Editor’s Note: in Part Four of OC Daily’s interview with Josh Newman (conducted on August 3), the dark horse Democratic candidate in Senate District 29, we talk more about taxes, minimum wage increases, the AB 32 and reforming environmental regulations.
Matthew Cunningham: There’s talk of a mileage tax on transportation permits…let me ask you yes or no questions. I’m having difficulty getting yes-or-no answers. Do you favor-
Josh Newman: They’re not all yes or no questions.
MC: When you’re voting as a state senator, it’s yes or no.
JN: It’s yes or no once it gets out of committee, but it’s not yes or no before that. You know that, right?
MC: I understand that bills change, but at some point it’s yes or no.
JN: Is this a yes or no question?
MC: Do you support or oppose a mileage tax?
JN: Californians aren’t paying a mileage tax. We’re not doing it. It will not appeal to people. If you think back to the Davis recall, one of the issues Arnold Schwarzenegger pushed was repealing the vehicle registration fees. We are not going to get to a situation in California where Californians are going to pay a mileage tax.
MC: Fair enough. I think that there’s the-
JN: Irrespective of the logic of the benefits, that’s a no. To replace the gas tax with a mileage tax, that would drive people insane.
MC: It would feel invasive. Voters just have the heebie jeebies about the idea.
Minimum Wage Hikes; AB 32
MC: Do you support an increase in minimum wage, and if so, by how much?
JN: The answer is yes, but we could have phased in more methodically. They could have taken into account better cost of living differences across different parts of California. We could have probably been more deliberate about trying to learn from some current experiments in Seattle, and in New York, and in Los Angeles, but generally yes.
MC: AB 32, which requires reducing bringing GHG emissions down to 1990 levels by 2020, reducing approximately 15% below emissions under business normal situations. One – would you have voted for that bill? And two… well first, would you have voted for AB 32?
JN: As presented, the enforcement mechanisms are so vague that I think that’s a recipe for problems down the road.
MC: If you had been a legislator for that time that came up, you would have had to vote yes or no. Would you have voted yes or no, or abstained? That was completed legislation.
JN: I might have been on one of these committees. I’m sorry. So the answer is no.
MC: What changes would you make now to AB 32 if you had the power to do so?
JN: To AB 32?
MC: Yes. Any environmental legislation, or even give me a couple of examples off if you can think of some. It doesn’t have to be a comprehensive-
JN: There is that question of, what’s the right balance of California being a leader and California being too far out front of other states on other issues, where climate change is not only a national issue, it’s a global issue. Where you presume the need to do things at the state level, I think you can do things like encourage alternative fuels. You can do things like encourage alternative fuel vehicles by using the system. But simply to legislate the quality of the environment, it’s a really challenging thing to do. And it hasn’t gone to unanticipated consequences that are real, that I think people can have deliberate issues with.
MC: There seems to be a consensus that CEQA needs reform, but it never happens – except for narrowly-tailored bills exempting specific, favored projects, like a sports stadium. from CEQA. Do you think, if it’s okay to do that, if it was okay to kind of waive it in order to rebuild the freeways after the Northridge earthquake, why wouldn’t it-
JN: Good question, and what you’re getting back to that earlier question where we have a bunch of rules and regulations that are so deliberate that the only way to get something done is to waive it for a particular constituency, and if that’s the problem, if that’s the issue, that’s the problem.
MC: CEQA was passed in the early Seventies but it’s treated like the 10 Commandments. Nobody can touch it. Given Democratic control of the legislature for the foreseeable future, votes for CEQA reforms would have to sponsored by Democrats with Republican votes.
JN: I’m endorsed by the Sierra Club, and during the endorsement process, they said, “We went to your website. We have some concerns about your page on the environment.”
My page on the environment said very simply: there are trade offs for anything. We have to be cognizant of those trade offs, so as a perfect example, California has a deficiency in refining capacity. To get back to your earlier question, which is if we have a specific, almost unique standard for fuel formulation in California and as demand grows, how do you meet it if you don’t have the capacity to deliver that supply? The only way to do that is to create more refining capacity in California, but nobody wants a refinery anywhere near their jurisdiction, or a power generation plant, for that matter. What are you going to do?
As a state, we have to realize we either have to stop growing in certain ways, or we have to recognize that as a reality and figure out. There has to be some sort of consensus because we can’t..,or in a crisis we have to bring in fuel from other states, but that’s not tenable long term in a state this big, and where the economy is subject to those kinds of pressures.
MC: Let’s talk more about refinery capacity? A refinery goes offline and it affects prices at the pump.
JN: Right. You probably know this, but during the most recent one was the refinery in Torrance, right? There’s always the question is, is it manipulated or not? You don’t know. The only other source for our particular fuel mix is the country of Singapore. How nuts is that? One thing California could do, if we really believe that there’s value in this particular formulation, is work more closely with neighboring states and we’d all have a shared standard. Then you wouldn’t have this problem at all, but you don’t have that. The question is, what do you do, because current refining capacity is going to be insufficient, no matter how environmentally responsible we are, in 10 years, and you sort of know that.
MC: But state rules make it really expensive. Would you agree or disagree with the statement that CEQA has gone from a bill that was well-intentioned in the early 1970s – environmentally friendly and necessary to protect the environment – to applications and uses not envisioned by the authors -as a tool stop economic development-
JN: It’s become unwieldy, like a lot of things, like Prop 98, like Prop 13. I think you see that over and over in California, where you have what seemed like a good set of goals or single goal, and then you had a framework or laid for a framework that was green-faced, that took into account 1978 reality, 1996 reality, whatever it is, and here we are in 2016, and the world doesn’t wait. You have to take into account the change in conditions in the world and recognize that. I think then you have to have conversations at the legislative level. I think it has to change somehow, so how do we find the right balance that addresses, or at least maintains faith with that original goal, but also takes into account the current reality.
Tomorrow in the 5th and final segment of the interview, Newman talks about his stances on the SCAQMD, High-Speed Rail and other issues.