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Commentary Election 2022

Ashwani Jain: Use the Surplus for Sustainable Recovery

Surplus photo by Vladimir Solomianyi.

By Ashwani Jain

The writer is a former Obama administration official and Democratic candidate for governor.

Thanks to the fiscal leadership of the Democrats in the Maryland House and Senate, we find ourselves with a budget surplus.

And while there have been some discussions among my fellow gubernatorial candidates on how to use the excess funds, I believe none of them truly and sincerely address the growing needs and concerns of residents across our state.

If I were governor, not only would I focus our state budget on issues ranging from expanding access to rural broadband, providing rental relief for those facing evictions, supporting infrastructure projects like the Red Line and Purple Line, sustainably expanding the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, improving public schools in low-income neighborhoods and investing in more community health clinics. I would also focus on implementing my “Maryland Now Plan.”

Today, far too many of our fellow Marylanders are struggling to get by. As such, my proposal will eliminate your state income tax, make Maryland the first state to make public transit free, create the nation’s first guaranteed jobs program, legalize marijuana and expunge records, and impose anti-corruption measures.

This plan will expand economic opportunities and inclusion for all Marylanders, assist those who either have a job or need a job, help our climate, create hundreds of thousands of new jobs, reduce some of the racial injustices we face and improve the daily lives of residents in every county across the state.

Here are the details of the first three parts of my proposal:

1. Eliminate the state income tax for 95% of Maryland workers.

For the 95% of Marylanders who earn a personal income of less than $400,000, my Maryland Now Plan will eliminate your state income tax (for anyone making more than $400,000, your state income tax will remain the same).

Why this is a great idea — It saves the average Marylander about $2,000 a year. Increases their take-home pay and disposable income (and ties into creating more jobs through my Guaranteed Jobs Program). Enables greater economic mobility and stability for Marylanders who are struggling to get by. Strengthens our economy by encouraging more people to move here and retirees to stay here. Does all this without increasing property taxes.

2. Make Maryland the first state to guarantee free public transit.

Public transit should be accessible to all Marylanders and financial barriers should be eliminated. It is estimated that one in four Marylanders use some form of public transit (primarily to get to work or school). Approximately 45% of Marylanders at least occasionally use the Metro. Yet, the average Marylander can spend anywhere from $50 to $100 per year on transit. Therefore, as part of my Maryland Now Plan, I will make Maryland the first state in the nation to offer free public transit for all residents, everyone from students to retirees.

Ashwani Jain, Democratic candidate for governor. Campaign photo.

Why this is a great idea — It will help our economy by providing better accessibility to ideas and labor. It will reduce the cost of living for employers and employees. It will help students — especially those in underserved areas — get to and from school. It will help seniors and retirees better age-in-place. It will help low-income residents, many of whom do not have access to private cars, and therefore rely on public transportation to get to their jobs. It will increase mobility and access in our communities for those in the disability community. It will play a critical role in combating climate change by making mass transit a more accessible, convenient and viable alternative to private cars, helping reduce emissions and our state’s overall carbon footprint. By connecting more people to job centers, linking businesses to their suppliers and customers, and making it easier for employers to attract and retain employees — our state can bring more jobs, education, health care and recreation services within every Marylander’s reach.

This will strengthen both our local and statewide economies and bring sustainable recovery for generations to come.

3. Create the nation’s first Guaranteed Jobs Program.

I will make Maryland the first state in the nation to fulfill this promise: If you are unemployed and need a job — you will be guaranteed one.

What’s the problem?

Maryland is consistently ranked as one of the wealthiest states in the U.S., but we have failed to combat unemployment. Our labor force consists of around 3.1 million people, but 200,000 are unemployed and struggling to find work. Oftentimes, people struggle to find employment despite their personal ambition, drive, motivation and education. Many Marylanders face a lack of resources, workplace discrimination and job scarcity, but I will ensure that every Marylander of working-age is capable of obtaining quality jobs.

Why is this the solution?

By having our state government serve as an employer of last resort, we can ensure all unemployed residents in our state have the opportunity to access a decent job with living wages, safe working conditions, healthcare and union protections. And while this would be the first program of its kind in the United States, my plan will help us increase our state revenues — with the potential of 200,000 newly employed individuals who will now be able to pay taxes and have greater disposable income. Increase employability and economic inclusion for those experiencing challenges or discrimination finding work (including veterans, spouses of those in active-duty, women, those who are LGBTQ+, those with disabilities, those impacted by the justice system and people of color). Reduce poverty levels and social safety net costs for all taxpayers. Improve the overall health and sustainability of our economy.

How will this work?

To anyone currently eligible to receive unemployment benefits (those who are laid off, furloughed, wrongfully terminated, facing employment discrimination, or actively on the job hunt) — and any active duty, veteran or spouse who’s struggling to find work — our state government will be an employer of last resort and provide jobs in infrastructure repair, ecological restoration, agricultural production and assistance to farmers, department of disability rights, correctional services, elder care and child care services, assistance to veterans, clerical/administration (medical, housing, transportation, nursing and education), multilingual support, public art programs and clean energy projects.

While these important jobs won’t be competing with jobs in other industries — and provide infrastructure and standard of living improvements for all taxpayers — they will be available to all those actively seeking employment and provide them an immediate opportunity to get back on their feet. We will also guarantee these jobs for as long as individuals are able to perform their duties, and we will work with the nonprofit and private sectors to create pathways for employment of these new workers. Adequate training and support for those involved in this program will also be provided.

The world has changed and our politics needs to adapt. That’s why I’m running for governor and will do everything in my power to make our institutions more inclusive and accessible.