2014 Legislative Interview: Senator Mark Leno

Mark-Leno

 

Every year Leagues all over California meet with their representatives to discuss a few of the League’s priorities for the year. This is the report from such an interview with Senator Mark Leno, conducted on January 24, 2014.

 

 

 

 

 

Question 1: Money In Politics

Bills to require disclosure of the sources of all contributions in California campaigns and to make campaign disclosure more transparent and user-friendly in general will come before the Assembly

and Senate early in 2014. Will you help see that effective measures are passed in the Assembly/Senate to help voters know who’s funding campaigns?

Answer:

First of all, I am a strong supporter of the Correa bill (SB27) and the Lieu and Yee bill (SB2). I am also the author of SB52, the California DISCLOSE Act, which I believe really benefits voters. It will ensure that we all know who is actually behind propositions. It will ensure that we will no longer tolerate meaningless names of sponsors used in advertisements of bills and propositions. Instead, it will be legally mandated to list the top three donors in all TV and radio advertisements, in readable type and contrasting colors. Meaningless names will no longer fool the public and, moreover, I believe we all have a right to know who the funder is.

 

QUESTION 2: Education

The LCFF (Local Control Funding Formula) is rolling out over the next few years. Implementation strategies are being drafted and there will inevitably be some adjustments. What do you see as the ongoing role of the legislature? Are there programs you feel should remain categorical? Are there areas you deem as off limits for spending supplemental and concentration funds?

Answer:

I worked hard with Governor Brown and his administration on LCFF. I think the Legislature was able to develop and improve upon a good idea presented by the Governor. As the Governor quotes Aristotle, “treating unequals equally is not justice.”

I cosigned a letter to emphasize that we want to make sure money is getting where it needs to go. We want to make sure everyone understands this does not give free reign to schools to use the money as they like. There are still parameters. The money is to be spent specifically for low-income, foster, and English as a Second Language students.

We did leave a few areas (such as special education and child nutrition) categorical, because they are policy priorities. However, I believe nothing should be added to the categoricals.

I am very worried about the achievement gap and am open to discussions around how to combat it. I believe if we don’t invest in transitional kindergarten we will only see the gap expand. Of the $66 billion budget spent in California for K-12 education, universal transitional kindergarten would be $1 billion.

 

Question #3. California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) 

Do you think specific projects should be exempted from parts or all of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) process, or have special rules set for them? If so, how would you determine which projects should receive such treatment?

 Answer:

I believe we just haven’t been able to find the sweet spot with CEQA. We have been bombarded by large businesses that expect large exemptions. I have always been very clear in my position against such exemptions, and I believe my voting history speaks for itself.


Let me tell you one story that personifies my opinion regarding CEQA exemptions. When there were discussions regarding America’s Cup, and where it would be held, I was approached by the San Francisco mayor’s office asking for a full CEQA exemption to convince the executive responsible for making the decision to hold the America’s Cup in San Francisco. I responded that there was no consensus to grant full exemption, and that there was plenty of time for the CEQA provisions to be met. The mayor’s office was concerned that such a response would mean that San Francisco would not be chosen. However, we continued to be strong with our decision against exemptions, and the event was still held in San Francisco.

 

QUESTION # 4. 

What other major issues do you think the legislature must deal with in 2014? What are your personal priorities?

Answer:

I have many things I very much hope to work on in the upcoming year. For one, I am Chair of the Senate Budget Committee, where I hope to ensure that we make no more awful cuts that jeopardize Californians’ lives. We are going to have more surplus money than we expected, which is great. Now, the discussion revolves around how we choose to spend this money. I would like to see the money split in thirds: one third will be invested into our reserves, one third will go towards repaying our debt, and one third will go towards reinvesting in our social safety net. The governor is proposing to use $11 billion of the surplus to repay the debt and reserve, which is 90% of the surplus. This would mean that only 10% would go towards reinvesting in programs that had been so ruthlessly cut in the recent past.

Our court systems and our care facilities for the elderly, for example, have been greatly affected by these large cuts in funding. California rates as one of the lowest states in the US in its required number of inspections of such facilities for the elderly. We mandate that each care facility be inspected once every five years. However, due to budget cuts even this isn’t being completed. It will cost $7-10 million to make sure that these inspections occur, as mandated, every five years. I think this would be money well spent. I also support increasing the maximum fine for breaches in the quality of care in these facilities. Right now the maximum fine is $150 per incident per day. We also need to improve our system for collecting the money for these fines. Last year, the state fined facilities $2 million, out of which only about $1 million was collected. One way I propose to help facilitate the fast payment of fines is to prohibit a facility from getting new patients until all fines have been paid.

I also want to further study the diminishing corporate income tax. In the 1930s, personal income tax, sales tax, and corporate tax were divided into thirds of the total revenue pie. In 1985, the percentage of revenue from corporate income tax was 13.5%. Now it is 8.2%. This is a difference of $5.6 billion. We could do a lot of good with $5.6 billion. I find this very distressing and hope to find a way to address it.

Another battle I hope to fight and win this year is to mandate a kill-switch on all cell phones (SB962). Last year, 66% of robberies in San Francisco involved a mobile device. We have the technology to actively combat this. Right now, some phones have an app that you can opt into, which would turn your phone into a useless brick if it was stolen. We want to change it so that this option is provided as the norm, and customers can opt out of the app if they don’t wish to participate. This will mean that any time a phone is stolen it can be rendered completely dysfunctional. This will largely diminish such thefts, and they would be increasingly futile. To pass SB 962, we will have to battle with the cell phone companies, who only benefit from the current system. However, we have law enforcement on our side.

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