Patch sent questionnaires to the candidates running for the seat in the 79th Assembly District race. Pat Washington is an educator and an equal-rights activist. Her opponents in Tuesday's open primary election are Mary England, Matt Mendoza, Sid Voorakkara, Shirley Weber and Rudy Ramirez.
Patch: I’m a 37-year-old public school teacher, and every year I fear losing my job. Why should I vote for you?
Pat Washington: Proposition 98 approved by California voters in 1988 as an amendment to the State Constitution, established a minimum annual funding level for K-12 schools and community colleges. Unfortunately, in 2011, the state legislature took $5 billion from Prop 98 funds to reimburse counties for taking on some state responsibilities, resulting in K-12 schools and community colleges receiving less than the minimum required. The state was sued for violating Prop 98, but the court’s ruling has not yet been finalized.
In addition, the Governor placed an initiative measure on the November 2012 ballot that will increase taxes on high wage earners and slightly increase the state’s sales tax, providing about $6.9 billion for schools. However, if the initiative is not approved, schools will face cuts of about $5.5 billion.
As you can see, Sacramento politicians have trouble paying the state’s bills. In fact, the state has a structural deficit that, if not addressed, will continue to result in greater deficits and more cuts in services.
I believe the state must overhaul its budget process and institute performance-based budgeting. The Governor and the legislature lack a plan for balancing the budget and funding the services we need, especially education. I want to use performance information to make budget decisions so if a state department performs well, it receives a certain amount of funding and if it does not do well, it will receive less. It would be like grading tests, where those who received A’s earn the right to a certain amount of funds and those who receive Ds or Fs are further down the list as to what they receive. A long-term strategic plan and a performance measurement system related to budgeting will stop the budget problems and fund important things like K-12 and community colleges, as well as teachers.
Patch: I’m 52 and own a greeting card shop, and this economy is still killing me. Why should I vote for you?
Washington: When elected, I will work to reduce the minimum franchise tax on small businesses and provide incentives for businesses and corporations that move their headquarters to California and employ California residents.
Patch: I’m 45 and have been out of work for 14 months. I’m well educated, but employers won’t even let me in the door. Why should I vote for you?
Washington: Many people who find themselves unemployed for some time continue to look for employment with companies like their previous employer for a job like their previous job. In today’s high-tech marketplace, that is not always possible. There are many jobs open, but they may not be in your field. If that’s the case, you may want to re-train or re-educate yourself for a new career.
In addition to making the decision to retrain for a new job, another difficult decision is in what field to train. Serious thought into the individual likes and desires about travel, pay, work location, hours and growth potential of a new career may make the decision less difficult. Retraining is easier if the subject matter is something interesting.
There are government benefits available, as well as programs available through some companies that offer retraining to prepare employees for a certain skill set.
“Green” jobs are relatively new, but they are growing exponentially. Green jobs typically deal with reducing pollution or conserving resources. The sectors include renewable energy, low-impact construction, bio-fuels, “clean transportation,” environmental compliance and conservation-minded water and waste management.
San Diego is one of the nation's 10 largest centers of green jobs, with about 12,000 positions in the metropolitan area, according to a study by the U.S. Conference of Mayors. The same study projected that U.S. green jobs would rise from about 750,000 today to 2.5 million in 2018.
A major green sector in the county is alternative energy like solar and wind power systems, as San Diego Gas and Electric strives to meet the state’s requirement that investor-owned utilities make renewable energy 33% of their total energy output by 2020.
San Diego's colleges and universities also have joined the green-jobs trend. California State University San Marcos announced a partnership with Sacramento State University to provide a new “green business operations” certificate program to help professionals adopt workplace conservation practices. National University, based in La Jolla, offers a degree in environmental science and policy. It's also developing a master's program in sustainability issues.
Design the retraining program to match requirements of your desired employment. Practice new skills and hone existing ones for more confidence.
Retraining is becoming more commonplace. If viewed as an opportunity for advancement and/or personal growth, the fear of the unknown can be replaced with anticipation. If designed with personal interest in mind, retraining can enhance enthusiasm.
