2015 LEGISLATIVE INTERVIEW: ASSEMBLYMEMBER PHILIP TING

 

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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 Assemblymember Philip Ting, conducted on March 6, 2015. It does not reflect the opinions of the League of Women Voters of San Francisco.

 

 

 

 

 

Question 1: Money in Politics (Campaign Disclosure)

Background:

Cal-Access is the database and website for online reporting and disclosure of state campaign and lobbying financial activity. It is antiquated, inflexible, and desperately in need of an overhaul to make it robust and user-friendly for the public and the media as well as for those who are required to file disclosure reports.

Question:

Would you support funding for the rebuilding of Cal-Access? Possibilities that have been mentioned include an item in the 2015-2016 state budget and a loan from the state’s General Fund that would be repaid over time from an existing fund dedicated to improvement of Cal-Access.

Would you support a requirement that Cal-Access be structured to allow expansion to include electronic filing of local disclosure reports?

Absolutely. The more transparency we can have around campaign financing the better. We should make it easier. Unfortunately, government databases -not just Cal-Access- are pretty antiquated. It’s quite common to see legacy systems. It’s become a major issue, not only around campaign finance but really anything- taxes, healthcare, etc. My passion is to ensure the success of school funding reforms through the Local Control Funding Formula. When talking to the Department of Education, it’s hard for them to really tell us where the money intended to help high need students goes. It’s very concerning.

I’m a big fan of public financing, which we do in San Francisco. If I had to compare the two- of how influential money is in San Francisco compared to Sacramento – it is much more so in Sacramento because we don’t have public financing. There’s no incentive to not take money. The money that politicians take in San Francisco is primarily from San Francisco residents and it’s capped at a fairly small amount – $500 per person. We have heavy incentives to fundraise from our constituents.

Question 2: Education

Part 1. Early Childhood Educations

Early Childhood Education (ECE) programs were greatly reduced during the economic downturn. Although significant funding was reinstated last session, it is still not at the previous level, and large numbers of children, with differing needs, go unserved.

Among the options for increased funding of ECE programs are 1) universal access for all four year olds, 2) limiting funding to low-income children and those with special needs while expanding the reach to three-year-olds, 3) expanding and improving service for the very young (ages zero to three), or 4) the ideal, all of the above. What would be your preference? What first? What do you think has the best chance of being funded and signed?

The most important thing right now is option 3. We cut in the budget over 100,000 child care slots for working families. If you can’t get a childcare slot, you can’t go to work. We think it has a direct tie into unemployment, people’s difficulty paying rent, and getting food on the table. We as the Assembly Democratic Caucus have been advocating for full funding of these 100,000 childcare slots. Unfortunately the Governor has a difference of opinion. We were only able to get about 12,000 slots back, meaning we lost nearly 80,000 childcare slots. Those are 80,000 families that had to either give their kids to someone else or stay home – we really don’t know. This is where I would start first because these are the families that were most heavily impacted by us cutting the social safety-net.

Moving forward after that, it’s great to move towards the goal of universal pre-school. We would have to find a funding stream. It is not clear where we would get the money. We do have this in San Francisco. If you have a four year-old in San Francisco, you automatically get access to pre-school. In fact, my daughter is a four year-old right now, so we are beneficiaries of this program. I think it’s just great to have it as a universal goal for the whole State.

We were able to get Prop 30 passed, so now we have to focus on getting it renewed, or something similar passed. However, there really are a wide variety of proposals for how to get the funding for early childhood education.

Part 2. Cap on Reserves

Background:

As part of the 2014-15 state budget, the legislature adopted a trailer bill, SB 858, one provision of which would place a cap on local school district reserves, including assigned and unassigned year-end balances, under certain conditions. That provision was linked to Proposition 2 in the November election, and with the passage of Prop 2, it is now in effect. In August, at the close of the legislative session, there was an attempt to repeal the cap language, but it failed.

Question:

Would you support a bill to repeal the cap and restore the authority of local school districts, in alignment with the norm of local control, to ensure school districts can maintain healthy reserves to protect students and teachers from budget cuts during future economic downturns?

I absolutely support repeal of the cap. This was a last minute budget play that was passed. The Assembly and the Senate did not agree on it. It came from the Governor’s office. This was very concerning to me because we had just put on the ballot and passed the Rainy Day Fund, sending the message that it’s really good to save, and then by passing this cap it’s saying it’s not good to save. So which one is it?

