D.C. Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton talks about statehood, federal coronavirus aid for D.C. and the Black Lives Matter protests. And Maryland State Sen. Cheryl Kagan talks about Maryland's fall election plans.
In a stimulus package passed by the Senate, D.C. is set to receive significantly less money than each of the states. D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) joined The Politics Hour to talk about how the District is faring during the pandemic.
- On Wednesday, the Senate passed a $2 trillion stimulus bill. The House is expected to vote on the bill this Friday.
- The bill gives each of the 50 states at least $1.25 billion in direct aid. But, as WAMU’s Martin Austermuhle reports, D.C. and the five U.S. territories are allocated $3.3 billion altogether. The District’s share will be about $500 million, according to city officials.
- D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser and Mendelson sent a letter to Senate leaders urging them to treat D.C. as a state when it comes to coronavirus relief.
- During a press conference on Thursday, Bowser emphasized that the lack of funding was a statehood issue. “We’re treated as a state by thousands of federal laws and programs,” Bowser said. “It’s unconscionable to give D.C. the least amount of funding of any state, especially given the unique challenges we take on as the seat of the federal government.” Mendelson said that while he agreed with the mayor, he believes the issue “is not about statehood, but about public health and about the economy.”
- On The Politics Hour, Chairman Mendelson said there was a “good chance” that D.C. would receive more federal aid in future bills.
- Last week, the D.C. Council passed emergency legislation that tries to protect workers and businesses. It expands eligibility for unemployment insurance and provides assistance to businesses.
- Austermuhle summarizes the details of the legislation, which also bans price-gouging, stops evictions and utility cut-offs and more. The bill also extends Bowser’s deadline to submit the 2021 budget from March to early May.
- At the bill’s hearing, D.C. Chief Financial Officer Jeffrey DeWitt explained the state of D.C.’s economy. DeWitt predicts that if the crisis continues through June, the District would need to cut half a billion dollars from D.C.’s 2020 spending.
- One caller asked Mendelson what plans the Council has to help undocumented residents and workers who aren’t eligible for the current unemployment insurance program. Mendelson didn’t specify any plans, but said, “That issue is very much in the minds of councilmembers and I believe the mayor.”
- At today’s press conference, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser announced that the District is encouraging residents to vote by mail in the June 2 primary elections and cutting down in-person polling places. PBS Newshour’s Yamiche Alcindor got the scoop before the press conference.
- Instead of 144 precincts for in-person voting, there will be only 20 on the June election day. D.C. is hoping to boost its early voting sites from 15 to 20.
- On The Politics Hour, Tom Sherwood asked Mendelson about the D.C. Board of Elections sending thousands of voters the wrong primary date. “I think the Board is going to make sure that mistakes don’t happen again,” Mendelson said. “This is the same process that’s been used in the past for elections, so this isn’t something new and different.”
Maryland lawmakers adjourned early due to the coronavirus, but a COVID-19 workgroup is meeting virtually to keep the legislators involved in the state’s response to the pandemic. Maryland Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City) joined the show.
Maryland’s Legislature Kicks Off Its COVID-19 Workgroup
- At the end of the Maryland’s legislative session, leaders established a COVID-19 Response Legislative Workgroup. According to Maryland Matters’ Josh Kurtz, Ferguson said the group “will monitor the effects of the virus and advise the General Assembly in our role as a co-equal partner in government and oversight in law and lawmaking.”
- Maryland Matters’ Bruce DePuyt covered their first virtual meeting this week. Maryland Health Secretary Robert R. Neall updated the panel on the status of pop-up structures for hospitals and what equipment the state has received from the federal government.
- The state wants to launch a $5 million Manufacturer Innovation Relief Fund, which would offer grants for firms that could produce medical care equipment like ventilators and masks.
- Ferguson has been working with Governor Larry Hogan throughout the coronavirus pandemic. “It’s a partnership,” said Ferguson. “There are going to be places where we disagree on the edges, but I think the governor has really acted appropriately.”
Passing Education Reform Despite A Murky Economic Future
- Maryland lawmakers passed a major education package that will cost about $4 billion a year once fully implemented. The legislation will boost teacher pay, expand pre-k and vocational programs, and more.
- But, an economic downturn is looming thanks to the coronavirus. Lawmakers included an amendment that would stop expanding the programs if the state’s revenue drops by 7.5% per year, reports The Baltimore Sun’s Pamela Wood and Luke Broadwater.
- “Despite what we know is going to be an incredibly severe impact … it will pass,” Ferguson said on The Politics Hour. He said that the bill “sets forth a vision for the next decade saying, ‘This is how we invest in young people, in our economy, in families, in order to set them up for long-term success.'”
Maryland Could Be First In The U.S. To Tax Digital Ads
- One of the first major policies that Ferguson pitched as Maryland Senate president was a novel one: taxing targeted digital ads. The bill quietly passed at the end of the truncated legislative session.
- If the tax moves forward, it could generate as much as $250 million per year, according to the Washington Post’s Erin Cox.
- The legislation is now headed to Governor Larry Hogan’s desk. Some analysts warn that, if passed, the tax could face First Amendment challenges.
