We face significant challenges managing the high levels of traffic that pass through our district on a daily basis. In addition to commuter traffic increasing as the area's population grows, our district hosts a major artery for freight delivery from the Port of Los Angeles to the East Coast: the so-called Alameda Corridor East. This freight corridor not only includes a daily series of Union Pacific freight trains, but also dozens of big rigs traveling along the 60 Freeway every day - including Saturdays and Sundays. As a result, traffic backs up on the 60 Freeway every day, including weekends, often in both directions at the same time.
The current widening project, with the addition of HOV lanes, will provide only a partial solution to this problem. We need to develop alternative solutions, possibly including dedicated rights-of-way for truck traffic and/or grade separations to limit cross traffic that causes delays along local streets.
What we don't need to do is add to the traffic by ushering in large-scale development projects that our local streets and highways are not equipped to serve. This is why I have opposed the proposed NFL stadium adjacent to the 60 Freeway between the north and south 57 Freeway interchanges. It's the wrong place for a stadium, from both a traffic and environmental standpoint. There are viable alternatives to this location that will have little if any environmental impact and that will create jobs in areas with higher unemployment rates, and at least one of these locations is far better able to accommodate the traffic mitigation measures necessary to address the increased traffic.
However, because legislators from both parties, including our current Assembly Member Curt Hagman, have voted to grant billionaire Ed Roski an unprecedented exemption from the environmental review requirements of the California Environmental Quality Act for this project, we faced the burden of having to address the adverse effects of this project on local and commuter traffic should the project become a reality. Now that efforts to build an NFL stadium have shifted to downtown Los Angeles, the same exemption was granted to Anschutz Entertainment Group for the proposed stadium there. (Meanwhile, Mr. Roski is reportedly shifting his efforts to luring the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim to the Industry location.)
The argument that these projects contribute to the local economy and create jobs is deeply flawed. To demonstrate this we need only look two miles away to the Coliseum, which now sits abandoned. The area has only recently begun to prosper, years after two NFL teams have left. The jobs created by a stadium are overwhelmingly part-time, seasonal, low-wage jobs. Experience has shown that it's a risky investment for taxpayers that often leads to further taxpayer burdens in the future. If we are going to do it, we should at least consider locations where unemployment is higher, the environmental impact is lower, and the necessary infrastructure can more easily be accommodated, such as the abandoned gravel pits in Irwindale.
California's future lies in green technology. We have historically led the nation in development of renewable energy. Solar energy is becoming affordable to the average consumer, allowing individual households to draw much, even all, of their own electrical power directly from the sun. We must continue to lead the way in order to move away from dependence on the world's finite supply of petroleum. We'll need a new workforce to bring green technology to all Californians. From construction of wind generators and solar panels to research and development of alternative-fuel vehicles, there will be a new demand for skilled workers to perform the work.
It's important that we create good jobs in order to facilitate and sustain our economic recovery. By paying livable wages, we reduce Californians' dependence on public assistance to help pay the costs of food, housing, and health care for California's working families. Developing a skilled workforce depends on quality vocational education, both public and private. To make available to the average California high school graduate the skills training needed to perform these jobs, we must ensure that our community college system is adequately funded, and that enough financial aid is available to help the average California high school graduate pay tuition costs for private vocational schools.
When I attended public school in the 1960s and 1970s, California's educational system was ranked as one of the best in the nation. But since that time, California politicians have cut funding for public education to the point where California is now near the bottom in education funding per student. At the same time, California's once-world-class (and originally free for local students) community college system began instituting per-unit fees for the first time in the 1980s - and those fees have since risen steadily upward to the point where far fewer high school graduates can afford to enroll.
We must make education a priority once again. If more students complete high school, enroll in community college, and obtain degrees, the result will be a greater number of qualified candidates for skilled, technical, and professional jobs. This in turn will translate to higher productivity in the work force. Additionally, more educated individuals are much less likely to turn to criminal behavior, thus easing the burden on local law enforcement and the State prison system, and saving taxpayer dollars in the process.
We must re-commit to adequate per-student funding in California, and we must give teachers the respect that they deserve (and once received). We must keep class sizes manageable. But we also must find ways to spend education funds more wisely. More of the funding needs to stay in the classroom, rather than on increasing administration. But we can also make better use of classroom facilities by putting them to use more hours each day, through more flexible class schedules at the high school level. In so doing we could accommodate more students without having to build more classrooms. This would also allow teachers more flexibility in their work schedules, increasing teacher morale in the process.
I also want to encourage high school students to become more engaged in the political process, so that they are more likely to register to vote at 18 and to vote regularly in elections. Toward that end, I'd like to see local school districts and local cities work together to develop what I call "student city councils." These would be composed of high school students living within a city who would be elected by their peers to serve on an advisory body that would learn about city affairs and vote recommendations to the city council. The students would observe the sites of proposed infrastructure improvements (new traffic signals, park lighting and other improvements, structural repairs, etc.), construction projects, code enforcement issues, and other city issues, and provide comment and recommendations for possible actions to be taken by the city council. Giving students an active voice in local government not only provides a sense of empowerment to these youth, but also provides a learning experience that can't be found in the confines of the classroom.
The tax system in California is horrendously unfair. Wealthy Californians and corporations receive far too many tax breaks. Let's look at some examples:
1) In Alaska, home of tea party darling Sarah Palin, oil companies are charged a 25% severance tax for oil extracted from their wells across the state - so her chants of "drill, baby, drill" come as no surprise since they raise revenue for the state. In Texas, another red state which happens to be facing a large budget deficit as well, the oil severance tax is 12.1%. Here in California, it's 0%.
2) Wealthy property owners are paying a fraction per square foot of what middle-class single-family homeowners pay in property taxes, taking advantage of a huge loophole in the reassessment language of the property tax code that was left in place when wealthy real estate investor Howard Jarvis wrote Proposition 13 in 1978 (now known officially as the Jarvis-Gann Amendment). This loophole allows wealthy and corporate property owners to avoid reassessment upon change of ownership by one or both of two means: a) buying in partnership and selling in minority share; and/or b) temporary corporate merger between the buyer and seller of commercial property. Property tax revenue numbers clearly show that, over the past 30 years, single-family homeowners' contribution to the state's property tax rolls has increased as a percentage of the total revenue collected, while commercial property owners' contribution has decreased. They're paying mostly 1970s- and 1980s-era property tax rates (some even paying three-digit figures), while single-family homeowners pay 1990s- and later-era rates.
3) California's corporations pay a flat income tax rate that is lower than the rates of some individual Californians.
Business groups and their advocates, like my opponent, claim that lowering taxes for corporations increases job creation, and that raising their tax rates will cause them to move out of state. To show the fallacy of this argument we need only go next door to the state of Nevada, where corporate tax rates are lower than here in California, yet the unemployment rate is higher than California's. Politicians who support corporations (or vice versa) try to portray themselves as protecting small businesses. But small businesses don't have access to the kinds of tax loopholes described above - they're basically in the same boat as middle-class working people.