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Moore, Cox outline plans to support Marylanders with disabilities

Democrat Wes Moore will face Republican Dan Cox in November's general election for governor.
Credit: Candidate campaign Facebook pages
Democrat Wes Moore will face Republican Dan Cox in November's general election for governor.

The two major-party nominees for governor, Republican Dan Cox and Democrat Wes Moore, answered questions Tuesday during a forum hosted by the Maryland Disabilities Forum and the National Federation of the Blind. The virtual event focused on challenges faced by Marylanders with disabilities and showcased the candidates’ different philosophies on the role the state government ought to play in addressing those challenges. For example, the candidates were asked how they intend to ensure government agencies have sufficient staff to provide quality services.

For Cox, the answer involved the state’s COVID-19 mitigation strategy of teleworking, something he routinely criticizes.

“We're going to end this nonsense of allowing everyone to pretend that they're working and showing up — and failing to show up to work through the telework program unless they have a certified doctor's note or a certification from a physician or their other caregiver that provides authority for that,” said the freshman state delegate from Frederick County. “Right now we have a debacle in state government where there's many, many workers that are sitting at home and have been for two years and do not show up and do their duty.”

Moore, on the other hand, answered the same question by promising to prioritize filling jobs that Gov. Larry Hogan’s administration has left vacant at a variety of state agencies. Democrats in Annapolis frequently argue that these vacancies prevent government agencies from functioning.

“Take a look at the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, where there are, you know, overflows of sometimes 150 bodies, or the Department of the Environment where they need about 187% more full time employees, and they're failing at basic inspections,” Moore said.

Asked about expanding affordable housing, Moore said he would fight for people facing eviction to have a right to an attorney — which would require more resources for public defenders — and expand the Maryland Affordable Housing Trust, part of the state Department of Housing and Community Development.

Moore also brought the issue back to one of his key policy goals, reducing poverty.

“That is the North star for our administration — pathways to work, wages and wealth, because if we can do that, it's also helping to address the housing issue that so many people and families are facing right now,” said Moore, the former head of the Robin Hood Foundation, a nonprofit poverty-fighting organization.

Cox countered that a need for more affordable housing can be addressed by reducing environmental regulations that delay construction projects and by lowering taxes. He would then offer landlords an incentive to use the savings from lower taxes to lower rents.

As governor, Cox would not have the authority to reduce local property taxes. However, he said he would use the State Department of Assessments and Taxation to drop the assessed value of properties, resulting in a smaller tax bill.

The candidates were also asked about how to ensure that schools are equipped to teach students with disabilities alongside their peers who don’t have disabilities.

Cox’s answer involved a key part of his platform: giving parents a greater role in how and what their children learn in school. As part of that, he said he would push to expand the state’s school voucher program.

“Parents will have $7,500 in their pocket per child,” Cox said. “If their school doesn't provide the services they need, not only do they get the $7,500 to portal that education to a private institution, but they're going to qualify for a waiver to get the special eds needs that they have at that private education system.”

Conversely, Moore spoke about injecting more funding into Maryland public schools. He lauded the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future, the massive school system reform plan in the process of being implemented, and the funding boost it offers for special educational services.

Moore said the state also has access to federal funds through the American Rescue Plan Act.

“That money is earmarked — earmarked — towards ensuring that all of our students are getting a proper pathway to success, including children with disabilities,” Moore said. “When you're talking about a generational opportunity of having essentially $2 billion coming in to help to address that, we need to be smart and inclusive in the way we're doing that.”

The Republican and Democratic nominees are scheduled to meet next Wednesday for a debate hosted by Maryland Public Television and WBAL-TV.

Early voting begins Oct. 27.

Rachel Baye is a senior reporter and editor in WYPR's newsroom. @RachelBaye
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