BATTLE OF THE WATCHDOGS: WILL THE REAL CONSUMER CHAMPION PLEASE STAND UP?

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By Miriam Raftery

Anderson
Lutz

October 10, 2008 (Assemblyman Joel Anderson considers himself a watchdog for taxpayers.  His opponent, Ray Lutz, founded a citizens’ watchdog group.  Both claim to represent the public interest.  The differences in their views reflect a core question being asked more and more amid today’s challenging economic times:  just what is the proper role of government?

Anderson, a Republican, told East County Magazine that he believes the solution to California’s fiscal woes is to “cut, cut, and cut.”  An advocate of small government, he calls for slashing taxes and “wasteful” government spending.   Once named a finalist in the San Diego Taxpayers Association `Golden Watchdog Award,’ he has held the line against new taxes in Sacramento and called for elimination of 117 boards and commissions.

Lutz, a Democrat, is a community organizer who founded  Citizens Oversight Projects (COPS), a government watchdog group. On its website, COPS declares its mission statement: to police government officials by “holding their feet to the fire”, review public representatives’ decisions and make sure that “bad decisions are revealed to the media and the public.”  Lutz calls Anderson’s board-cutting plan a “nightmare” that he says would gut consumer protections by eliminating oversight entities that include hospital and medical review boards and the state contractor’s licensing board.   

Anderson has since stated that he believes eliminating these boards would only cut overhead, not the boards’ functions, but he did not explain who would handle consumer oversight roles if the boards are eliminated.  He added that some more obscure boards have not met in several years and no longer have enough members to function.

Big government vs. Small government:  Has the `no new taxes’ mantra gone too far?

Anderson advocates personal responsibility instead of relying on government to solve all ills.  On his website, he quotes Thomas Jefferson: “That government is best which governs least.” 

But Lutz counters, “My opponent follows the philosophy that all government is bad and it should be small enough to drown it in a bathtub, and almost everything should be privatized.”

Anderson says “privatizing makes sense” in many areas and argues that it’s cheaper to use private services to build roads, waterways, and schools, for example. 

Filner meets with Lutz.

Lutz believes outsourcing of traditionally public functions has been shown to be a “lose-lose option. We lose our oversight because the private firms make a profit, indulge in excesses, are also ineffective, and still require governmental oversight.”  Lutz supports outsourcing only in limited circumstances, with competitive bidding and cites Blackwater as an extreme case of outsourcing that has cost taxpayers huge sums. He led a successful effort to stop Blackwater from opening a private military training camp in East County and helped persuade Congressman Bob Filner to introduce legislation that would restrict private military training operations to federal lands.

Asked to describe his view on the fundamental role of government, Lutz replied, “Government is essential to assist our community with the common good, and provide protection and infrastructure that is impossible to create in free-for-all capitalistic anarchy.  Fire protection, police/security protection, healthcare, energy, water and waste infrastructure. I believe that our government, with sufficient citizen oversight, can be made to run relatively efficiently.”

Campaign Contributions, Endorsements and Interest Group Ratings

The candidates’ record of contributors, supporters and interest group ratings provide insights into their views. 

Lutz has accepted donations only from small individual contributors to date.  Anderson has raked in hefty contributions from corporations in the oil, insurance, hospital, medical, banking and mortgage industries.

Anderson’s ratings from interest groups include:

  • 100%  California Chamber of  Commerce
  • 100% California Manufacturers & Technology Assoc.
  • 93% California Taxpayers Association
  • 12% Consumer Federation of America
  • 11% California Labor Federation
  • 5%  League of Conservation Voters
  • 0%  Planned Parenthood
  • “F”  PawPac (wildlife and animal rights group)
  • “A” Gun Owners of America

Anderson is endorsed by many prominent Republican elected officials, the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, the California Pro-Life Council, California League of Off-Road voters PAC, and San Diego Minutemen. 

Lutz has been endorsed by California Nurses Association for his support of universal healthcare, which Anderson opposes, and for his pledge to fight for a new hospital for East County. Other Lutz endorsements include the California Democratic Party, California State Teachers, Planned Parenthood, Democratic office holders including Congressman Bob Filner, and El Cajon Councilman Dick Ramos, a Republican. 

“Our state fiscal situation is a nightmare,” said Lutz, when asked why he decided to run for office.  Lutz, whose wife is an educator,  has expressed concern over deep cuts in education, medical services and other public services under the new budget signed by Governor Schwarzenegger in late September.   

