California Election 2018: Updates and Analysis
California may face its share of thorny policy problems and political conflicts, but for Republican gubernatorial candidate Travis Allen, the solutions are actually “very simple.”
That’s been one of the Huntington Beach Assemblyman’s favorite responses to policy questions on the campaign trail—an unofficial slogan verging on verbal tic. But it also offers a look at how he thinks about the challenges facing California and how he would approach the job of the state’s top elected official.
During a visit to CALmatters this afternoon, he offered what he labels simple solutions to a number of seemingly complex issues.
Take the sky-high cost of rent in California. “Very simply, build more housing in California,” he said.
Allen argues that the state can unleash a wave of new construction by cutting environmental impact fees and reforming the California Environmental Quality Act. Rejecting proposed legislation to override local zoning rules, he said that the state needs to give even more authority to locals—and promises that this will result in one million new units built by the end of his first term.
What about closing the academic achievement gap between privileged and disadvantaged students in California’s public schools? Another easy one, says Allen.
“I believe, very simply, that when you get competition for education dollars you get better outcomes for our students at lower price points.” To him that means more support for charter schools and potentially allowing parents to use publicly-funded vouchers to pay private school tuition.
And how should lawmakers prepare the state budget for the next recession? “I’ll tell you very simply: We start off by cutting those taxes and cutting those regulations.” According to Allen, making the economy more business-friendly and allowing for more natural resource extraction like offshore oil drilling and timber harvesting will make the state economy more resilient to swings in the business cycle.
Allen may be politically out of sync with the majority of Californians on issues including climate change, health care and immigration, but his unflinching confidence and his bullet point approach to policy prescription are a prime reason he has such a fervent following among many of the state’s conservatives. Despite what you might have heard, according to Allen, there are in fact easy answers—other politicians are just too myopic or beholden to special interests to tell you so.
Other seemingly intractable issues that Allen dispatched with quick-fix proposals include eliminating California’s “out of control bureaucracies” (nix the California Air Resources Board), ensuring water reliability (build more water storage facilities “up and down the state”), making college more affordable (a tuition freeze for all of California’s public universities), and getting people without homes off the street (place the chronically homeless in state-run mental institutions that are improvements over the facilities of the past.)
And then there were the handful of issues especially simple to address because, according to Allen, they simply do not exist.
Asked about a recent survey that found 41 percent of California State University students report struggling with the cost of food, Allen called the findings “a complete lie.”
“If I can go down to Taco Bell or McDonalds and feed myself for a dollar, there is no such thing as food insecurity in California,” he said. “When we see college kids with the latest iPhone that are complaining that they can’t afford something to eat, clearly they’re prioritizing their spending in the wrong direction.”
About the threat of rising sea levels, which a new state report says could result in more flooding in Allen’s hometown of Huntington Beach, Allen called it “absolute nonsense” and “bogus science.”
Much like President Trump, whom Allen supported in 2016 campaign, unlike his Republican rival, John Cox, the assemblyman does not sweat the contradictory evidence.
Confidence may not be enough to win over the majority of the state’s voters—or even enough to get past the state’s top two primary. According to a new poll released yesterday from the Public Policy Institute of California, only 10 percent of likely voters support Allen. That places him four points behind Cox and fourth among all the candidates.
Asked if he thought the poll might be wrong, Allen didn’t skip a beat: “Very simply put, absolutely.”
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy today touted federal policy under the Trump administration, in contrast to what he termed “backwards thinking” coming out of California.
“Once President Trump was elected, it seemed as though California wanted to be in a position to just sue and fight instead of take a pause and listen,” he said.
Speaking at a Sacramento event hosted by the Public Policy Institute of California, McCarthy offered a laundry list of reasons why he and his caucus deserve to be reelected this November. He championed the Republican-led federal tax overhaul, which cut personal and corporate taxes across the board last December. He credited those changes to the tax code for the recent round of rosy economic statistics nationwide. He also called for tighter borders and defended the president on trade policy, predicting agreement on the North American Free Trade agreement “probably sometime within the next month.”
In contrast to federal policy, McCarthy slammed the state of California, leading with his criticism of the recent increase in the gas tax. Last year, state lawmakers hiked taxes on gasoline and diesel and introduced two new vehicle fees to fund more than $5 billion in extra transportation spending per year.
“It’s the backwards thinking between what California is doing and what Washington (is doing),” he said. “Washington lets you keep more of your own money.”
McCarthy, whose district includes Bakersfield, is hoping to replace fellow Republican Paul Ryan as the next Speaker of the House. He’s considered the most likely successor—but only if Republicans maintain their House majority after November’s midterms.
He’s also long maintained a cozy relationship with President Trump, who once called the congressman “my Kevin.” As CALmatters’ Laurel Rosenhall wrote in her profile of the congressman last year, he has served as Congressional Republicans’ Trump-whisperer throughout the president’s tumultuous first term, “charged with shepherding the president’s legislative agenda.”
“No politician has more clout with the Trump White House than he does,” she wrote.
This November, voters will be given the chance to repeal that increase in the gas tax, with its business and labor defenders arguing that it’s necessary to maintain the state’s crumbling roads and highways, but Republicans hoping to channel opposition to boost GOP turnout.
McCarthy also lambasted plans to implement a single-payer health insurance system, either in California or nationwide. He called the state’s vehicle emission standards, which the Trump administration recently challenged, “impossible to reach” and predicted that whoever becomes the next governor of California will be forced to cancel the high-speed rail project, which is now estimated to cost up to $98 billion. Republican gubernatorial candidate John Cox has promised to do just that if elected.