Want up-to-date coverage of coronavirus in our region? Check out WAMU’s live blog here.
Sorting political fact from fiction, and having fun while we’re at it. Join us for our weekly review of the politics, policies, and personalities of the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia.
Produced by Cydney Grannan
KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to The Politics Hour starring Tom Sherwood who is broadcasting from home. I'm Kojo Nnamdi also broadcasting from home. Tom Sherwood is our Resident Analyst and Contributing Writer for Washington City Paper. Tom Sherwood, welcome.
TOM SHERWOODHello everyone.
NNAMDIAre you comfortable? I saw you're broadcasting setup at home yesterday and it involved a pillow. That doesn't mean you're broadcasting from bed, are you?
SHERWOODNo. The pillow is to help deaden the sound of my terrible voice and I hope you saw the picture of Marion Barry in the background.
NNAMDII certainly do -- I certainly saw that. He looks as if he's supervising you.
SHERWOODI think that's exactly right.
NNAMDIJoining us later in the broadcast will be Bill Ferguson. He is the Senate President of the Maryland State Senate. He's a Democrat. And joining us now by phone is Phil Mendelson. He is the Chairman of the D.C. Council. He also is a Democrat. Council Chairman Mendelson, thank you for joining us.
PHIL MENDELSONThank you and good afternoon.
NNAMDITom Sherwood, the news I'm getting now is that George Valentine, who worked for the mayor as the Deputy Director in the mayor's office of Legal Counsel, has died of the coronavirus. Can you add anything to that, Tom?
SHERWOODNot too much. You know, the mayor just announced it at her press conference with the chairman was that this is a reminder that people, who are in public life often unseen and unheard by the public are also human beings and they're suffering. All the people trying to keep the governments going here and around the country are also human beings with families and my condolences to his family and to the city for our loss.
NNAMDICouncil Chairman Mendelson, it's my understanding that you were there this morning and that Mr. Valentine apparently was hospitalized on Wednesday.
MENDELSONThat is what the mayor said. To add to what Tom said, George had been a public servant for a couple decades and was very well regarded. He'd been in the Corporation Council, which became the Attorney General's Office and then moved over to the mayor's office of Legal Counsel, very well regarded, did a lot of good work on behalf of the city, particularly in regard to civil litigation.
NNAMDIHe will obviously be sorely missed, condolences to Mr. Valentine's family. We have a primary coming up on June 2nd, Tom Sherwood. And it's my understanding that Mayor Bowser said we should be moving towards mail-in voting and pairing down in-person voting. Tom Sherwood, how is that likely to work?
SHERWOODWell, it's worked for me. As soon as the mayor made that announcement I've already prepared my ballot for an absentee's request to send it in. The problem is the virus is keeping people -- at one hand we have to stay home. At the other hand people want to go vote on June 2nd. But having 144 precincts in the city would require election workers from early in the morning to early in the evening. Many of those are older people. And so they were going to try -- the mayor and Board of Elections to encourage people to vote by absentee ballot. One of the reporters ...
SHERWOODExcuse me. One of the reporters questioned the mayor -- or the Board of Elections, why not just send out a ballot to everybody and let them send it back in? Well, one, there's 460,000 people registered to vote. And managing that process and getting the ballots in, assuring that they are right, assuring that you didn't send them to people who are not registered to vote anymore would be a nightmare. And the Elections Office said it would take two years to simply mail out ballots like other states do and have them mailed back. Two years to prepare for that. So the city is going to have sites around the District. Not 144 precincts, but more like 20 where people can in fact vote in person if they have a need to. But this is going to be a dramatic experience. I would ask the Chairman, is the Board of Elections up to this?
MENDELSONWe think so. I was briefed on this a couple of days ago. You referred to it as absentee voting, but we're using a new terminology, which is voting by mail. It's not the same as in a few jurisdictions elsewhere in the country where voting is only by mail. Here one has to request a ballot, but we've had what was called a no excuse absentee -- or no excuse needed absentee voting and we're simply renaming it and expanding it to vote by mail. But it's the same process. So the board has that ability now. It just will expand and it's encouraging everybody to use that mechanism. Contact the board. I think the ballots will be mailed out after May 1st. It will be -- it's a process that they've used. So it's an easy process. But they're encouraging that rather than folks showing up at the polling places.
SHERWOODIf I may follow that up, some people -- I've have already gotten messages from some people ...
MENDELSONYou said something about a complaint that this the same board that earlier this year did something.
SHERWOODAn official mailing about the election and had the election date wrong.
NNAMDICouncil Chair Mendelson.
MENDELSONWell, that may be. I think the board is going to make sure that mistakes don't happen again.
NNAMDIWell, we'll have to see.
MENDELSONThis is the same process that's been used it the past for elections. So this isn't something new and different in that sense. But they're going to increase the volume by asking people to -- going out of their way to advertise that folks use this mail-in ballot process.
SHERWOODWith the big changes instead of 144 precincts on Election Day, there will only be 20. So it will be very important for people, who want to vote if they can is to request this ballot so they can vote by mail.
