In Part 2 of my interview with 29th Senate District candidate Assemblywoman Ling Ling Chang, I ask her about the state tax and regulatory burden on the economy, and her efforts to advance education reform.
Matthew Cunningham: California imposes one of the highest tax burdens of any state in the Union. What is your political philosophy when it comes to taxation? How would you pursue tax reform?
Ling Ling Chang: That’s a great question. I think it’s vital to lower the tax burden on Californians. People should have first claim on the fruits of their labor, not the government. Our tax structure should be broader, encourage job and business formation, and also generate revenue for the state in a more stable way.
At the same time, that’s easier said than done in a state like California. We can’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. I carried a bill with one of my Democrat colleagues to repeal the sales tax on tampons, and some of my conservative Republican colleagues criticized it as “picking winners and losers” where to cut taxes, saying we need more comprehensive tax reform.
If I could have comprehensive sales tax reform, I would love, love, love, love to do that. I would like a lower, flatter income tax, for example. But for this particular issue – this item is not a luxury item. It’s a medical necessity. I agree with Milton Friedman. He was for any repeal of a tax for any reason, any time, anywhere.
It’s not just for women, it’s for families. You’re paying for it. You’re paying for it for your daughters and your wives, and it goes back to any time you can repeal a tax, you should do it. An all-or-nothing approach to reducing the tax burden is going to get us nothing.
MC: What other reforms are necessary to spur more economic growth and job creation in California?
LLC: What I hear about most often from business owners and leaders the district is less about taxes and more about the regulatory burden. Those costs are so high it’s really taxation by another name, by other means. Small businesses tell me time and time again to talk about how much they could reduce the cost of doing business if they moved out of state. One small business owner had calculated the savings would be a million buck. It’s a regulatory burden, it’s Obamacare -it’s a whole host of things that has put such a heavy burden on employers. What I keep telling all of these business owner is rather than preaching to the choir, to legislator like myself who get it – please also reach out to the Democrats, because sometimes in their districts, they don’t have a lot of small business owners there, and they don’t hear from them.
A lot of them really don’t understand what’s going on. They’re influenced by the media stories claiming our business growth rate is going up. They don’t believe businesses are being threatened or are leaving California. But yeah – businesses are leaving California, and taking their jobs with them. State government makes it very difficult for them to do business in California. The great weather and all that only goes so far. They don’t want to move out of state, but at some point they don’t have a choice if they want to compete and stay in business.
The first bill that I introduced was to get the GO Biz…
MC: What’s GO Biz?
LLC:…the Governor’s Office of Business an d Economic Development…to actually evaluate existing legislation or laws, pertaining to businesses, and identify duplicative laws and regulations, rules that putting an unnecessary burden on the economy. It didn’t pass, but I have found there are Democrats in the legislature willing to take a look at the unintended consequences of a laws and regulations with a fresh set of eyes.
MC: Let’s talk about education reform. What are your priorities? Where should we start in order to improve public education in California?
LLC: We need to protect charter schools from teachers union efforts to restrict and over-regulate them. We should be expanding charters schools and parental choice in education. Charter schools have a tremendous success rate, and we should encourage more. These are issues where liberal Democrats are really out of step with the minorities and working families they claim to speak for. The Parent Trigger Law is a great tool for empowering families to provide their children with a better quality education by converting poor-performing schools in charter schools. Former Senator Gloria Romero authored that law. She’s a Democrat and has been a real fighter for education reform, and she’s endorsed me for state Senate.
Another education issue I’ve been working on is Districts of Choice. I’ve been working on this with Senator Huff even before I was elected.
MC: Explain what district-of-choice is?
LLC: District of choice allows for parents to send their children to a school in any school district they want.
MC: Even if they live in a different district?
LLC: Yes. It’s really only limited by distance and mobility.
MC: How does that work in practice?
LLC: It varies. Some districts use a lottery system. But lower performing districts don’t like it because they lose students to better districts with better schools, which means they lose the funding that goes with those students. Parents vote with their feet. They know which are the good schools and which are the bad schools, and they do whatever they can to place their kids in a better school.
MC: It didn’t get renewed this year, did it?
LLC: No, it didn’t, even though it gives kids the chance to get a better education at a better school. The Legislative Analyst’s Office issued a report saying it is a great program and that it should be renewed for a longer period of time. That it didn’t is really unfortunate and has caused a lot of distress. There were a lot of frantic parents unsure of what will happen to their kids.
MC: So what’s next?
LLC: Long story short, I was able to work it through with Senator Huff and several Democratic colleagues who support the district-of-choice program. Their constituents would be severely impacted if the program ended. We scrambled and succeeded in getting [Assemblymember] Lorena Gonzalez – who had been holding it up in the Appropriations Committee — to do a joint statement with me basically saying, “Hey, don’t worry parents. You’re not going to be displaced. We’re going to be working together next year on a solution. We’re going to come together, work on a bipartisan way to address some of the issues, and we’ll try to alleviate some of your concerns.”
That was a huge win. And literally, December 5th, after I get sworn, that day will be putting together a bipartisan coalition, we’ll be introducing the bill regarding extension of District-of-Choice.
Another priority is supporting STEM education. My background is in STEM education, having run a non-profit science education program for nine years prior to getting elected to the assembly. STEM has always been a priority.
This year, I introduced a bill to allow high schools who are sufficient in science, technology, engineering, and math, to affix the STEM seal on their diploma, and it moved the bill all the way through.
STEM education. Parental choice. I love education. I t would be great to do even more on education reform, somehow, but all of those bills get held. It’s gotten to the point where Democrat Dr. Shirley Weber, a Democrat Assemblywoman, who used to be a teacher, she’s a professor, she’s said, “When are we going to start thinking about our kids?” She was real force for bi-partisan education reform, which was huge this year. I am cautiously optimistic that we can get things done, given the 2014 class that has come in and really wanted to try to make a difference and an impact.