Patch: I’m 18 and getting into the state university system is harder than ever—and more expensive. Why should I vote for you?
Washington: As an educator at San Diego State University and U.C. San Diego, I understand the growing difficulty and cost associated with admittance to one of California’s public universities and colleges.
A college education is necessary for a person to be successful in today’s economy. The state’s higher education system is very important to the quality of life and economic vitality of the state over the next 20 years. California will face a shortage of college-educated residents needed for the jobs of the future. PPIC research has shown that the state will have a shortage of 1 million college-educated workers by 2025.
To improve educational quality significantly, the amount of state funding must be increased. Although most Californians express deep concerns about the fiscal situation of the higher education system, half say they are unwilling to pay higher taxes to maintain current funding for public colleges and universities.
Our tax dollars need to be spent in the classroom, with equal opportunities for all our students. Legislators must be prohibited from raiding Prop 98 funds that are constitutionally mandated to go to K-12 and community colleges. Our state colleges and universities belong to California families. We need to roll back tuition and fee increases, restore courses that have been cut, and provide access for all California students to California public schools, colleges and universities.
Ten days before the start of the San Diego State University's Fall 2010 application period, university administrators changed the rules and denied admission to 1,740 qualified and eligible local students. I led the building of a coalition to hold SDSU accountable, taking the issue to legislators, organizing neighborhood meetings, gathering signatures and building a broad-based movement to demand that our state universities be open and accessible to our students. Winning the fight for the 1,740 meant that more of our local students were admitted and that places they had earned at SDSU weren't given to out-of-state or international students.
It's time to roll back tax cuts that millionaires and corporations have pushed through the legislature, sometimes in the middle of the night. As the rich have had their taxes cut, working families have paid with higher fees, higher tuition and reduced services.
Instead of looking for inefficiencies in education, state legislators need to look at the inefficiencies in the state budget. I would begin by pointing out the structural budget deficit whereby the state commits to spending more money than it brings in every year. Until legislators learn to do basic math, education funding must be a priority over other budget items.
Patch: I’m 39 and worried about our country’s moral fabric, since it is moving toward gay marriage and marijuana legalization. My church is my main source of strength. Why should I vote for you?
Washington: I am greatly concerned about the tearing of our country’s moral fabric. In addition, I am very concerned about the lack of jobs and the number of people who are unemployed. I am concerned about the massive cuts in K-12 education, as well as community colleges, Cal State colleges and universities, and the U.C. system, all of which have been accompanied by tuition and student fee increases. I’m concerned about how mortgage companies lied to people and allowed them to purchase homes they could not afford, only to foreclose on them a few years later. Now, those foreclosed homes are sitting empty, driving down the cost of other homes in the community, essentially trapping those homeowners in their home and their neighborhood for years to come. In addition, I’m quite concerned about the lack of access to affordable, quality health care because I believe everyone should have some sort of health care and because those who do not have health care end up raising the rates for the rest of us by using the emergency room as their primary method of seeking medical assistance.
There are quite a few things with which to be concerned today. My job as your state Assembly representative will be to assist constituents like you with your concerns. However, one person can solve very few issues alone. Most of our pressing concerns will require many people and organizations like you and the members of your church working together to achieve change. I look forward to the opportunity to work with you to alleviate your concerns.
Patch: I’m 90 and can’t leave my house because I hear police sirens all the time and my neighbors had their car broken into. Why should I vote for you?
Washington: In 2011, there was a 22 percent increase in the number of homicides, which escalated in number from 67 to 82. Property crime was down, but some types of larcenies increased in number and there were increases in all three categories of property crime in the last three months of 2011 when compared to 2010.
However, among those crimes that effect residents like you on a daily basis, the San Diego region’s crime rates in decreased overall in 2011 and continue to decrease this year.
The level of police staffing is determined by each city in the region and the County of San Diego. There are some federal funds, mostly in the form of grants, which are secured and distributed by the state. In the state Assembly, I can be helpful with determining which acts are crimes, as well as putting criminals in jail and keeping them there. As your Assembly member, I will do everything possible to keep you safe and secure in your home and in your neighborhood.