NNAMDICouncil Chair Mendelson, earlier this week the U.S. Senate passed to a $2 trillion recovery bill that would give each of the states $1.25 billion. D.C. is slated to get about $500 million as part of the $3.3 billion that will be dedicated to D.C. plus the five territories. The House is expected to vote on the aid bill today. Do you think there's any chance that D.C. will get funding on par with the states in this package or in future packages?
MENDELSONIs there a good chance in this package with today's vote? I don't think so, because what we have been told by a number of sources including friends on the Hill is that the bill is moving to the House without amendments. Is there a good chance that we will get the difference made up in a future bill? I think yes. There has been quite a bit of attention to this. And numerous individuals in leadership positions in both the House and the Senate have indicated that they support the Council -- excuse me, support the District getting the full funding.
MENDELSONAnd when I say full funding, the amount that's being allocated to the states is based on population, but not less than one and a quarter billion dollars per state. As you know, the District is larger than a couple of states. You may not know that right now there are more infections in the District than 18 other states. We're a dense area and therefore we are more vulnerable to this pandemic than many other states.
MENDELSONThis isn't meant to be a competition. This is meant to be that the District needs as a matter of public health more resources. We, in fact, provide to our hospitals a lot of medical service to residents throughout the region. Our unemployment is where you work. We are a job center for the region. We are trying to work in lock step with Maryland and Virginia in terms of the lockdown, the adverse impact on businesses, the extent of unemployment. We need these resources just like the other states and $500 million is not enough.
NNAMDI(overlapping) Tom Sherwood.
SHERWOODMr. Chairman, I understand the lack of the money, but what I don't understand, is no one seemed to know who on the Republican Senate side actually decided to do this. Do we -- Senator Grassley is the Chair of the Principle Committee, did he or some other Senate Republicans say, let's don't give this money to the District. It seems to me the District was blindsided by this. So it says one thing about the Republicans politically not being friendly to the District or understanding our situation. And two that apparently the city didn't learn of this until yesterday afternoon and why not? Why doesn't the city have a better connection to Capitol Hill?
MENDELSONWell, we learned about it Wednesday afternoon when the draft was released to the public. The draft, you know, is closely held by the leadership in the Senate and they simply did not share what they were doing in this regard. It was a surprise to our Congressional Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton. It was a surprise to the mayor, to the Council. And I have to say that after we found out Senator Van Hollen from Maryland took to the floor, apparently he put a temporary hold on the bill and inquired of leadership. And then he went to the floor of the Senate and gave a very strong speech in which among other things he indicated that this was a deliberate point of negotiation.
MENDELSONNow you started out asking who? We don't know who, but apparently this was deliberate. And it makes no sense because we're talking about public health and the economy. And (unintelligible)
SHERWOOD(overlapping) Well, that's why, Mr. Chairman, if I may interrupt you. I watched Van Hollen on the Senate floor and he was very good on behalf of the District. And I know the District doesn't have Senators, but I'm just surprised that the District unlike other major cities and states around the country doesn't have a stronger Hill presence to be involved to know when these things come. So you're not surprised. That was my political question.
MENDELSONYes. I understand. And I'm not going to criticizer our representation, because I don't believe that any of the state or city lobbyists on the Hill knew more than we did. As far as I can ascertain this was closely held and it did not become known until the draft was released. You know, the senators weren't even aware of what was in the draft until it was released by the leadership.
SHERWOODOkay. If you find out who specific -- what human being put this -- took the District out of getting the terribly needed money, I sure would love to know. I hope you'll publicize.
MENDELSONI would like to know that as well. I can speculate that's not the right thing for me to do on the radio, but it's upsetting that it was deliberate and it's upsetting that for some reason they think that they can punish the District. I don't know what that's about. But it's more upsetting that this is a pandemic, This is a public health crisis, our hospitals serve the region. Our hospitals need resources. This is not a Democratic or a Republican thing.
NNAMDI(overlapping) Hold that thought, Council Chairman Mendelson because we've got to take a short break. If you have called, stay on the line. We will get to your calls. If you'd like to it's 800-433-8850. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back to The Politics Hour. Tom Sherwood and I are both broadcasting from home. Later we'll be talking with Maryland Senate President Bill Ferguson. Right now we're talking with D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson. Chairman Mendelson, the economic effects of the coronavirus on the District of Columbia's economy and on its budget. D.C. Financial Officer Jeffrey DeWitt has said D.C. would need to cut $5 million out of its 2020 spending. And Tom Sherwood had a long article in yesterday's edition of the City Paper about how D.C. -- how this could impact D.C. But first you, Council Chairman Mendelson, how is the Council going to cut that $500 million.
MENDELSONWell, it's too soon to say. And the Chief Financial Officer was speaking a week ago in which he said that if the shutdown lasts into June, he's briefing the Council this afternoon. I hope he will have better numbers then. We put off the budget until May 6. And we've asked the Chief Financial Officer to give us better estimates late April. The amount of loss of revenues to the District, which of course is a reflection of what's happening to the economy in the District will vary depending upon the duration as well as what kind of federal relief there is.
