VISIONS OF CALIFORNIA : Through the eyes of Orange County's Republican Legislators : Taxes : Lawmakers Have Their Own 'Simple' Solutions

Orange County's Republican lawmakers have some pretty clear ideas about what they would do to change the state taxation system, given the opportunity.

Sen. John Seymour of Anaheim favors boiling down California income tax law to one calculation: Require everyone to pay to the state a fixed percentage of whatever he or she paid the federal government.

"If I had my way, the tax conformity bill (passed late in the 1987 session) would have said, 'Pay the state of California X percent of what you pay the feds.' Done. That's it. No more," Seymour said. "It would be that simple."

Assemblyman John Lewis of Orange would combine a proposal similar to Seymour's with a strong push for replacing the federal tax system with a flat tax, under which everyone would pay the same percentage of his or her income. Such a move would wipe out the income-tax bureaucracy in one step, Lewis argues.

Huntington Beach Assemblyman Nolan Frizzelle would scrap the state income tax and replace it with a higher sales tax, possibly doubled, a proposal he says would give consumers an option they don't now have: They could avoid paying taxes by spending less money and saving more.

Assemblyman Gil Ferguson of Newport Beach wants all taxes and fees to be felt by the consumer, who he believes ultimately pays them anyway. He argues, for example, that airport landing fees should be charged directly to the customer's plane ticket rather than levied on the airlines and then passed on to consumers as an invisible cost.

"I'm for making all taxes and every tax out front where the consumer sees it, where the taxpayer pays for it," Ferguson said.

Assemblyman Ross Johnson of La Habra favors updating Proposition 13 to eliminate provisions that result in higher taxes for anyone who bought a house after 1977. Under Johnson's proposal, property taxes could not go up more than 2% a year regardless of whether there was a change of ownership.

Regulation

Rule of 'Less Is More' Has Some Exceptions

As a group, the 12 Republicans who represent parts of Orange County in the Legislature have a consistent outlook on government: Less is better.

But pull them aside individually, and you soon find that most have found an area or two they wouldn't mind regulating a little more.

Sen. John Seymour of Anaheim, for example, favors requiring local school districts to train their teachers in spotting "risk-taking" behavior in their students. Such a mandate is necessary because the schools find it too easy to concentrate on well-behaved students and shun those who act up, he said.

"There's an old adage that when you're up to your fanny in alligators, it's a little difficult to remember that your objective is to drain the swamp," Seymour said. "That's where you find local school districts today. It's just not high on their priority list."

Sen. William Campbell, who represents parts of central Orange County, has written legislation raising state licensing fees for accountants and proposing that auto dealers be required to post higher bonds with the state when they go into business.

Seeking to avoid head injuries that could force victims onto the public dole, Assemblywoman Doris Allen of Cypress would require that safety helmets be worn by anyone riding in an off-road vehicle.

And Assemblyman Gil Ferguson of Newport Beach, normally an impassioned advocate of private property rights, proposes that owners of mobile home parks be required to give tenants a month's notice before putting their park up for sale, rather than the 10-day notice required under current law.

He said such a law is necessary because local governments, by refusing to allow more mobile home parks, have created a "monopoly" for the current owners. Intervention is required to allow tenants who might be tossed out of a park the right to join forces and buy the land before it goes on the market, he said.

Crime

Quicker Punishment Seen as Key to Justice

Quicker punishment is the key to making California's criminal justice system more effective, most members of Orange County's delegation in the Legislature believe.

They say more judgeships should be created so criminal cases can be handled more quickly, more prisons should be built and the government's top priority should be keeping people safe from crime.

"In order to reduce crime you have to have apprehension followed by a speedy trial and justice meted out quickly," Assemblyman Gil Ferguson (R-Newport Beach) said. "Delayed justice isn't justice either for the victim or the person accused."

Sen. Edward R. Royce (R-Anaheim) is the author of a proposed ballot initiative that would grant victims a constitutional guarantee of a speedy trial, a tool Royce thinks is needed to give judges something to cite when they deny defense motions seeking delays. Royce's measure also would allow judges--rather than attorneys--to screen potential jurors, and it would require that California defendants be given no more and no fewer rights than they have under the U.S. Constitution.

