Good Times recently sat down with Assemblymember Bill Monning to explore what’s going on in Sacramento. Monning visited GT headquarters on Friday, July 20, just a few hours after news of the State Parks scandal broke. The State Parks Director had resigned and her second in command was fired after a $54 million unreported surplus was discovered in two separate State Parks accounts. Here’s an excerpt from our conversation.
How can a government agency get away with hiding $54 million—especially while also overseeing closures of state parks?
It’s surprising and shocking and distressing. There’s been a lot of extraordinary effort [to save state parks] and clearly not knowing about those resources has made that work even tougher. This is not a laughing matter, but I’d say we are usually accused of spending money we don’t have, so it’s rather surprising to find there is money that hadn’t been accounted for. Not excusing malfeasance, the positive is that it will create some more flexibility to address some of the tough issues that State Parks is facing right now.
Regardless, it doesn’t exactly improve confidence in the state government. How can Sacramento ask for public trust when things like this come up?
I don’t disagree. It’s going to require investigation. I hope it’s an aberration. I certainly am not aware of other departments sitting on resources they didn’t know they had. We’ll see what we learn. Perhaps it’s another wake up call that people in positions of responsibility need to be responsible.
imagine that. You recently spoke to GT about how the Affordable Care Act [ACA] will hit home for Californians. As a follow-up to that, how will the California Health Benefit Exchange survive if the federal act is repealed or if a new president comes into office and does away with it?
We moved forward for the last two years, since the signing of the ACA, anticipating that the [Supreme] Court would uphold it. Some people said we should wait to see what the court does, but fortunately from my point of view, the court did uphold the act. … The next hurtle will be in November. It will be critical for President [Barack] Obama to be re-elected to ensure that we can move forward. … It’s really too good not to act in good faith right now. From a public health point of view, if we can prevent a single death or allow a family to gain access to preventative care, [then] we should take advantage of it and cross the bridge of a change of course when we get there.
When it comes to health-related legislation, whether it’s a soda tax, insurance mandates, or restricting vending machines at schools, a key opposition argument is that it isn’t the government’s place to regulate what people eat or how they take care of themselves. You support many of these types of legislation. Why do you believe the government should step in and legislate in these cases?
I understand those who would argue that government should stay out of our lives and that it should be the parents’ responsibility to determine what their children eat. In a perfect world, that would work. But if you look at the status quo in California, it’s clearly not working. A third of the children born in California in the year 2000 will have preventable type-two diabetes by age 25. Among Latino and African American kids, that figure goes up to 50 percent. We have a social-economic dynamic where not everybody is starting at the same place. People don’t always have similar access to food or education opportunity. … I take the position that if government doesn’t provide support at the front end, we all as taxpayers are shouldering the cost.
Do you think the economic aspect of that argument is taking root in Sacramento?
It’s not an easy one to translate. It’s takes connecting point a—best practices—to b—that kid who is left to her own devices today or has access to soda machines selling that product less expensively than the same amount of water—to c—that in 10 or 20 years she will be dealing with complicated diabetes, requiring regular medical attention, pharmaceutical regiments, hospitalizations, [and] a shortened life span. That just took me, what, 45 seconds to say all of that? It is an educational process.
Even among legislators?
Yes, but in the legislature, I’d say it’s a little more cut and dry. Unfortunately it’s a little more partisan. If there is a revenue, tax side to a solution, our minority party now has taken a pledge [the Grover Norquist pledge] that they’ll never vote to raise a tax. That didn’t exist 10 or 15 years ago when, when there were deficits in California, there would be a solution that combined spending cuts and revenue increases. That would never happen today.