District 1 candidates talk pensions, taxes

Four running for Cox’s seat in State Senate
By: Jenifer Gee Journal News Editor
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One of four candidates for the state Senate District 1 seat, Assemblyman Ted Gaines, suggested that bringing back the lumberjack industry would deter marijuana growths in rural areas. Another Senate candidate, businesswoman Barbara Alby, said the tea party activists, who have endorsed her, are the only hope for change in the state. A third candidate looking to succeed late Sen. Dave Cox’s seat, Assemblyman Roger Niello said reform is “crucial” to fix the state’s pension system. And the fourth candidate running for Senate District 1, Ken Cooley, said despite his Democrat status he’s running against three Republicans because he believes he can make a positive difference in the state as he has done as mayor of Rancho Cordova. Each candidate sounded off on a range of issues Monday night at a debate hosted by William Jessup University in Rocklin. Candidates were asked several questions by a panel that included university students and representatives from local business and media. Pension problems When asked about their plans to fix the pension system in our state, Cooley said the state needs to “fix the integrity in the system.” Cooley said that overtime money factored into salaries needs to be fixed and agreed that averaging out multiple years of service rather than taking an employees highest paid year is a good start. Alby said the state can no longer allow public employees to retire at age 50. “We cannot sustain that,” Alby said. She added that the public sector’s system should mirror private sector practices. Niello said incremental change is important to fixing the system. He said reform of the pension system is “crucial” and he has supported Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s pension reforms. Gaines agreed that reform is necessary and said when you compare benefits between public and private employees, “it’s like night and day.” He said he supports taking a three-year average of an employee’s salary and moving the public safety retirement age up to 55. Gaines said currently $5 billion out of the general fund is used “just to satisfy pensions.” During a rebuttal portion of the debate, Alby asked Gaines why he granted Placer County managers’ salary increases that were “astronomical” when he was a supervisor for the area. Gaines responded that at the time Placer County was one of the fastest-growing counties in the state and they had a balanced budget every year. He was he was the one to ask if the county could hire an actuarial to check out the pension obligations for employees. Other issues Candidates also answered questions about the education system. Most agreed that the control needs to be brought back to local school boards and that parents should have options as to where to send their children for an education. When asked is California’s business climate is “unfriendly” Gaines, Niello and Alby agreed, saying regulations need to be cut back. Cooley said there is a failure for the Legislature to tackle the budget problems. When asked what they believe are the two main issues for the very large and diverse district, Niello said jobs and the economy are universal themes that he’s seen while campaigning. Gaines said private sector job creation is needed, as is tax relief. Gaines said because of “poor science” related to the spotted owl, the lumberjack industry was cut from District 1, costing residents 26,000 jobs. He suggested that having 26,000 lumberjacks in the state’s remote forests could deter marijuana growers in rural areas including those in Modoc County. Cooley said economic development and focusing on schools were important issues in the District. Alby said she’d like to make changes in budget reform. She added that if she and the Legislature can get the state off local governments’ backs, “we will be king or queen.” A member of the audience asked the candidates which taxpayer associations endorsed them. Niello listed the Republican Taxpayers Association and said he has “A” ratings from the California Taxpayers’ Association and the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association. Gaines said he has the endorsements of Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, the National Tax Limitation Committee and Congressman Tom McClintock. Alby said she did not seek endorsement from those groups because she is “running against Sacramento” and she does not have the money to pay the association to mail their endorsements. Instead, she touted the support she was from tea party activists, who she said, “are the only hope in changing this state.” Cooley said as a Democrat he did not expect to receive those endorsements but he highlighted Rancho Cordova’s balanced budget as an accomplishment. He said voters “should look at who will be energetic on behalf of the people of the 1st Senate District” and said he lives within his means in his own household. Reach Jenifer Gee at