The very first San Diegan legislator to hold the position of Speaker of the California State Assembly was Toni Atkins. Members of the Lake San Marcos Democratic Club along with members of clubs from around North County had the pleasure of hearing her fascinating update this past Saturday.
She began by reviewing the economic realities California faced when Jerry Brown became Governor and what has been done in the last 6 years to mitigate the dire consequences of the recession. Early on it became clear that the state needed to maintain a “rainy day fund” given that incoming revenue can fluctuate yearly. Governor Brown inherited a $122 billion general budget, of which $72 billion was earmarked for education. However, revenues quickly slipped to only $98 billion, creating a shortfall that was made up at the time through cuts to education in 2010. In the last 5 years education costs have increased 52%, and it is only through the passage of Proposition 30, which expires this year, that the shortfall is covered.
“In the last 6 years voters turned it around working with a Democratic Governor and a Democratic legislature and we should be proud,” Toni exclaimed. Although $18.7 billion in debt has been paid down over the last decade “we have to prepare for the next recession, whenever it is,” she explained. Toni went on, “But we are in the best position we’ve been in and now we can re-invest in people”.
Toni proudly discussed additional accomplishments she and the Democratic controlled legislature achieved.The list is long:
- the state adopted a $15 minimum wage;
- implemented the first Earned Income Tax Credit which benefits us all by injecting $380 million into local economies as the tax refunds get spent;
- expanded voter access through same day registration and automatic registration at the DMV;
- enacted the strongest equal pay act in the country;
- enacted the strongest climate change related bills and Toni, along with the Governor and leader of the Senate attended the Paris COP 21 conference;
- enacted numerous business friendly tax incentives for the TV and film industry which also positively impacts all the local supporting services used by the industry;
- implemented the “California Competes” tax credit program which thus far has distributed $303 million of credits to 433 small businesses, creating 50,000 new jobs. $6.7 million was provided to San Diego businesses resulting in 11,000 local jobs.
- changed the “test and punish” approach to teacher evaluations to ensure that our teachers have good salaries, benefits and money for their classrooms. California is at the forefront of implementing the Common Core curriculum.
- working to reduce tuition at the UC system and providing grants to low income students;
- middle class students are getting “priced out” – there are many programs for low income and high income students don’t need help so a “Middle Class Scholarship” program has awarded $135k to middle class students in 2015.
- holding the UC system accountable for making sure qualified California students can get into the system. During the recession the system relied heavily on recruiting the higher tuition paying out of state students. Currently 25% of students are out of state and the goal is to reduce that to the previous level of 10%.
- passed the bi-partisan supported $7.5 billion water bond;
- improvements in health care funding including more money for the mentally disabled and restoring the 7% cut in home health care;
- smoking age raised from 18 to 21 and e-cigarettes to be regulated as well.
In spite of the above long list of accomplishments Toni is not finished. She has a bit more time, now that she is no longer Speaker, to pursue her priorities of which the top two are the issues of Human Trafficking and Affordable Housing.
Currently there are 25 different bills trying to address the horrific human trafficking problem plaguing our state. Of the top worst 13 cities on the FBI list for human trafficking, Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Diego are all on the list. It is mostly young girls kidnapped off our streets, but also includes young boys. 11,000 children a year are taken just in San Diego alone! To address this Toni has two bills currently in the legislature which will provide diversion and support programs for victims, establish a task force of Law Enforcement and Health and Human Services providers to determine how to best deal with the problem (for example, do you arrest a girl for being a prostitute even though she is forced into it by her kidnapper?) and provide translation services to victims.
Affordable housing is also still a huge issue in our area. The top 10 least affordable cities in which to live contains 6 California cities, including San Diego, which is 1.5 million homes short. Affordable homes need to be built and made available near where people work or near mass transit.
Finally, Toni reviewed a few of the many ballot propositions we will be voting on in November. She viewed the extension of Proposition 30 taxes as significant. Prop. 30 raised income taxes on the wealthy and raised the sales tax by a quarter of a percent, with the money funneled to public education to close the budget shortfall. The sales tax expires at the end of this year and the income tax is supposed to be phased out in 2018. Without passage of the Prop 30 extension this November, further cuts to education will have to be made in order to balance the budget.
Additional initiatives coming include an increase in the sales tax on cigarettes (we are near the bottom currently of amount of tax), legalization of recreational marijuana, improvements to firearms safety laws, and abolishing the death penalty.
In closing Toni said, “We have our work cut out for us as Democrats. We are shooting for a super majority again. We’re counting on good Democrats because I stand on your shoulders and you stand on mine” she concluded.