MENDELSONWe've expanded relief, made relief available to small businesses. Folks can go to the District's website coronavirus.dc.gov to get information about how businesses can get relief as well as other information. And all that will affect what the impact is to the city's revenues, but it could be a half a billion dollar hit this fiscal year. And we're half way through the fiscal year.
SHERWOODMr. Chairman, I've heard that it may inch up to $750 million. But agree, I understand Mr. DeWitt the CFO is briefing the Council and the mayor and will do revised revenue projections later. I did see that in the City of Alexandria in Virginia, the City Manager there has cautioned city leaders that he is preparing maybe a budget cut of $100 million just for the small city of Alexandria. Is there any preliminary for the councilmembers, who each have 12 different committees, 10 different committees, are you already starting to look at what you might have to cut in a crisis like this or will you wait until you get new numbers from the CFO?
MENDELSONThe thinking has begun, but it's still very early. The committees are not meeting right now. So there's no committee work there. We really need more information from the Chief Financial Officer. The mayor will submit proposed revisions to the current year budget. I assume when she sends the full budget, which is scheduled for May 6 the full budget for next year. So this is still very much a developing story with regard to what's going to happen to the District government. We were in a very strong position and that's a good thing. We are tapping into our rainy day funds. That's a good thing. But we don't yet know the full extent of the economic damage.
SHERWOODAnd I may have -- if you use the rainy day funds are some cases were you had to pay the money back before the end of the year. So that's a problem. But let me ask you a political question here on the political hour. Everyone knows that the relationship between you and Mayor Bowser, for whatever reasons people want to say is not very good. That in some cases you barely speak to each other.
MENDELSONThe mayor and I are working very well together.
SHERWOODRight. Let me ask the question and you can answer it. My understanding is you in fact are talking now with the mayor and some of these political differences are put aside while you guys work on this crisis.
MENDELSONAbsolutely, you know, when we got word on Wednesday about the language in the Senate bill, all councilmembers and the mayor jointly signed a letter -- sent a letter to the Hill within I think three hours. We're working well together as we need to be. This is an emergency, a public health emergency. And all branches of the government need to be working together and they are. I would say that I'm not aware of a complaint on either side in that regard and that's a good thing.
NNAMDIHere's Ann in Washington D.C. Ann, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ANNYes. Hi, all. This is Ann Wilcox. I'm not calling to bash the mayor. I think she's working very hard and her team is as well. But do you support, Phil, the call by Robert White for a shelter-in-place order for D.C. I think there are two populations that need to be protected. One is construction workers who are going to work to serve private interests building apartment buildings. And the other are millennials. I was in Dupont yesterday. There were a lot of people just out walking around. And I think we need to look at that.
NNAMDIAlso Councilmember Brianne Nadeau and Attorney General Karl Racine are asking for that stay-at-home order. But what's the difference between what we're doing now and an official stay-at-home or shelter-in-place order and where do you stand on the issue?
MENDELSONWell, I think, Kojo, you put it right. What is the difference? There isn't much difference at all. I listened to the mayor, again, speak to it today at her press conference and she's very clear that people should be staying at home. I think there is some importance to language. And folks can argue about whether the best thing is to say shelter-in-place, which actually is a terminology that's usually used to mean that people literally have to stay locked up in their homes. But she's been very clear people shouldn't be going out except for an essential need such as going to the grocery store. And it is all but in terminology, all but in label a stay-at-home order.
SHERWOODIf I could add something to that, part of the problem is you talk to police officials and others shelter-in-place is what we have been doing in terms of mass shootings, crisis in terms of violent storms. But particularly mass shootings and you don't want to get the language mixed up. While it's important for people to stop socializing and stay home, shelter-in-place has a very distinct meaning in terms of in the public safety community.
NNAMDIHere now is Elizabeth in Ward 4. Elizabeth, you're on the air. Go ahead, please. Hi, Elizabeth, are you there.
ELIZABETHI am. Hi, Kojo and guests, first of all appreciation to all of our WAMU reporters and to the Council and government workers that have been working so hard these last couple of weeks. I wanted to know from the Chairman what plans he and the Council have to provide assistance to undocumented residents and workers, who are not eligible for it looks like any of the assistance from the federal government or the current unemployment insurance program.
MENDELSONI would say that that issue is very much in the minds of councilmembers and I believe the mayor. I do know there's some limitations based on existing programs with regard to getting assistance to undocumented individuals. That doesn't mean that we've given up thinking about how we might be able to help in that regard.
NNAMDIOkay. Elizabeth, thank you very much for your call. As Tom Sherwood likes to say, this is The Politics Hour and a man named Ed Lazere announced last week that he's running for the At-Large seat left vacant by Councilmember David Grosso. Lazere resigned from his position as Executive Director of the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute here in the District. He's running as an independent. He unsuccessfully challenged you in the 2018 race. How do you think he'll fair?
MENDELSONYou remember. Yes.
NNAMDIVaguely. How do you think he'll fair this time?
MENDELSONIt's very early in the political season for that At-Large seat, which is I guess he's dropped his Democratic affiliation to run. It's in the general election. So I'm not going to speculate.