Patch: I’m a 47-year-old musician, but singing a sad tune. I’m losing my house to foreclosure. Why should I vote for you?
A home is generally a family’s largest investment and greatest asset. Sub-prime mortgage loans led to widespread foreclosures, pushing thousands of working families out of their homes. The wave of foreclosures has disproportionately affected working class neighborhoods. While housing prices dropped significantly, credit has been denied for most working families, while the demand for affordable housing continues to far exceed the supply.
I plan to hold the mortgage companies accountable for the mess they created. It’s time for financial institutions that have been bailed out by taxpayer dollars to do more to keep struggling homeowners in their homes. I want to place an immediate moratorium on foreclosed homes until a complete and comprehensive third party loan modification, refinance, principal write-down, and other foreclosure/loss mitigation process is undertaken, with the goal of reducing foreclosures in a manner that is simple, beneficial, timely and effective for homeowners.
Patch: I’m a 67-year-old rancher, and illegals use my yard to relieve themselves. The border is still wide open. Why should I vote for you?
Washington: I believe that the vast majority of undocumented immigrants would not be in the U.S. if there were not employers willing to hire them. That is not the case. Therefore, I support legislation that would provide conditional permanent residency to certain illegal residents without criminal records who graduate from U.S. high schools, arrived in the United States as minors, and lived in the country continuously for at least five years prior to the bill's enactment. If they were to complete two years in the military or two years at a four-year institution of higher learning, they would obtain temporary residency for a six-year period. Within the six-year period, they could qualify for permanent residency if they acquired a degree from an institution of higher education in the United States, or have completed at least 2 years, in good standing, in a program for a bachelor's degree or higher degree in the United States, or have served in the armed services for at least 2 years and, if discharged, have received an honorable discharge.
Any illegal person whose permanent resident status is terminated is returned to the immigration status the alien had immediately prior to receiving conditional permanent resident status under the legislation.
If they have a job and a home, I think they will stop relieving themselves in your yard. You might even find a ranch hand to help with your ranch.
Patch: I’m 35 and see nothing happening in Sacramento or Washington to solve my problems. All I see are the extreme wings of both parties blaming each other and getting nothing done. Why should I vote for you?
Washington: Partisan political polarization is the highest the worst it has been since the 1890s. One reason is that the majority of districts are drawn to be overwhelmingly Republican or Democratic, often to protect incumbents. Therefore, one party's nominee is virtually assured of winning the general election.
Even with the turmoil of redistricting, the nonpartisan Cook Political Report rated only 53 of the nation's 435 congressional districts as competitive in 2012 and another 61 that might become competitive. That means control of three-fourths of congress will remain Democratic or Republican.
The safer the elected official becomes, the less that official is concerned about the lack of cooperation. Very few elected officials are “moderate” or “centrist” and willing to work across the aisle.
Although California had an impartial citizen’s panel redrawing state legislative and congressional lines to reflect population changes and not politics, the majority of states continue to put politics first.
The other reform measure in California is open primaries, whereby the top two finishers run against one another in the general election, regardless of party affiliation. This approach will likely give voters the option of more centrist contenders even in solidly Republican or Democratic districts. However, it will take another two or here election cycles to see the difference.
There are other procedural rules that could make a difference, including lowering the threshold for approval of the state budget from 66 percent to 50 percent. Another problem is members returning to their districts on Wednesday nights or Thursday afternoons and returning Monday mornings. There is no opportunity for individual legislators to get to know each other on a personal basis.
Two other recommendations are feasible. One is to have lawmakers meet for three weeks, then take one week off to return to their districts. The other is to create a unicameral legislature where elected officials are not split into one house of Assembly members and another of Senators, but instead have a single house where all legislators are equal. It would stop the duplication of effort that currently occurs when both the Assembly and the state Senate must separately approve a bill, then take it to a conference committee. That would reduce the time it takes to get things accomplished and would make for sessions that do not take almost the entire year.
Steps are being taken to fix the situation in Sacramento. Until then, more voters need to be engaged to hold elected officials accountable.