In my opinion it just gives schools less flexibility which is not a wise move.

Question #3: Water

In recent months, voters approved the Proposition 1 water bond and the legislature passed significant groundwater legislation. Do you see these actions as having addressed the important water issues in your district? If not, what more should be done? What can the Legislature do to increase California’s resilience in the face of future water supply uncertainties?

The water bond was just the beginning, and truthfully it was much less than we had wanted. Originally we wanted $12 billion. The water bond we got was scaled back by the Governor. It takes care of deferred maintenance on infrastructure and begins to address additional water supply and water recycling. It does not help us with short term drought issues. It was well-supported and I believe it was very important to pass, especially for the Bay Area. One of the big selling points for the area was having restoration money for the Bay.

In terms of the impact for San Francisco and the Peninsula, it doesn’t have a huge impact on our water supply. This is primarily because we have our own water source through the Hetch Hetchy system. However, as a state issue, it was obviously very important because water is extraordinarily important state-wide. From an economic standpoint it’s very important in the central valley. Without water we don’t have agriculture. We have already seen the detrimental effects of drought on our agricultural production, which had drastically gone down the past two years. It is a major issue and continues to be a major issue.

We must use technology to manage water better. I was just at a conference that presented on a variety of technological advancement that would help us manage our water so I’m very hopeful.

Question #4: Affordable Housing

One of the priority issues our San Francisco League is interested in is affordable housing. Particularly considering the high price of land in the city, we wonder if the state is putting sufficient pressure on the suburbs to build their share of housing near transit. You may have read in the Chronicle last week that Mayor Libby Schaaf, while talking to the Chronicle editors last week, threw out the idea that perhaps San Francisco housing developers could fulfill some of their affordable housing requirements by building some of that housing in Oakland. Do you have any thoughts on that?

 

This is obviously a major issue. A lot of suburbs have really shirked their responsibility in regards to affordable housing. There is a big challenge here in San Francisco around affordable housing and suburbs have failed to provide substantial affordable housing around transit centers.

Right now we are in the process of developing Treasure Island. The way it’s being developed is that the main transit option will be a ferry, and the community will be built around it. All of the housing will be built within a 15 minute walk of the ferry, and most of the housing will be within a seven minute walk. I think we really need to do more of that – planning around public transit.

Regarding Mayor Schaaf’s idea- I think it’s a bad idea, not for Oakland but for San Francisco. I just don’t think we should be shirking our responsibility for building affordable housing. We need to make sure we continue to have a mix of residents. I’m concerned that San Francisco is becoming a town of only the highest income earners in the Country. This has never been the case in our history, and it should never be the case. I think we have to build more affordable housing in San Francisco.

Question # 5:

What other major issues do you think the legislature must deal with in 2015? What are your personal priorities?

For me, I have always focused on education- both K-12 and higher education. I was proud to pass a Cal-Grant bill that really streamlined the grant application process, relieving students of some of the burden of applying. This year I’ll be submitting a few bills around the accreditation process for community colleges. Our community college is the biggest in the state. The more I have gotten involved in this work, the more I have realized how flawed the accreditation system is. I do believe that the school has areas for improvement, but the accreditation process as it currently stands is very concerning. We have lost over 30,000 students from the flawed accreditation process, primarily due to the bad press we’ve received. If you look at it, the school is still doing very well, the academics are still doing well. Even in the accreditation process, the accreditors said that the academics were doing well and we still see students transferring into great four year colleges. However, losing 30,000 students has a huge financial impact on the school. It put the institution in a very difficult position.

The current accreditor for City College can at any time approach all community colleges for any type of fee. If the institutions don’t pay they can get unaccredited, which is a death nail for them. During the current accreditation process our accreditor decided to charge an additional fee. We are currently working on legislation that will prevent them from having this power to write a blank check. We definitely think they should be able to fine institutions, but it needs to be regulated.

It will be a big year around the environment, particularly around clean energy and clean vehicles. The governor set some pretty audacious goals, which the legislature will be looking to champion as well.

I will continue to do some legislation around civil rights, primarily language access. We want to make sure that immigrant communities continue to receive materials in their own languages, especially around medication. Medication is difficult enough to navigate as an English speaker, so it’s very important to make sure that the information is translated properly.

Finally, I’m also Chair of Revenue and Tax so I’ll also be looking at some tax reform packages as well as holding numerous hearings to strengthen accountability with our tax agencies.

 

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