Q and A with Assemblyman Rick Keen
Between appearances at various organizations last Friday, State Assemblyman Rick Keene sat down with the Sierra Sun to answer a few questions.
Here are his thoughts on the budget, the economy, the environment and Gov. Gray Davis.
We hear a lot about what might be cut from the state budget, but what does the budget crisis mean to an average Truckee family?
At this point all we’ve done is cut our budget by about 3.5 percent. We have an almost $80 billion a year budget in general funds. If you can figure out how that affects certain agencies, agency by agency, but that’s kind of where we are now.
The bigger question is what we’re about ready to do, which is to enter into discussions about how to fix the other $25 billion that we have delayed. The concern that some of us had is that the longer we wait to do this [balance the budget], we’re going about a billion dollars in the hole every month.
We’re just entering the second phase of discussions, which is next [year’s budget]. We didn’t want to close down the discussion on last year’s issues because we thought that there were things that could be cut that would not affect basic services.
Unfortunately the folks who are in control of our body in the assembly would not consider it. As a matter of protest, when [the Democrat leadership] went to try to adjourn the last session, we voted no. We’re doing everything we can to bring up as many options as possible with our colleagues on the other side of the aisle but at this point they’re not allowing them to be discussed.
As a city councilman you understand the situation in which towns and cities may find themselves with the budget crisis – especially with basic services.
I was very surprised to find that when you go to Sacramento the state mandated programs that they have for counties specifically, but also for cities and other jurisdictions, [the state] sees as local assistance. So in their way of looking at it they think this is money they’re helping local governments with, but from a local government perspective these are mandates that they have no choice to meet. There just is a huge disconnect in the way they view these things.
We’re asking that they consider just block granting those funds [funds that would normally go to state mandated programs] to counties and cities and school districts, where ever it can be done. If we could do that it would be a wonderful break for cities and counties and local districts because they would have the flexibility to put the monies where they would need to put them.
When you cut a county by 5 percent it may seem like in Sacramento speak that you’re not making a big impact, but when everything is predetermined from the state and you don’t relieve them of the mandates it’s a huge hit to counties.
Affordable housing is mandated by the state, but not funded by the state and the money that could be used for affordable housing may be taken away because of the budget crisis. What is your position on this situation?
We are having this discussion currently. And we brought that issue up – that if you’re cutting housing money you need to cut mandates for housing as well. The folks on the other side have not been listening to that so far. But here we are, we’ve been there for 10 weeks, I’ve been a legislator in Sacramento for 10 weeks, and maybe if you keep repeating something over and over long enough maybe people will get it. You can’t ask local jurisdictions to do things that in Sacramento seem to make sense and not give them [money to do it].
How can you, in your position, go about making sure Truckee and the Sierra gets its fair share of conservation funding?
I am lead Republican on Proposition 50 for the Assembly. I have my staff researching what projects are out there and what projects will benefit my district and make sure we get an adequate share of the dollars spent up here. But I don’t know the perimeters yet. It’s a little bit early. I’m going to have to have a list of projects and the community’s priorities established before we ever get there.
You’re definitely a minority in state government. What is it like working in your position?
I think it’s great. There’s a different role you play when you’re in the minority then when you’re the majority. You have the ability to critique.
One of the sad realities of being in the minority currently is that now that they’ve run out of money then you have much more influence over what’s going on. Normally, in good economic times, when there’s plenty of money and all they need are majority votes and there’s no downside [to spending], then they don’t need Republicans.
Now they actually have to talk to us about some things. For instance, this bond [Proposition 50] issue is a good issue because they need some Republican votes to pass it. Now they have to talk to us and since we have a north state representative involved in this discussion we may be able to weigh in better now then we have in a long time on this issue. Now we have a place at the table.
If you had complete control of the budget, what would you cut, what taxes would you increase to balance the budget?
I wouldn’t increase taxes because we have significant resources. Our budget has increased by almost 30 percent in four years. If we could I’d roll everything back to four years ago. When we started this we had a $9 billion surplus, we had a $60 billion budget. I would take the budget we had four years ago and look at everything we added past that. And I’d start seeing which are the programs we have that are within our means and are the most essential. And I would say, “I know that we’ve gone out and made obligations beyond that but we cannot afford that.” We were able to fund education then [four years ago], we were able to build roads then.
How do you feel about the recall of Gov. Davis and do you think that’s an appropriate way to fix the problems California faces?
It’s a mixed bag because, in some respects, the voters just made that decision. If you want to ask me, do I think he’s doing a competent job? No. Do I think that the voters are wrong in electing him this year? Yes. I think they made a major mistake because they took their eyes off the ball, and were focusing on a smear campaign instead of the issue of competency.
The other thing is you’ve got to be careful of is getting what you wish for. If somebody makes a mess I think they should have to clean it up. But can we afford another four years of this guy? No. So it really is a mixed issue. We’re not seeing the leadership out of the governor’s office that we’d like to see and that we should see. On the other had whoever walks in is going to have a major mess on their hands. And they’re going to get blamed for how it comes out.