SHERWOODMr. Chairman, I think he is the 10th person to enter that At-Large race. And I'll remind people two decades ago or so when you first got elected you ran At-Large as a Democrat I believe in a crowded field. And you won with 17 percent of vote. Elissa Silverman won her first race, I believe for the At-Large Council with just 11 percent of the vote. Do you think the city ought to have some kind of run off provision or choice voting so that we don't have people elected with such small amounts? Because Ed Lazere, who got 36 percent of the vote in his race, I think 36 percent against you two years is pretty well known. Some of the other candidates aren't, but people get elected with very few percentages of the vote.
MENDELSONWell, they do and they don't and why am I saying that? Because the percentages you're referring are in the primaries. And I get it that the primary, the results don't change with the general, but the general is the election that is the final election. And you left out those percentages, which I believe in every case was more than 50 percent. I know there's folks, who talk about reforming the system. I don't -- I certainly think it's worth a public debate over these issues and these proposals, but I don't know that we actually get to better leaders by making changes in that regard.
SHERWOODLet me ask another political question. I saw you at a Ward 2 forum in the campaign where Jack Evans was the councilmember.
NNAMDIYou saw him. He was trying to maintain a low profile, but go ahead.
SHERWOOD(laugh) Yes. I saw him. I wanted to know I asked you back a couple of weeks ago now would you be endorsing in the Ward 2 race and you said you might. I'm just wondering if you've made any progress there. That election is on June 2 and the special election is on June 16. Are you doing to endorse in that campaign?
MENDELSONI might. I am clear on this, though.
SHERWOODThat answer is too old. We need a fresh answer.
MENDELSONWell, you asked if I had updated it and I did. I might.
SHERWOODMight, that's what you said three weeks ago.
MENDELSONI am clear about this and that is that the Council will not be a better place if we -- how do I want to put this? You know, the councilmembers removing unanimously to expel Mr. Evans and he should take a breather and just step aside.
NNAMDIIf he wins his seat again, will you move to expel him?
MENDELSONI know that there are members, who will put that forward. And if that's the case we'll have to deal with it.
NNAMDIHere now is Danielle, on Capitol Hill. Danielle, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
DANIELLEHi. My question is for Mr. Mendelson. I run a small landscape architecture business that is -- you know, we've applied to the D.C. micro grant program. And it's great that this program is up and running, but it closes at the end of March. And so, for many small businesses, we're not going to see the impact of, you know, our reduced billings until April, May, June, as we get stop orders from work and things like that. And so, my question is, what are you going to do for small businesses like mine, going forward, who we're really going to see this impact, you know...
NNAMDI(overlapping) Council Chair Mendelson, you have less than a minute to respond.
MENDELSONI think the short answer is, I don't know. We're continuing to look that. It'll be difficult for us to make everybody whole, given that we've shut down the entire economy. But I do know that we want to do everything we can to help businesses, small businesses, particularly, and individuals. So, there's no easy answer at the moment.
NNAMDIOur team has transitioned to tele-work. It's my understanding that your team has, too. How is that transition working for you?
MENDELSONYou're asking me or...
NNAMDIYes, sir, you.
MENDELSONWell, almost all my office is working from home. We're working out the kinks, trying to use this period to get better prepared for the budget, as well as catch up on other legislation. You know, it doesn't feel as efficient, but we're doing it, because that's the right thing to do.
NNAMDIPhil Mendelson is chairman of the D.C. Council. Thank you so much for joining us.
MENDELSONThank you, Kojo.
NNAMDI(overlapping) We're going to take a short break. When we come back, we'll be joined by Bill Ferguson. He is the Senate president of the Maryland State Senate. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. Tom Sherwood is our resident analyst and contributing writer for Washington City Paper. He is broadcasting from home, as am I. And joining us now by phone is Bill Ferguson. He is the Senate president of the Maryland State Senate. He's a Democrat, representing district 46 in Baltimore City. Senate President Ferguson, thank you so much for joining us.
BILL FERGUSONGood afternoon. It's great to hear you both, and I hope everybody's staying safe in this really unprecedented time.
NNAMDIYou're completing your first legislative session as Senate president. Congratulations on that. But for our listeners who may not know a great deal about you, it is my understanding that, back in 2005, you were a Teach for American teacher in Baltimore City. Tell our listeners how you used to break into your classroom every day.
FERGUSON(laugh) Sure. That was the unfortunate experience that I think sort of defines who I am and kind of what I try to work for with my colleagues now. I grew up in Montgomery County, so in the D.C. suburbs area, and came back after college and taught 9th, 10th and 11th graders U.S. history and U.S. government. And the experience, I came in enthusiastic, excited, and got into a building that was just 33 miles away from where I had grown up that, you know, just was totally unconscionable.
FERGUSONAnd my first year, I was given the keys and walked up, and the door didn't have a doorknob. I asked to see if there would be a replacement, and, you know, they didn't have the resources for it. So, I ended up using a pair of scissors for a year to get in and out, and just, to me, was a symbol of expectations that we just can't allow to persist in a great state like Maryland. Opportunity is just, unfortunately, too far away for too many of our neighbors.
NNAMDITom Sherwood, the break-ins that launched a political career. What's your contribution?