The stakes are high in this election, Lutz observed.  “We just watched a record late budget passed with no improvements to the dire financial situation, and at the same time, local jurisdictions, such as cities, are having to raise taxes to cover their red ink.” He calls for a review and restructuring of revenues using “non-volatile” sources. “Not the highly volatile progressive income tax, sales and and valuation-based property tax, so that revenues will not soar in good times and crash in bad.”

He added, “No one wants to pay taxes, but most people understand that to fund our common services, we must pay these taxes and most people are happy to pay their fair share, if the money is used wisely.  Unfortunately, we have people who would rather borrow from our children’s economy rather than pay what we should today.”  He criticized Anderson for signing a “no tax pledge” and refusing to discuss options for raising revenues or improving fairness in the state tax system.  

Lutz believes higher income earners and corporations should pay their fair share.  He has suggested that the state move away from valuation-based property tax influenced by Proposition 13 limits.  He noted that a flat taxation of property, with exclusions for residents on fixed income or Social Security, might be a better solution to “inequities of Proposition 13”  which have left newer homeowners paying far higher rates than neighbors next door.

But Anderson insists that over-spending, not a revenue shortage, is the root of the deficit problem.  He faults “high taxes and fees” for harming businesses and taxpayers.  He confirmed that he would not consider any new taxes even on the wealthiest taxpayers and insists that further cuts are needed to improve the economy and create jobs.   

Business, Labor and Energy Issues

Anderson contends that government spending has “consistently grown over revenues—even in recent years when the economy was booming and government coffers were bulging.”  He argues that the economy and rising gas prices have hurt businesses.  The key is to reduce taxes and fees and onerous regulations on small businesses, which are the backbone of our economy,” he said.  Anderson believes easing the burden on business is also the best way to create jobs.

Lutz has a different view.  “Our main agenda must be to create high-paying jobs by developing our green economy,” he said, noting that wages have not kept pace with inflation and many U.S. jobs have been outsourced overseas.  “Jobs such as installing PV solar systems must be done here, and we eliminate the export of money to those other areas, further building our economy.”

Lutz views the recession as the state’s largest problem.  “We must encourage our state economy to grow while holding down costs,” he said.  “Our most important opportunity is in the power and energy areas. If we generate our power using solar and wind, we do not need to buy expensive imported oil, as we watch our tax dollars leave the state.  By keeping this money in our state, we will see our economy blossom.”

Alternative Energy Solutions

Anderson strongly supports offshore drilling and nuclear power as solutions to the energy crunch.   “We need to lift the stranglehold of regulations that have allowed us not to find energy  here, but  buy it from abroad,” he said.

Lutz believes drilling is a “false solution” that at best would yield only slight improvement in gas prices after ten years.  He supports incentives for development of clean, renewable energy sources such as solar and requiring utility companies to pay homeowners for all surplus power generated. “Small entrepreneurs will install PV solar in a massive wave, providing hundreds of thousands of installations producing power,” he said. Such programs, along with requiring new housing to be energy neutral, could eliminate the need for costly and “ridiculous” projects such as Sunrise PowerLink (SDG&E’s plan for high-voltage power lines through East County mountain and deserts), he added.  Lutz also supports fuel efficient and hybrid vehicles for government fleets.

Fire Protection and Disaster Relief

Both candidates are working for improved fire protection, though their approaches differ.

“I called for year-round firefighting capacity (air and ground resources) to be available, not just during the so-called “fire season,” Anderson said in e-mailed responses to questions.  “I have pushed legislation to make it easier for citizens, businesses and government agencies to clear brush around their properties.”

In his response, Lutz noted that the 77th Assembly District is entirely within San Diego County.  “This County does not have a unified fire protection organization and spends 1/800th what is spent in L.A. County.  Supervisor Dianne Jacob has proposed a $52 per parcel tax (with increases for larger parcels) to fund such an agency.  I support the concept of the unified agency and the tax proposed,” he said, adding that the fire tax is an example of the type of non-valuation, non-volatile tax he would support because it is not based on the economy’s ups and downs and because it can only be used for firefighting. 

At a state level, he supports more cooperation among agencies, improving the reverse 911 system (including bilingual operators to help Spanish-speakers), and addressing the “absence of any structured relief infrastructure.”  Instead of a central clearinghouse to match of relief providers with needs throughout the County, relief efforts in San Diego an East County after the 2007 wildfires were led by elected officials seeking to curry favor with voters, he noted.  “We even witnessed Blackwater providing relief to wildfire victims who would be voting on the planning group recall only days later. That must be fixed.”