The interview was interrupted for several minutes by immigration activists chanting “McCarthy, where’s your heart?”
@GOPLeader being shouted at by protesters. https://t.co/O489U4osyA
After the banner-toting activists were ushered from the room, McCarthy bemoaned what he sees as the demise of civility in our national discourse—an erosion for which many hold Trump responsible.
“Why can’t we sit down and communicate with one another?” McCarthy asked. “Why do we have to be so divided?”
Elizabeth Castillo contributed to this story.
Two years from now, California voters may have a chance to touch the third rail of state politics.
A coalition of good-government groups, social justice organizations, affordable housing advocates and teachers unions held press conferences across the state today announcing they had submitted signatures for a measure that would significantly increase property taxes on California businesses and generates tens of billions in revenue for local and state governments. If it qualifies for the 2020 ballot—which it likely will—it would mark the first time in decades that voters would have a chance to change a key provision in Proposition 13, the landmark 1978 ballot measure that placed stringent caps on California property taxes, making them some of the lowest in the country for both residential and commercial property.
What would this initiative actually do?
California treats commercial and residential property almost identically when it comes to taxes. In most cases, Prop. 13 allows properties to be reassessed for tax purposes only when they are sold to a new buyer. That means that a homeowner and the Target down the street (assuming Target owns that land) pay taxes on the value of the property when they acquired it, not at its current market value. That’s a huge discount for both homeowners and businesses, especially those who bought property a long time ago in a pricey area.
This initiative would treat California commercial property different than residential property, a concept in the Prop 13 wonk world known as “split roll.” Under the proposal, businesses would have their properties reassessed to market values every three years or less. Nothing would change for residential properties—the most untouchable part of Prop. 13. Commercial properties would still be taxed at 1 percent of their value.
Who’s behind it, and what do they want?
Backers include good-government groups like the League of Women Voters, social justice groups like the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment and some prominent state and local teachers’ unions. Big money has come from Bay Area philanthropic organizations such as the San Francisco Foundation and the Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative (yes, that Zuckerberg). The California Teachers’ Association, one of the most powerful labor unions in the state, has not endorsed the initiative.
More than anything else, proponents want the revenue that would be generated from “split roll.” Prop. 13 has long been criticized for starving local governments by denying them a steady revenue source. Proponents estimate that altering this part of Prop. 13 would provide $11.4 billion annually for state and local governments, with about $4.5 billion going to schools.
Who opposes it, and why?
The California business community writ large, including organizations like the California Chamber of Commerce and anti-tax groups like the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association. They argue that at best, increased property taxes would simply be passed on to consumers, and at worst, businesses would reduce employment or shut their doors entirely and flee to other states. The cost of doing business in California is already high—this would make it even more difficult to squeeze a profit.
This won’t be on the ballot for 2 years—why should I care now?
Because even though you may not be voting on this until 2020, the political repercussions start now. Changing Prop. 13 is still an uphill fight—one that dissuaded advocates from their initial plan to place the initiative on this fall’s ballot. But the pro-split roll camp can proudly boast that they collected 800,000 signatures, and received a big bankroll to do so. A recent USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll found that 54 percent of Californians said they would support the measure. The core of Prop. 13—property tax initiatives for homeowners—is obviously a much tougher fight than targeting commercial properties.
The prospect of split roll on the 2020 ballot could also induce legislative action at the Capitol. Leading gubernatorial candidate Gavin Newsom has voiced lukewarm support for the concept, but has repeatedly stated that Prop. 13 reform should be part of a “broader conversation on tax reform in the state.” With both legislators and special interests eager to avoid a costly battle at the ballot box, the initiative could spur action for a broader compromise well before voters get a chance to weigh in.
In probably the strangest outcome of California’s elections so far this year, a new state senator was sworn in Monday—with just three weeks left to go in the legislative session.
Vanessa Delgado, a Democrat from Montebello, was elected last week to replace former Sen. Tony Mendoza, who resigned in February after an investigation found he likely harassed several young employees.
But voters had two chances to vote for Delgado this year—once to complete the remainder of Mendoza’s term and again to serve a new four-year term that begins in December—and in an odd twist, they chose her only to fulfill the rest of the current term. That means Delgado will serve as a senator for just three-and-a-half months.
“This is an unexpected result, but it’s what the voters decided,” she said in a brief interview after being sworn in while her parents and 15-year-old daughter looked on.
Delgado, a real estate developer who resigned as Montebello mayor to join the Legislature, will be the shortest-serving state senator in more than a century, according to legislative historian Alex Vassar. (The last time a senator served a shorter term was in 1903, Vassar said, when Orrin Z. Hubbell served 15 weeks before he died.)
Delgado arrived in Sacramento Monday as the Legislature begins the most consequential final three weeks of the legislative year, a time when lobbying is intense and lawmakers face tough decisions on hundreds of bills. In September she’ll return to the district in southeast Los Angeles County and work on constituent issues until Dec. 2. Then—poof—her time as a senator will be done.
The man who hopes to replace Delgado on Dec. 3 was also in Sacramento Monday. Democrat Bob Archuleta, who faces Republican Rita Topalian on the November ballot, mingled with lobbyists and Democratic senators at a campaign fundraiser near the Capitol, just minutes before Delgado began her super-short term.