Q&A; with Sunder Ramani

1) California faces projected budget deficits of close to $20 billion annually for the next several years. What specific steps must the state take to achieve a balanced budget?

We must be realistic on several fronts.

Much of the state’s tax receipts are restricted due to a multitude of special interest legislative impacts to the budget (public employee pensions, education, bond repayment, etc.). There is very little left of every dollar the state takes in after the mandated spending is funded.

Additionally, the state budget is created with generous predictions of future revenue.
No one knows what the future will bring, especially these lawmakers. Our tax revenue should be projected on the conservative side with expenses allocated accordingly.

In the short term, we should not institute new spending programs that are not absolutely critical, pare existing non-essential programs and review all regulatory burdens that impede business growth.

Long term solutions should include top to bottom review of all commissions, boards and agencies to eliminate duplication and inefficiency; freeze new hires for non-essential personnel until positions have been thoroughly evaluated for need; no new programs should be implemented until a consistent revenue stream has been identified to pay for programs; begin the budgeting process earlier in the fiscal year; create a reserve fund to smooth out uneven tax receipt years.

2) Name three programs or departments that should face reductions/elimination, or explain if you cannot.

Every department should be reviewed to determine their efficiency. Our state has taken several decades to reach the current level of decline. Bureaucracies granted that much time could use a top to bottom evaluation for relevance and efficiency.

All boards and commissions should be reviewed as well, as this state has created an abundant (and sometimes redundant) number of commissions (which often serve as retirement perks for termed out legislators).

A review of the Department of Education is warranted as well. Education dollars sent to the state are not returned to the local districts in commensurate levels. The education funding model deserves to have dollars stay with the local communities without Sacramento skimming or mandating away the funds.

Additionally, we need to review the annual costs of keeping someone in prison. With cuts occurring to our productive members of society (students, workers, public safety), it seems our incarceration costs are disproportionately skewed.

3) Name three ideas to raise revenue for the state, or explain if you cannot.

We need to create conditions for economic growth, which will, in turn, increase revenue for the state. Californians need to (and deserve to) start working again. Creating favorable conditions for new and existing businesses to risk capital is paramount to economic recovery.

Reducing regulatory burdens is also a good first step in getting businesses to hire again. Paychecks create payroll taxes, sales tax and consumption activity that will provide benefits across the economic spectrum. You can’t love jobs and hate the people that create them.
Additionally, we need to be robust in our recruitment of businesses to relocate in California.

We have large pockets of distressed housing in various cities, where a substantial level of community infrastructure is already in place. Businesses look for areas where housing stock is plentiful, and communities are already built out.

Recruiting businesses to these areas will provide for jobs, property tax in formerly abandoned or foreclosed homes and revitalize distressed local communities.

4) Where do you stand on Proposition 19, legalizing recreational use of marijuana?

I oppose Proposition 19. Law enforcement has indicated that this is another item that will be their responsibility without the funding to support it, and the medical community remains divided over the long term health effects of marijuana use, especially among teens and young people.

Furthermore, there is substantial evidence that drug cartels have already infiltrated this market and will no doubt be at the center of significant, eventual associated problems, including illegal distribution (both in terms of quantity and method), which will naturally undercut the proposed legal market.

Medical marijuana workers are already discussing unionization which, coupled with state taxes on the drug, will drive up the cost of “legal” marijuana and deprive the state of the tax revenue used as the fiscal basis for promoting this law.

Moreover, federal narcotics law still trumps state law, which may effectively void the state law even if passed.

5) What are the most important steps the state can take to boost private-sector employment?

Reducing regulatory burdens on small business is a first good step. Small business creates nearly 60% of the jobs in California. Small business suffers disproportionately in regulatory compliance, and therefore is harmed greater than larger businesses.

The governor’s office released a study last October, where it was illustrated the average annual cost of compliance per small business is $134,000. These are dollars better used to hire more employees, or increase existing employee compensation.

We have chased manufacturing jobs (one of the largest sectors for jobs) from this state with burdensome regulations, and we now stand in wonderment as to where those jobs went.

6) What is your top transportation priority for the district?

Dense urban areas are mired in constant traffic gridlock. Time lost commuting is costing this district’s residents significant quality of life and adding to environmental concerns.

Smart planning, with careful consideration of how development impacts the transportation infrastructure, is key. Developing incentives for cost-effective alternative modes of transportation will be key to managing our already overcrowded infrastructure.

7) What is your top economic priority for the district?

Jobs, jobs, jobs! Small businesses will pull us out of this recession, and we need to remove the hurdles that impede their ability to be effective job creators.

Our next generation of young adults, as well as the many adults that have been jobless, will most likely be hired by small business.

8) Passing a budget or tax increase requires a two-thirds vote in the legislature. Would reducing the requirement to a simple majority help or hurt the state, and why?

Legislative districts have been gerrymandered for the last decade. One party has largely controlled the state Legislature for nearly 40 years. Their last obstacle to passing a budget without reflecting spending cuts is the presence of the 2/3 supermajority law.

The adoption of a simple majority rule would result in larger budgets, where everything becomes a “critical” priority, and the mechanism to pay for this will be higher taxes on the middle class. The rich have the ability to be fluid with their money, as we have seen nearly 1.4 million fewer tax filers in California since 2004.

Removal of this constitutional requirement would reward those who have demonstrated long term fiscal mismanagement, imperil California taxpayers and remove one of California’s most important “checks and balances” mechanisms.

9) What do you view as your signature issue or priority?

My “signature issue” is not singular, but systemic.

California is dysfunctional. Our state once led the nation in economic growth and innovation, education, quality of living and many other desirable metrics. Mismanagement and poor policies have driven California to the brink of insolvency and compromised the quality of those public institutions, such as our schools, that have traditionally played an important part in the California dream.

We need to make government work for the people again, not the other way around. We have allowed this state to become the manager of too many elements of our lives — elements that would be better served by individuals and the private sector.

We need to make a commitment to returning California to a productive, business-friendly state with lower taxes and a streamlined state government that is responsive to the needs of its citizens. We need to do more with less.

10) Why are you a better candidate for the job than your rival?

My last 25 years have been spent serving many segments of the surrounding communities. From my service at Providence St. Joseph Hospital Foundation, to chamber of commerce boards, to educational foundations, to service clubs and to nonprofits, I have been a participant in growing our communities.

I am a Main Street businessman that has strived to give back more than I take. My experience signing the front of a paycheck as well as the back, to my experience with parents and schools in educating our children, have provided me with a broad foundation on what our community needs and wants.

As a parent of a college-age daughter and a high school-age son, and with a physician wife, I have been blessed with a supportive family that has fostered my drive to make a difference on behalf of all of us.

Relevant experience in solving our collective problems is needed, not political career interests.

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