Sen. John Seymour (R-Anaheim) would build regional jails at which counties could group their prisoners in a setting similar to the state prison system.

Assemblywoman Doris Allen (R-Cypress) would require more restitution, particularly in cases of white-collar crime.

Assemblyman Richard Longshore (R-Santa Ana) would require heavier sentences for prostitutes.

And Assemblyman Nolan Frizzelle (R-Huntington Beach) wants more consistent sentencing so criminals would know what to expect if they are caught.

Assemblyman Ross Johnson (R-La Habra) proposes a radical restructuring of the criminal justice system. Johnson said he favors much stronger punishment for a criminal's first offense. His proposal would all but end the practice of granting probation or suspended sentences on first offenses and then meting out ever-longer prison terms for second, third and later offenses.

"We should crack down the first time a person steps across the line," Johnson said. "We need to have the punishment be severe enough that the person doesn't want to go through that again."

Schools

Competition Believed to Be the Best Teacher

California's public schools are failing, and they need healthy doses of incentives, competition and local control to perform better, Orange County's Republican lawmakers say.

At least half of the members of the county's Sacramento delegation say they believe that forcing the public schools to compete with the private sector would be the best incentive possible.

Assemblyman Gil Ferguson of Newport Beach proposes experimenting with a system in several areas of the state under which parents would be given vouchers that they could use to pay for their children's tuition at a private school.

"We'll never know whether we could improve education and end up with excellence in America until we try a pilot project in a large enough area and a diverse enough area to have a standard to compare," he said.

Sen. Edward Royce of Anaheim also said he would favor a voucher system. But as a first step, Royce proposes providing more competition within the public schools by allowing parents to place their children in whatever school they wish, without regard to geographic boundaries.

Sen. John Seymour, also of Anaheim, suggests providing more intensive vocational training for high school students who choose not to prepare for university work.

"For every new aerospace engineer or researcher, there are created four or five other job opportunities in the service sector--operating dry cleaners, running a gas station, a pool-cleaning service, an auto mechanic," Seymour said. "When you're a sophomore, they should determine which track--are you going on to (college) or do you want some vocational training?"

And Sen. Marian Bergeson of Newport Beach, a former teacher and school board member, said she favors tougher teacher screening and a mandatory residency program through which new teachers would train in the classroom for a year under the supervision of veteran educators.

Without exception, the county's legislators favor more local control for school districts. Most would drastically curtail the use of so-called categorical grants, through which the state allocates money to local districts but in turn requires that certain programs be carried out.

"Give them the money and let them make the decisions on how it should be allocated," said Assemblyman Robert Frazee, who represents part of the south county. "We've trapped them into far too many special-interest programs which, once established, are too difficult to get out of."

Roads

Increase in Funds for Transportation Favored

The state needs to spend more tax dollars on highway construction and maintenance to pull California's urban areas out of what is fast becoming a traffic nightmare, Orange County lawmakers say.

Although Sen. John Seymour (R-Anaheim) is the only Orange County legislator who favors increasing the gasoline tax, almost all of the county's lawmakers support dedicating more of the money already collected to road construction. Seymour also said he supports more short-term bond issues and possibly an increase in vehicle registration fees.

Assemblywoman Doris Allen (R-Cypress) says the voters don't want to pay more taxes--they just want government to set new priorities for the money it already has. Allen is co-sponsor with tax crusader Paul Gann of an initiative that would exempt gasoline taxes and the sales tax on fuel from the constitutional spending limit Gann wrote and the voters approved in 1978.

Assemblyman Gil Ferguson (R-Newport Beach) would require that taxes on motor vehicle sales be spent only for transportation purposes.

Assemblyman Nolan Frizzelle (R-Huntington Beach) would return more tax revenue to local government for construction of local streets and highways. But he also would require local governments to implement measures to speed traffic along surface streets, making them a more attractive alternative to freeways for short trips.

Sen. Marian Bergeson (R-Newport Beach) said she favors limiting environmental impact studies to allow Caltrans to build freeways more quickly.

"A lot of our environmental reviews duplicate what they're doing at the federal level," Bergeson said. "I'd like to take a look at all the environmental reviews we go through and assure that environmental needs are going to be met--but only once."

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