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Government spending at the federal and state levels and energy and environmental policies were among the topics on which candidates shared their views during a forum held by the League of Women Voters of Calvert County on Monday.

Citizens had the chance to ask questions of candidates for the Calvert County Board of Education, Maryland Senate District 29, House of Delegates District 27B and U.S. House of Representatives District 5 primary election races during the forum, which was held at Calvert High School.

Republican candidates for the House of Representatives District 5 Chris Chaffee and Mark Arness were in attendance; candidate Tom Potter was not. Of those three, whoever wins the primary election June 24 will face incumbent Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md., 5th) in the general election in November.

Questions for Chaffee and Arness included defense spending priorities, the government’s role in renewable energy, immigration legislation and more.

On the topic of what the federal government’s role is in promoting renewable energy, Arness said the government spends too much money exploring options that turn out to be inviable.

“Solar energy is a useful technology and has a place, but sinking billions of dollars into trying to create a solar renewable resource is really ineffective,” Arness said.

Chaffee said he likes renewable energy, but the government’s role should be minimal.

“The government should not be paying or investing at all in solar panels or wind turbines,” he said.

When discussing how to ensure progress is made to improve the health of the Patuxent River and the Chesapeake Bay, Arness said cleanup efforts need to be fiscally responsible.

“We need broad-based initiatives, not just throw money into it,” Arness said.

Chaffee said cleanup efforts should focus on sewage treatment plant upgrades and on the Susquehanna River pollution.

On the topic of immigration legislation, Chaffee said the laws currently in place are not adequately enforced, and perhaps a viable pathway for immigrants would be a “Social Security-like tax” they pay into for a certain amount of time.

If immigrants are living in the country and paying taxes for years, they are de-facto residents, and they should be registered as such, Arness said.

“We need to approach this problem in a humane and compassionate way and firmly resolve to enforce the laws in a sensible way,” Arness said.

Republican candidates for Maryland Senate District 29 Steve Waugh and Cindy Jones fielded questions about the state budget, the state’s role in renewable energy and environmental issues and more. The third Republican candidate, Larry Jarboe, was not in attendance. Whoever wins the primary will face incumbent Sen. Roy P. Dyson (D-St. Mary’s, Calvert, Charles) in the general election.

Both Waugh and Jones agreed on their dissatisfaction with the state budget.

“The Maryland budget is clearly completely out of control,” Jones said. “... Our legislators aren’t even trying to live within their means.”

Waugh said the budget has increased 70 percent in the last eight years without the population and economy of the state growing at the same rate. “It has exploded,” he said.

Waugh and Jones were asked to explain their positions on what role the state plays in promoting renewable energy.

Waugh said in order to have enough solar panels in Calvert County to make as much power as a nuclear reactor, the panels would form a roof over the county.

“We would have to block out the sun,” he said.

Jones said renewable energy developments should come from the free market system.

“There is very little that can be done outside of the private market to ensure that renewable energy comes at the right price and in the most efficient methodologies,” Jones said.

Candidates for the House of Delegates District 27B Michael A. Jackson (D), LaRhonda Owens (D), Toni Jarboe-Duley (R) and Philip Parenti (R) answered questions on fracking, how to reduce expenditures, transportation and more. Democratic candidate Jacqueline Steele McCall was not in attendance.

When asked about fracking, the four candidates said any decision should come as a result of thorough research. Parenti said if it can be done safely, fracking should be done in Maryland to reap the economic benefits. Jarboe-Duley said the local residents must agree with fracking before it is done.

To reduce state expenditures, Parenti said he would freeze any spending increases. Jarboe-Duley said strategic measures, such as not hiring someone immediately after there is a vacancy from a retirement, would be necessary.

“It’s hard and it’s tough, but we have to reduce spending,” she said.

Yet, the four said the replacement of the Gov. Thomas Johnson Memorial Bridge is a priority.

“This is where the state legislature has to step up,” Jackson said.

Parenti said the state should seek federal funding for the large and necessary project, a notion Jarboe-Duley agreed with, saying the federal government will be heavily involved in the funding and engineering for a new bridge.

Owens said the state has to help with funding the construction of the bridge, but it is difficult because the Transportation Trust Fund has been borrowed from for the general fund.

Calvert County Board of Education candidates Billy Saunders, Pamela Cousins, William “Bill” Phalen and current board members Dawn Balinksi and board president Eugene Karol fielded questions on topics such as the Common Core State Standards, universal preschool, the budget and more.

Karol said he is in support of universal preschool, but many more resources would be needed to implement it.

“The sooner you start, the better off you are,” he said of universal preschool.

The other candidates also supported universal preschool, but expressed budgetary concerns. Phalen suggested expanding the current preschool program in place now over time.

“All kids deserve the opportunity to attend preschool,” Cousins said.

The candidates were asked what their biggest priorities would be in the budget, which faces additional cuts in the aftermath of a 13.7 percent increase in health care costs. Saunders said he would need to be on the board to fully investigate where costs could occur.

Cousins echoed Saunders’ remark, but said priority needs to be put on giving staff pay increases.

Balinski said a huge priority should be to protect class sizes and, if staff cuts need to be made, to do it at the central office level, in addition to putting the health care provider up for bid next year.

Phalen said he would hope to cut contracts for attorneys based out of Baltimore and, instead, contract local attorneys to save money.

Karol said more than 80 percent of the budget is allocated for staffing, which is where the cuts will have to occur.

“We need to cut as far away from the kids as we can,” he said.

The League of Women Voters of Calvert County will hold another forum, for county commissioner candidates, Wednesday from 6 to 9 p.m. at Calvert High School.

sfleischman@somdnews.com