SHERWOODWell, I'd like to ask the Senate president -- thank you for joining us today. You've had, in this General Assembly session that Kojo just mentioned, of course, was the Kirwan vote to improve education, you had to hold back on how it's going to be financed because of the uncertainty of the financing. But your day job, I think, is still with Johns Hopkins University, where you work on reform initiatives for schools. Is that correct?
SHERWOODOkay. So, how much danger -- after all the work the last several years, three years or so, with the Kirwan Commission proposing and the General Assembly acting, it looks like this economic downturn for Maryland -- as well as the country, of course -- is really going to severely interfere with local counties like Prince George's or Baltimore paying their fair share of education expenses. How dire is the situation in terms of getting Kirwan off the ground?
FERGUSONWell, I think it's a good question, and it's the right question. My frame on it is a bit different. I think why it was so important that we not leave session, having left this uncompleted, this was something we had to move forward, because despite what we know is going to be an incredibly severe impact of what we are all experiencing with this global health crisis, it will pass. And at some point what -- I believe fundamentally the legislature's role is to set forth the infrastructure and the future for what we know a state like Maryland can be.
FERGUSONAnd I think that's what the Kirwan Commission recommendations represented, is it sets forth a vision for the next decade, saying, this is how we invest in young people, in our economy and families in order to set them up for long term success. In the Senate the bill passed on a bipartisan basis. We had six Republicans join the 31 other Democrats. And we added some measures to really anticipate some of the impacts of this health crisis. We added a revenue adjustment in the case that there was a downturn in revenues -- as a result of what we're seeing with the closures -- of 7.5 percent or more that education funding would only increase by the rate of inflation.
FERGUSONAnd so we tried to be very thoughtful and put in intentional policy tools that we would adjust along the way. But we are going to get through this. And the blueprint for Maryland's future lays out the vision of where we need to be going to ensure that, when we are through it, we are set up for success for the long term.
SHERWOODYou adjourned the legislature three-and-a-half weeks early because of the virus. You'll be going back in May to work on the budget details, loose ends of the budget, I think you called it. What's the most important thing you'll be facing, then, in May when, if in fact, you do get to reconvene?
FERGUSONYou know, I think realistically it's going to be dealing with the impacts of what we're all experiencing right now. At the end of session we worked very closely with the speaker across the hall and the chamber, the House of Delegates, but also with the governor to really try and put some foundational pieces on the table to give the administration the tools that the governor would need in order to manage this crisis.
FERGUSONYou know, every day, we are getting 50 to 100 different issues that have been popping up that nobody could've ever anticipated, particularly with the pace at which everything has transpired. So, I suspect that we will have to come back in special session to deal with some of these issues that arising for businesses, for unemployed individuals, for contract workers. The list goes on and on. And so we...
SHERWOODExcuse me, let me -- if I could ask, I know that I want to ask you your opinion of how Governor Hogan, Larry Hogan, a Republican, is handling the situation. I think you guys are working pretty well, based on everything I've seen. The state though, as of this evening, is ordering that all childcare centers close tonight except for those that are servicing medical and emergency personnel. Governor Hogan, who is always reluctant to get into partisan or political criticism of President Trump, has certainly criticized President Trump in the last 10 days, several times for the federal government not stepping up enough to help the state. Where are you on how the state is handling the virus?
FERGUSONI think one of the silver linings of what has been a pretty scary and intense experience for everyone is that these types of moments really hone the mind on what's most important. And I think, at the end of the day, what this experience has created is an opportunity for all of us serving as leaders in government to sort of say, you know, at the end of the day we're all Marylanders. And this is about our future. This is about ensuring the safety of the individuals we represent every day, but also making sure that we are protected from the most severe impacts.
FERGUSONAnd, you know, I have really been supportive of the governor's actions. I think he's been a leader out front, nationally. And, you know, it's a partnership. There are going to be places where we disagree on the edges, but I think the governor has really acted appropriately and has balanced some tough calls along the way. And, you know, I certainly plan, with my colleagues, to continue along that path.
NNAMDIHe certainly had some problem with Democrats in the state legislature in the past. How has working with him on this occasion been for you?
FERGUSONIt's the sort of hierarchy of needs. When we're in a state of emergency, I think the fundamentals become very clear, health and safety and, you know, restoring stability. We've been working incredibly closely and have been regularly in contact with the administration. Last week, the legislature launched a joint legislative workgroup for the COVID-19 impact. So, we're trying to get ahead of it, knowing that this will pass. And if we are smart and we act appropriately and we limit the spread, we will get past this. And so we have to be prepared to be strong after that. And so this legislative workgroup, with our House colleagues, is trying to look at some of those issues.
NNAMDIWell, we know it will pass, but the question is when. This week, Webster Ye, an official from Maryland's Health Department, said that they expect the coronavirus outbreak to peak around July 4th. But since there's a lack of widespread testing in the U.S., some in the public health field think it's hard to make that kind of estimation. What do you think about that prediction?