Education Issues

Anderson authored AJR 155, a bill that would have supported homeschooling in California, after a court ruled that parents must obtain teaching certificates to homeschool their children. (The court decision was later overturned.)  “My wife and I have homeschooled all three of our children and my daughter just started at the Air Force Academy, so I know it works,” he said.

The Lutz family runs a private school.  “We are very supportive of alternative schooling options,” said Lutz, who supports homeschooling, “but we are also firm supporters of our public schools.”

Lutz cites serious concerns over a decline in funding and quality of California K-12 public education. “We rank 46 out of 50 in what we spend on a per-student basis, and that is what is driving our poor performance,” he said.  He called for full funding of education as an investment and a teacher evaluation system to enable districts to replace poor teachers with the best teachers available. 

Asked about soaring tuitions and other rising college costs, Lutz replied, “The most expensive item in the college budget is books.  We need to bring down the cost of books with financial assistance. I believe everyone should have the ability to attend college.”

Anderson would oppose any increase in taxes to fund education.  “College costs have outstripped the cost of inflation for over a decade,” he said.  “We can make college more affordable by streamlining state operations that don’t make sense and by informing people of all their options to save for college.”   

Immigration Issues

“My constituents constantly tell me that they are concerned with the impacts of illegal immigration,” Anderson said, citing crime and loss of jobs as factors. 

His website calls for securing borders and punishing, not rewarding, illegal immigrants.  “Let’s enforce our existing immigration laws and strongly oppose any legislation that would grant California driver’s licenses or other benefits to illegal immigrants,” the site states.  California’s future depends on fiscal responsibility and a secure border.  We cannot be fiscally responsible when we spend over $10 billion per year on the education, incarceration, and healthcare of individuals illegally residing in the United States.”
Lutz calls for a comprehensive package of immigration reforms to include border security, employer sanctions, improved citizen identification, and improved legal immigration procedures to dissuade illegal immigration.

“The border fence has huge gaps and will likely not have as large an effect as expected,” said Lutz, who has expressed concerns over the waiver of all laws including environmental reviews for construction of the border fence.  “However, I do support fencing to stop border crossers from impacting communities like Jacumba, which is within sight of the border.”  He also cited concerns over the high cost of fencing, noting that there is no money budgeted for maintenance. 

Lutz  advocates for a small border crossing fee to help pay for instracture, similar to the $6 fee charged to cross the Golden Gate Bridge. Fees could be waived for pedestrians and Speed-Pass holders, he added.   He also proposes a deposit for temporary visas.  “If you do not return on time, you forfeit that deposit, and that money could be used to help pay for tracking down those who illegally overstay their visas,” he said.

Healthcare

Asked how he would address the high numbers of working people in East County who have no health insurance and others who are struggling with rising premiums and shrinking healthcare benefits, Anderson replied, “I oppose turning our healthcare system over to the government.”  He voted against SB 840, a bill passed by the Legislature which if signed by the Governor would guarantee universal healthcare for all Californians.  Instead, Anderson said he supported other bills that would have made insurance more affordable and practical for working people.  “We need less government interference in this area, not more,” he said.

Lutz supports universal and single-payer healthcare proposals.  “This is one of our most important changes we must make,” he said.  “I am also working hard to improve the effectiveness of the Grossmont Healthcare District by pushing for constant evaluations of the level of service provided by the Hospital, and to evaluate whether we need an additional hospital further east, perhaps in Alpine.”

Social Issues

Anderson helped gather over 40,000 signatures in support of Proposition 8, which would ban gay marriages.   He also supports the parental consent for abortion initiative on the November ballot.  “I support involving parents in all aspects of their children’s lives, especially decisions relating to medical procedures,” he said. 

Lutz opposes both measures.  “I believe in strong family values and I want to keep government out of family (and a woman’s) decisions,” he said of the abortion measure.  As for banning gay marriages, he said, “I oppose government intrusion into family decisions.”

Experience and Accomplishments

More information on these
candidates:

Voting record and issue positions:
www.vote-smart.org

Candidate websites:
www.joelforassembly.com

www.lutzforassembly.com

Anderson served as president of Padre Municipal Water District and chair of the Bush-Cheney campaign locally before winning election to the Assembly.  He also owned and ran a small business which he built into a million dollar operation.  He has been active in civic groups such as Kiwanis, served on boards of local organizations and was a director of proceedings for the Alpine Chamber of Commerce.  He holds a bachelor’s degree in finance from the California Polytechnic University, Pomona.

