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Strickland zeroes in on 19th Senate District

By   /   Friday, September 19th, 2008  /   Comments Off on Strickland zeroes in on 19th Senate District

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When it comes to balancing a state budget, at least two things would be “off the table” for Simi Valley Republican Tony Strickland: raising taxes and releasing inmates early from California’s crowded prisons.

“If we don’t feel safe in our schools or our streets or our businesses, we’re not going to have profitable businesses,” Strickland said. “I think putting criminals behind bars is a good thing, not a bad thing,” he added later.

Strickland represented the 37th Assembly District, which covers Camarillo and East Ventura County, for three terms, from 1998 to 2004. After an unsuccessful run for state controller in 2006, he is running for the 19th Senate district, which covers most of Santa Barbara County except Santa Maria, much of east and west Ventura County except Ventura, and parts of Los Angeles County.

Portions of the 19th Senate District such as Simi Valley have been GOP strongholds for two decades. Strickland is trying to keep the district in the Republican Party column amid a strong push by Democrats to take the seat, one of two seats the Democrats would need to achieve a veto-proof two-thirds Senate majority.

On policy, Strickland adheres to many of the Republican Party themes that brought him past electoral success: smaller government, leaner budgets, tighter tort laws, bigger tax incentives to attract and retain businesses, and a return to local control over education spending.

But on occasion, Strickland veers from party themes, particularly with regard to a renewed enthusiasm among national Republicans for off-shore oil drilling.

While he supports on-shore oil drilling in California as a means to end America’s dependence on foreign energy, Strickland calls off-shore drilling “a Band-Aid solution. My focus will be in renewable energy and technology and doing whatever we can to bring in as much renewable energy as possible,” Strickland said.

Strickland himself has invested $5,000 to become the vice president and co-owner of Thousand Oaks-based GreenWave Energy Solutions.

Founded last year by a small group of investors, the company has no operations, revenue or specific technology and has not begun raising capital. It is awaiting a green light from federal regulators.

While Strickland said there are “no easy answers” budget impasses such as this year’s – which, at nearly 80 days, broke records – he supports a spending-growth cap that would limit the expansion of state funding using a formula that takes into account population growth and inflation. In boom years, any surplus cash would go into “rainy day” fund.

“We should be saving that for a rainy day, so we don’t constantly get into this same cycle,” Strickland said. “Every year, it’s like ‘Groundhog Day.’”

Strickland would push to offer bonuses to directors of public agencies who find ways to cut and streamline their departments. “As a whole, when you have more people working in the government than the private sector, you’re going to have big problems going forward,” Strickland said.

As California’s population grows older and lives longer, Strickland would also trim the benefit and retirement packages that public employees receive. “But at the same time, we need to do whatever we can to lure people into public safety, fire and law enforcement,” Strickland said.

Strickland also believes in doling out state education money as block grants to local districts, allowing boards to spend the money as they see fit. “It’s easier to vote out your local school district than a bureaucracy in Sacramento or Washington, D.C.,” Strickland said.

Strickland decries California’s corporate tax rate. At 40.7 percent, California’s statutory corporate tax rate – which reflects the letter of the law but not what corporations actually pay – ranks 11th highest in the nation, according to the Tax Foundation, an advocacy group.

Strickland would create tax incentives, modeled after those of other states, to attract and retain businesses. “What we’re doing in the legislature is becoming an economic development agency for states like Arizona, Florida and Nevada,” Strickland said.

But after his fiscal proposals, Strickland’s policy specifics begin to fade. In the course of an hour-long interview, Strickland used the phrase “do whatever we can” seven times when asked about the details of his positions on energy, agriculture, public education and tort reform. He said he would listen to residents in areas outside his direct expertise.

Strickland conceded that with a heavy Democrat majority in both houses, it would be tough to pursue his policy goals in the legislature.

“Right now, it’s just playing defense,” Strickland said. “The reason the race I’m running for right now [is crucial] is because the Democrats in Sacramento are trying to get a two-thirds majority.”

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