FERGUSONYou know, I think that the Department of Health is doing their best to provide whatever information they can. In the conversations we had, the Department of Health and Secretary Neall from the Department of Health briefed our joint legislative workgroup remotely last Wednesday. And I think they are doing the best that they possible can with limited information. There are a lot of, you know, assumptions or projections about how this thing will play out, but we just don't have enough data to know. I think what the real message is, is that this is not a quick fix. This isn't something that turns around right away. And I think that's the most important message for Marylanders and folks in the region.
NNAMDIOur guest is Bill Ferguson. He is the Senate president of the Maryland State Senate. Here's Peggy, in Potomac. Peggy, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
PEGGYThank you. Senator Ferguson, earlier this winter, hundreds of us came to Annapolis to lobby on behalf of the end-of-life options bill, which I believe you're in support of. Can you tell us what the status of that bill is, and if there's any chance of us getting it passed this year?
FERGUSONSure. Thank you, Peggy. This is one of those really tough issues that legislatures across the country have been trying to tackle. You know, the votes are where they are on the legislation, and it appears, given the -- we had it on the Senate floor last year, and it didn't move forward. This is...
NNAMDIHello, Senator Ferguson. Are you there?
SHERWOODI think we lost him.
NNAMDII think, for a second there, we lost him. Peggy, what is your understanding of what happened, before we get the Senate president back? Oh, I think we lost Peggy, too. Tom Sherwood...
SHERWOODKojo, it's just you and me. Well, you know, at the-end-of-life matter, you know, it passed in the District, and it's been up in Maryland for several years now, and it just hasn't been able to pass. The religious and other oppositions to it, it just can't get to the forefront in the legislature. And it didn't sound like it was very -- it sounds like there are a lot of votes for it, but not enough to pass it.
NNAMDITom Sherwood, I'd like to get back to the Kirwan Commission, because one of the things we didn't get a chance to ask Senator Ferguson is, what happens if Governor Hogan vetoes the measure? The governor is believed, by a lot of people, or expected by a lot of people, to veto the measure. And there was a time before the coronavirus pandemic when the Maryland General Assembly would've said, okay, we will overturn that veto. But do you think the nature of the economic hardship brought on by this pandemic could cause some minds in the general assembly to change and uphold Governor Hogan's veto?
SHERWOODWell, I've been watching and reading what Maryland Matters and the Baltimore Sun, lots of the reporters are doing in Maryland about that. You know, the legislature did make some adjustments in terms of going forward. You know, there was that big plan to change the whole concept of how the state collects sales taxes. But that was pulled back.
SHERWOODAnd I think the acknowledgement was that they weren't going to get the Kirwan Commission off the ground in this session, but in the next couple of years. They had enough money, they said, in order to get it started now, in terms of state funding and locality funding, but they would come back and revisit funding in a couple of years. The virus problem has pushed those couple years up maybe to just months. And they will have to address this, because every state is seeing a horrific drop in revenues.
NNAMDIAnd as we wait for the Senate president to rejoin us, we got an email from Andrew, who said: I'm very upset that Maryland's plans to expand the 270/495 beltway. I've been a lifelong resident and can't think of worse use for public funds. Now I've heard they could be up to a $2 billion bill for moving and relaying water pipes because of the work. What is being done to avoid this? Why not invest in public transportation?
NNAMDII know that I think the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission expressed some concerns about this. And I guess they're trying to do it, but is there likely to be any delay in this whole 270/495 Beltway project because of the pandemic?
SHERWOODI believe everything is on the table. If I sound like a politician, I apologize, but everything is on the table now, because the table is being reset because of the virus and its impact on funding. Governor Hogan initially put out his $9 billion plan to redo the transportation on the Beltway and 270. But after lots of complaining by Washington and just suburban jurisdictions and others, he's made some changes in that.
SHERWOODAnd the old water pipeline are part of the decision-making process, going forward. But that's --I think, Kojo, you just hit on it. The virus is affecting everything, what you do as individuals, what your station WAMU does, as a station, what businesses are doing. No one is untouched by this, and that's the problem. Everything is going to have to be reset.
NNAMDIBut, of course, in the $2 trillion stimulus package that the Senate voted and the House of Representatives is expected to vote on today, there is -- for at least Metro -- a silver lining. One billion dollars in aid will go to Metro. And since Metro closed 19 stations and reduced bus fares to conserve cleaning supplies, and those closures have been with met with a somewhat mixed response, what do you think this $1 billion in aid can do for Metro, which is obviously for the entire region?
SHERWOODWell, yes, it is, but, you know, even though Metro has closed 19 stations. I mean, they still had the employees. They're still paying -- they have their payroll. They still have to do everything, virtually, they do all the time. So it's going to be monies -- that's not enough money -- bottom line, I think the mayor of New York City or certainly the mayor of the District or the governor of Maryland or wherever else, it's great the $2 trillion emergency bill is passed, I think the largest in American history, but it's not enough.
SHERWOODThe problem is, as President Trump has said, he wants to open up the government and the economy by Easter -- before the Easter bunny comes, as I say. The fact is we're facing the situation where there's a different bunny involved. It's the Eveready bunny. It just keeps going and going and going. And we're nowhere near the peak -- Tony Fauci, the respected medical official says, you know, we can't set the timeline for this virus. The virus is going to set its own time and we have to react to it.
