Fresh off the heels of the last legislative session, Assemblymember Bill Monning stopped by GT headquarters to answer some questions about what was accomplished, his bid for state senate, what the heck to do about the sorry state of California, and much more.
Looking back at the legislative year that just ended, what were some of the highlights?
The clear highlight, what eclipsed everything, was the budget. The good, the bad and the ugly. We achieved a budget agreement by the constitutional deadline of June 30 for the first time in years. In part we were able to do that because we have majority vote now to pass a budget, but we were still unable to get the two-thirds necessary to go to the voters to extend current revenues, so that meant we had to cut deeper. The bad and the ugly is the budget that was balanced on time required further cuts to higher education, and health and human services.
.As someone who has several institutes of higher education in your district, how did it feel to see those cuts enacted?
Well, I would applaud the lobbying efforts of student organizations and also their recognition that they weren’t being looked at by themselves—that there were tradeoffs with disability, health and human services, cuts to adult health daycare … It’s a Sophie’s Choice. We could have not cut higher education at all, and cut deeper into safety net programs. But students’ aren’t advocating that that’s a good solution either. So the question is how do you equitably share the pain and, in the long-term, how do we build out of this recession in a manner that reduces unemployment, raises revenue for the state, and allows us to fund higher education, safety net programs, and K-12 in a way that approximates what most Californians want.
Republicans who are in office now don’t want anything to do with raising taxes, or any bill that even extends taxes. Where to go from here? Do you see that changing?
Some of that may be addressed with re-districting. It changed lines for congressional, state senate and assembly seats, without regard to voter registration. There is a prospect that, under these new lines, we [Democrats] can secure two-thirds majority in the senate and it’s a possibility in the assembly, but that’s more of a stretch. 2012 will be a fascinating year.
You recently announced your bid for the state senate in 2012. Things aren’t so great in the State of California right now—what makes you want to keep going at this?
It’s a really fair question—my wife and kids ask me the same question. What people don’t see about this job is that in the day to day I work with incredible people. I look at my bill package, and while not changing all of the doom and gloom and big budget picture, I look at it as making a difference in real people’s lives. We passed a bill last week that would extend health plan coverage to families with kids with autism. We meet families with children with autism, and for those families, [this bill] is very real. I see the senate seat as an opportunity to use what I’ve learned so far working in state government and extend it to a broader region, rooted in a certain set of values and a philosophy that differs dramatically from the current incumbent. … I feel very lucky to even aspire to do this. [As for] the hardships that come with it, we step forward voluntarily so I make a habit of not complaining about hardships.
But speaking of doom and gloom yet to be faced, what fundamental changes do you think need to be made to the state government?
Ultimately the reform necessary relates to the budget and how we prioritize the state’s needs, from education to the environment to the economy. We need to promote and open up public discourse. What should California be investing in higher education? In safety net programs? What’s a reasonable amount? [I’m interested in] drawing people out—what’s your vision of California? That gets to looking at the fundamental structure of our tax code, who’s paying what share, are people paying their fair share, and are some people shouldering too much?