With another January upon us, it is important for elected leaders to reflect on the year that just ended and ponder the possibilities for the 12 months that lay ahead, so Assemblyman Mike Morrell, a Conservative Republican representing California’s 40th Assembly District, gave me his thoughts on what should have been done in California’s Legislature last year and where we are going in 2014.
Lainie Sloane: Democrats have a “super majority” in the California Legislature. For those who might not know, a “super majority” gave the Democrats the power to pass tax increases or put constitutional amendments to voters without any Republican cooperation. Being a member of the State Legislature, what are your thoughts on the “super majority,” and what should have been the focus in 2013 to turn California back around?
Assemblyman Morrell: Unfortunately for California, 2013 was a bust on several fronts. Legislative Progressives’ so-called “super majorities” in the Assembly and Senate ignored several of California’s biggest problems in favor of pushing a liberal big government agenda. Progressives believe in the expansion of government and believe government is more capable of governing than citizens.
Toward the top of the Legislature’s list last year should have been job creation. Remember that California struggles with an unemployment rate well above the national average and businesses are still leaving and setting up shop in more job-friendly states like Texas. Yet Sacramento Democrats did little to help us compete and keep these jobs here. They actually imposed more regulations on employers just getting by in our fragile economy.
LS: Yes, we know that Governor Rick Perry (R-TX) periodically visits California to offer businesses a better climate in which to do business in his state. Why are businesses and citizens leaving California?
Assemblyman Morrell: Part of that exodus can be blamed on our tax climate, which despite assurances from legislative leaders that increases would not be on the table. Assembly Democrats approved Assembly Constitutional Amendment 8, which would weaken taxpayer protections by making it easier to pass new taxes at the ballot box.
LS: One new bill that was passed last year was Assembly Bill 29x which requires homeowners in State Responsibility Areas to now pay a fire tax of $150 annually, yet they do not receive any additional fire protection. Additionally, the fire tax violates Proposition 26, which requires any new fee or tax that broadly benefits the public to pass by a two-thirds vote of the Legislature. However, Assembly Bill 29x passed with only a majority vote. I understand you authored a bill to repeal that tax.
Assemblyman Morrell: Yes, but the Democrats refused to approve the measure I authored, (Assembly Bill 124) to repeal the likely illegal fire. One can only wonder what kind of other taxes and fees will surface this year.
LS: What are your thoughts on the exorbitant California employee pensions?
Assemblyman Morrell: Current and future spending is a problem as well, with Sacramento continuing to downplay the severity of our impending unfunded public employee pension liabilities. I’ve read varying reports that pensions could be underfunded to the tune of $300 billion to $800 billion, which should be a concern to us all, including the retirees and the next generation. It’s problematic if we raise taxes after seeing taxpayers move out of our state—it will compound the problem, but it is hard to get Democrats and Republicans to really sit down and deal this.
LS: Then there is the “bathroom bill,” something that was at the top of the liberal agenda when they should have been paying attention to the budget crisis.
Assemblyman Morrell: Correct. At the same time the budget, tax and pension issues fell by the wayside, our friends across the aisle passed a bill which allows our children to share bathrooms, school showers, and other facilities, violating the majority of students’ privacy and jeopardizing their innocence. The good news is that a repeal of 1266 will be put before the voters in the June election.
LS: In 2011, the Senate District boundary lines were redrawn by the Citizens’ Redistricting Commission. As a result, some communities, known as deferred areas, were left without a representative until the 2014 election. Until that time, the Senate Rules Committee assigned a Senator to provide constituent services to each deferred area. You have chosen to run for California’s 23rd Senate District in a special election to be held March 25. If you are chosen to serve again in this new capacity, what will you try to do to bring change in 2014?
Assemblyman Morrell: California can and must do better in 2014. It starts with making our state business-friendly again. For decades, Americans and people from all over the world came to California in search of economic opportunity. We need to return to that same spirit and allow job creators the freedom to do what they do best: create jobs.
Reducing our state’s regulatory burden on employers is a necessary first step in that process. We must look to cut taxes and make them more predictable. It is difficult to set up shop in California if the threat of higher taxes is constantly looming on the horizon. Filling these jobs, however, will require a prepared workforce and a renewed focus on education.
LS: What can Californians do to help at their local level?
Assemblyman Morrell: Beginning this year, parents and community leaders have a unique opportunity to shape how state dollars will be spent in the classroom through the Local Control Funding Formula approved in last year’s budget—a step in the right direction. Moving toward local control is a crucial strategy for improving our schools, but one that must also include increasing parent choice through charter schools and other initiatives.
Underlying all these priorities, however, is the basic need to return to our nation’s founding principles of limited government. The Legislature cannot continue overstepping its bounds and expect Californians to stand idly by and watch. With every creation or expansion of a state program comes the opportunity for more waste and fraud, with few consequences if it occurs.
Sacramento does not always have to step in and save the day. The people can be trusted to decide for themselves how to live their lives.
Governor Brown once said, “Not every human problem deserves a law,” and I believe the same can be applied to government in general. If he and his Democrat colleagues in the Legislature heed that prudent advice, California could be on the way to a productive 2014.
Assemblyman Mike Morrell, R-Rancho Cucamonga, represents the 40th Assembly District in the California Legislature. Assemblyman Morrell earned an A+ from the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers’ Association, giving him 100% on key votes.