and drive to Towson in the middle of the afternoon to attend a county work sessions.
- Public hearings on the county budget—billions of dollars affecting 800,000 people—should be more frequent and widespread.
Tuition-free community college
Higher education is essential to a good livelihood and healthy economy, but its cost is too high for too many. Many recent high school graduates and adults who want to attend college cannot afford to, and others graduate so deeply in debt they may never recover. Others who don’t feel college is right for them struggle to find a job with a living wage. Universal free community colleges, vocational schools, and trade schools will improve both students’ lives and our shared prosperity. When more people have the skills for better paying jobs, the standard of living goes up throughout the county.
Baltimore City recently announced a last-dollar program that funds the full difference in tuition after all other financial aid, including Pell Grants but excluding student loans. This sort of program would minimize cost to the county while making college affordable.