NNAMDIThat's exactly right.
SHERWOODSo, I think we're just overwhelmed at this point.
NNAMDISenate President Bill Ferguson has rejoined us. Senator Ferguson...
SHERWOODI thought I was doing pretty well. We don't need him.
NNAMDIYou were doing pretty well. (laugh) We might urge you to run for office. Senator Ferguson, a piece of legislation that you pushed for ended up passing this session. It would tax digital ads targeted at Maryland residents. Why was that priority for you, and how will it work?
FERGUSONSure. So, I am sorry for the drop-off. I don't know what happened. We had the app working, and then it just crashed. And so, on the social media advertising platform, this was an initiative that I first read about in the Wall Street Journal. The was a Nobel Prize-winning economist who put forward, essentially, this possibility and concern around the aggregation of data, personal data.
FERGUSONSo, I think we've seen many formats on these large worldwide platforms have received, you know, unlimited access to personal data, where kids go to school, what prescriptions people take, where they drive, where they go. All of that data has been accessed for free, and has been commercialized for these platforms, which are great, and the technology is wonderful. But these companies are also not contributing to the building of civic society.
FERGUSONI think there was a recent report or one of the large ones had a total tax contribution of 1.5 percent of profits. If we are going to have a changing economy, everyone has to pay their fair share. And so this initiative in Maryland was an effort to, you know, ensure that companies that are making over a billion dollars of revenue worldwide are contributing to the building of the social infrastructure, our schools, our roads, our health care systems, the things that are going to get us out of this crisis.
SHERWOODSenator Ferguson, you dropped out when Peggy called asking about the Death with Dignity bill, End of Life bill. I don't think you got your answer in. It didn't pass, it hasn't passed. She was asking for the prospects of it passing.
FERGUSONYes. I'm sorry for -- I wasn't sure how much of my response had gotten in. It did not move forward this year, and this is something I have personally supported in the past. But, you know, I've learned very quickly, as the president of Senate, it's about, you know, trying to have an understanding of where the whole body is. Where things stand, with changes in membership, I just don't think the votes are there to move forward. And so, unless something changes or there's a clear change in perspective of individual members who have been opposed, it's unlikely that something that we'll see moving in the Senate.
FERGUSONYou know, I only want to kind of see it on the floor if we know we can get it moving, because it's a really difficult and painful issue, that we just need to make sure the timing is right.
SHERWOODLet me ask you a personal question about that. I know you're from the Silver Spring area and grew up in the Washington suburbs, but you represent, I think it's the 46th District within the city of Baltimore. Just this week, the census bureau announced that Baltimore's population dropped below 600,000 for the first time in a century. As you know, it's had terrific issues with crime and violent crime and other issues. It's not in a very good economic place to pay for the Kirwan Commission funding. The Assembly has tried to address that.
SHERWOODBut, you know, I'm a big fan of Baltimore. I have to say I have not gone up as much since the Nationals came to town, and I don't go see the Orioles. But what is the future for Baltimore? You hear the most terrible things about its economy, and now we have the virus laid over it. People worry about the city of Baltimore. What is the status there?
FERGUSONLook, I think it's fair to worry. I think Baltimore and the region, at the end of the day, fundamentally, are a lynchpin for Maryland's long-term success. And the key to moving forward is the connections with the Washington region, to Frederick, to southern Maryland, to expanding outwards the impact. You know, the Port of Baltimore is one of the single most important economic drivers that the state of Maryland has. And you look at sort of the arts and culture and the eds and meds that exist in the Baltimore region, they're essential.
FERGUSONAnd so, you know, obviously, I'm biased. I represent the downtown Baltimore city. I believe in the city of Baltimore, in my bones. It is an incredible place with enormous challenges. But if we can't figure it out there, then I think we're going to have to have bigger problems, overall. A lot of the challenges that Baltimore has faced, if you look at substance abuse issues and the challenges with the opioid crisis, officially, we didn't tackle it well enough in Baltimore, and we saw -- and we have seen the impact statewide.
FERGUSONAnd so, you know, I think there's an enormous opportunity, when we get through this current crisis, to really think, how do we create the strongest state possible, where urban centers are beacons of hope?
NNAMDIAnd I'm afraid that's all the time we have. Bill Ferguson is the Senate president of the Maryland State Senate. He's a Democrat representing district 46 in Baltimore City. Thank you so much for joining us.
FERGUSONThank you so much, and stay safe, and we'll get through this together.
NNAMDIThe Politics Hour was produced by Cydney Grannan. Next week, we're focusing an hour of our show on finding the helpers. Do you know someone who's been delivering groceries, sewing masks or donating their time to help a neighbor? Tell us about them. Email at email@example.com, subject line “Helpers.”
NNAMDIComing up Monday, how healthcare workers are balancing the need to help patients with the need to protect themselves and their families in the age of the coronavirus. Plus, how the justice system is functioning amid the outbreak. That all starts Monday, at noon. In the meantime, thank you for listening, and have a good and safe weekend. Tom Sherwood, you do the same.
SHERWOODWash your hands.
NNAMDII am Kojo Nnamdi.
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