Asked to name his most significant legislative accomplishments, Anderson cited AB 221, a bill he authored which requires the California Public Employees Retirement System (CALPERS) to divest pension funds from defense-related companies doing business with Iran.  “We should not be using taxpayers dollars to support terrorists,” Anderson said of the bill, which was signed into law by the Governor.

Lutz has criticized that measure, claiming it resulted in over $17 million in costs of selling off the investments at an inopportune time.  Those charges wound up “billed directly to cities” including a $50,000 cost to El Cajon, he said, adding that Anderson’s bill did not result in any companies decided to stop doing business with Iran.

Anderson also cites his leadership in asking California’s Attorney General to oppose the Google-Yahoo merger, citing privacy concerns and arguing that one company should not control 90% of Internet searches.  “Not enough computer users realize what is being tracked and how it is being used,” he said.  (Lutz agrees with Anderson on this issue.)

Anderson has also worked to relieve traffic congestion by expanding hours of San Diego’s Transportation Management Center.

Lutz cites his successes as a community organizer and business owner as preparation to lead if elected. “I’m not afraid to call a spade a spade,” he said. “We forced Blackwater to throw in the towel on their proposed 824-acre training camp in Potrero.”  His watchdog group, COPS, also takes credit for getting an airport authority representative removed due to conflicts of interest, forcing El Cajon’s City Council to remove partisan and religious videos from a publicly-owned TV channel, and requiring that Council agendas be posted on the city’s website.  

“My background as a business owner and engineer gives me the hands-on experience to help our local and state government run more effectively,” he added.  “I am good with numbers and will be able to bring sanity to Sacramento.”  Lutz holds a master of science degree in electronics engineering from San Diego State University.  He worked at the Naval Ocean Systems Center for firms ranging from start-ups to Fortune 100 firms, later specializing in office equipment technology. He became involved in the neurofeedback industry, which treats ADD, autism and other ailments through drug-free feedback techniques. His company, Cognisys, Inc. sells electronic products to psychologists and other practitioners.   

Long Odds, High Hopes

The 77th Assembly district includes most of East County as well as portions of San Diego.   There are 15% more registered Republicans than Democrats in the district, although new voter registrations in recent months are running 10-to-1 Democratic over Republican. 

Both Anderson and Lutz claim on their websites that proof of their integrity can be seen in their records of accomplishments.  Lutz admits he faces an uphill battle taking on an incumbent in a district with a registration advantage for Republicans, but he remains optimistic.  “I am supported by Democrats, Republicans and Independents because I work on the issues, not on partisan posturing, media gimmicks or talking points,” he concluded, adding that voter dissatisfication combined with local issues such as Blackwater and Sunrise PowerLink could translate into an upset victory at the polls. 

“Miracles do happen,” he concluded, “and this is the right year.”

Miriam Raftery is a national award-winning journalist who has headed up media watch committees for various local organizations and attended a National Media Reform Conference covering issues of media bias, media justice and media reform.

Comments

Lower Taxes is a joke

President's Reagan and Bush (current one more so than the previous one) based everything on cutting taxes and leaving more money in our pockets. Each left us with enormous amounts of debt that we will be paying off for years and years. Republican trinkle down economic theory is a failed theory. If anything, the last few weeks has brought this out into the sunlight. Very similarly, Governor Arnold claimed that he would rescue us from the previous Governor's tax and spend policies. Arnold has cut some spending, but as revenues have failed to keep up with outlays, he has indebted us for many more years.

The moral - Cutting taxes means that our government provides less services and our kids pay more to fund the debt of our generation. How bout we simply just get over this "crud" and raise taxes. Time to man up and pay for what we use, rather than say were for cutting taxes and putting the burden on the future.

We've ALREADY raised California taxes -- big-time

The Tax Foundation annually calculates each state's "Tax Freedom Day" -- the day after which the average taxpayer finishes paying his federal, state and local taxes -- and starts working for himself.

In California Tax Freedom Day is 30 April. For the first four months, we work to pay our taxes (more if you are a productive person). And that's not enough? For Big Government advocates (especially government employees), it's NEVER enough.

Have our taxes been going up? You decide.

In 1994 California had the 28th worst Tax Freedom Day in the nation -- 27 states had higher taxes than we did. Today California has the FOURTH worst Tax Freedom Day. Folks such as egarrat won't be happy until we are number one in this shameful category.

The cliche' still fits -- it's not a revenue problem -- it's a SPENDING problem.