Maryland residents rank education and crime as the most important issues facing the state, with those living in the Baltimore area saying crime is a greater concern. The poll also shows deep concerns about the safety of vaping and support for significant environmental measures.
The poll results, released Thursday, offer the first public gauge of how much residents would accept in higher taxes to help offset the estimated $4 billion cost of a plan that aims to transform Maryland public schools to be among the best in the world.
Proposals include free preschool for all 4-year-olds, better career training for high school students, tougher teacher standards and more resources for students from low-income families. About 7 in 10 residents support a 22 percent boost to education spending, and the support extends to all geographic areas of the state and across party lines.
Andrew McIver, a 46-year-old political independent from Pikesville, said he strongly believes that more funding for education is key to solving a number of other issues in Maryland, from improving employment rates to decreasing crime levels.
“It’s a long-term approach that our politicians too often don’t take,” McIver said.
State policymakers have yet to propose how to pay for the reforms, but a furious debate between Hogan and leading Democrats is already underway, with each side trying to build a case for whether the changes are necessary and whether the state can afford them.
Democrats pushing the changes say that the state’s education system is in crisis and that an overhaul is necessary to give every child equal access and ensure the next generation of Maryland’s workforce can compete for jobs.
Hogan, who was elected twice on pocketbook issues, this week called the education recommendations a “pie-in-the-sky” proposal authored by officials who, he said, are “hellbent on spending billions more than we can afford.”
The poll results show the governor is “in for a fight on this one,” said Michael Hanmer, a government and politics professor at the University of Maryland. “I think the way he’s been describing this suggests he knows that.”
The Post-U. Md. poll finds 55 percent of state residents would be willing to see their income tax rate rise by a quarter of a percentage point, a hypothetical tax increase that amounts to $200 for a family earning $80,000 a year. Such an increase would generate enough money to cover roughly one-sixth of the proposed spending increase.
While most conservatives oppose that hypothetical tax hike, about a third of conservatives back it, as do most of the moderates (58 percent) and liberals (78 percent) who make up the vast majority of Maryland’s electorate.
More than two-thirds of liberal residents would also support a bigger hypothetical increase, of half a percentage point. But overall, that rate increase is backed by a minority of residents — 45 percent. It would generate roughly $400 in additional taxes for families earning $80,000 a year, enough money to cover about a third of the reforms. The size of the tax-rate increase appears to carry greater weight for political moderates, with support for the larger increase falling to 43 percent.
Sandy Harding, a retired educator, said that public education is important to her and that “there is never enough funding.” But Harding, a 67-year-old Republican, echoed Hogan’s view that there needs to be more public accountability for the money Maryland already spends on public schools.
“They keep raising taxes,” Harding said. “I really don’t think that is the answer. I think we need to make sure we know where the money is going.”
State lawmakers are debating whether to legalize and tax recreational marijuana to help raise money for some education reforms. Roughly two-thirds of all residents support that idea, according to the poll, but it is a lot more popular among younger people. Over 8 in 10 — 84 percent of adults 40 and younger — support legalizing marijuana to improve schools.
William Thomas, 40, a Democrat from Silver Spring, was in favor of increasing income taxes or legalizing and taxing marijuana to put more money toward public education. Thomas, who works in science policy, said he frequently talks with his wife, an elementary school teacher in Langley Park in Prince George’s County, about her school, where there have been issues with mold and the aging building. He said conditions at the elementary school his children attend in Montgomery County, less than 15 minutes away, are markedly better.
“We can see the contrast,” he said. “Investing in education is really something I support.”
Hogan has not taken a position on legalizing marijuana. But he has been raising money to finance a public-relations campaign against the education proposals, which were developed by a panel known as the Kirwan Commission (chaired by former University System of Maryland chancellor William E. “Brit” Kirwan). Hogan calls the panel “the Kirwan Tax Hike Commission.”
The poll finds that fewer than 2 in 10 residents have heard about Hogan’s political groups raising unlimited contributions from undisclosed donors. But when asked, residents disapprove of Hogan doing so by a 2-to-1 margin, suggesting the activity could become a political liability for him.
The findings from the poll, conducted by The Post and the University of Maryland’s Center for Democracy and Civic Engagement, also suggest that residents could be swayed by public advocacy about the Kirwan Commission’s work. Six in 10 Marylanders say they have heard “nothing at all” about the undertaking.
While residents in many parts of the state see public education as the biggest problem facing Maryland, a similar share rank crime as their biggest concern (20 percent and 22 percent, respectively). The heightened concern about crime is most pronounced in and around Baltimore City, which has been beset by a persistently high murder rate and corruption scandals in the police department. It was the target of high-profile criticism by President Trump this summer.
The city is on pace for its fifth straight year of more than 300 homicides. Six years ago, Maryland residents ranked crime as the state’s fourth-biggest problem, behind taxes, the economy and public education.
Irene Gersh, a retiree who lives in Pikesville, said she used to enjoy going to Baltimore’s Inner Harbor and visiting the symphony and museums in the city. Now, she said, she avoids driving downtown.
“It is really not safe to drive,” said Gersh, a political independent who ranked crime as her top issue. “I live in a very safe suburb. But a couple of miles south, there are shootings every weekend.”
She said she wants politicians to do more to address crime, including better supporting police and law enforcement officials, who she said have been “demonized since Freddie Gray, and it’s only getting worse.”
On the environment, the poll finds deep support for the state’s first-in-the-nation ban on foam cups and food containers and a widespread willingness to embrace solar panel farms.
Nearly 8 in 10 residents support the ban, which took effect this summer. And 73 percent say they would be willing to live within a mile of a large solar farm. Separately, 52 percent say they would support requiring all new homes and other buildings to include rooftop solar panels, a more drastic measure to increase reliance on renewable energy. (This month, Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich, a Democrat, proposed requiring solar panels on all newly built homes in the county.)
Patricia Lenehan, a Democrat and retired teacher in Towson, is part of the majority of Marylanders who support the foam ban and would support a rooftop solar panel requirement. She said such actions are necessary to combat global warming.
“We all need to change our habits a bit,” said Lenehan, 71, who added that she has noticed that the trees in her once-green neighborhood look less lush than they used to. “I’m standing here with my Starbucks cup, and I’m a little bit ashamed.”
Amid a national outbreak of vaping-related illnesses, 86 percent of Maryland residents say they believe vaping is harmful to people’s health, including almost 6 in 10 who say it is “very harmful.” A third of residents say they have tried vaping. And 63 percent would support a proposed ban on the sale of flavored e-cigarettes, which federal regulators say have fueled the prevalence of e-cigarette use among young people.
This Washington Post-University of Maryland poll was conducted Oct. 9-14 among a random sample of 860 Maryland adults, 60 percent reached on cellphones and 40 percent on landlines. The margin of sampling error is plus or minus 4.5 percentage points for the overall sample.
Scott Clement contributed to this report.
Correction: Former University System of Maryland chancellor William E. “Brit” Kirwan was misidentified as a former president of the system. He was a former president of the University of Maryland at College Park.