Vanguard Board Member Leanna Sweha met with newly-elected Senator Bill Dodd in his Capitol Office on Thursday, January 12. Here is their interview.
You are Chair of the Banking and Finance Committee, which hears bills relating to financial institutions, commerce, retail credit interest rates and corporations. What are your goals as Chair?
It’s an honor to chair this committee. My goal is to promote transparency and fairness in financial institutions. I’ve already introduced SB 33 in response to last year’s Wells Fargo scandal.
I was briefed this week by Treasurer Chiang’s staff on banking issues related to the legalization of marijuana. Banks don’t want to take the risk of financing an industry that deals with a Schedule 1 drug in violation of federal law.
One solution may be a state bank or incentives to local banks. We need a solution, because marijuana is an all cash business. If it remains an all cash business, the state risks not collecting the taxes that voters counted on when they approved Prop 64.
Treasurer Chiang is leading on this issue, and Board of Equalization Commissioner Fiona Ma has joined his Cannabis Banking Working Group. The committee will work with both of them.
The first day of the new session was pretty emotional. The Democratic leadership promised that California would fight back against presumed policies of the Trump administration. Both houses then passed identical resolutions with strong language on immigration. Why did you become an author of the senate version (SR 7)?
I joined SR7 because I support the leadership. SR7 was a sign to Californians that the legislature understands their concerns regarding the incoming administration and is not going to just sit back and let things happen.
Given the surge of fake news we are seeing on the web, should the Legislature pass a resolution about the importance of accuracy in media to a functioning democracy?
A resolution would be a good thing, but it won’t make a lasting impact. I’ve introduced SB 135 as one solution. Part of what convinced me to write this bill is a Stanford study that showed that more than 70 percent of high school students could not discern the validity of stories on the web.
The governor’s 2017-18 budget proposal states that revenues have slowed and projects a $2 billion deficit. As a result, his budget phases out funding for the Middle Class Scholarship. What is your response?
I’m disappointed. Low income residents have done well under recent legislative priorities, while the middle class has been left out in the cold. Our universities are still a value in terms of tuition, but now it’s housing that’s a huge cost.
We need to work for public-private partnerships to incentivize more affordable housing on campus, which will stabilize costs and hopefully release more housing for the workforce. I supported the Davis City Council request to UC for more on-campus housing in the UC Davis LRDP.
In his 2017-18 budget proposal, Governor Brown says that any new funding for affordable housing should reform the permit process, lower construction costs, and increase accountability.
You are a co-author of SB 2 and SB 3. SB 2 raises funds for affordable housing through a real estate transaction fee. SB 3 is an initiative for $3 billion in general obligation bonds for affordable housing. Neither includes the reforms the governor wants. Your thoughts?
Last year, the governor offered $400 million for affordable housing in exchange for “by-right” approval, which would have eliminated time delays and bureacracy in affordable housing approvals. The proposal failed because of concerns over local control and short-cutting the environmental review process.
I agree with the governor on the policy issues – the costs and time delays are major factors we face in building enough housing across the state. We are in desperate need of housing – we are building about 100,000 units per year when the need is 180,000 – and people are being impacted in a very negative way. We need to be working on any and all solutions, including SB 2 and SB 3.
The real estate industry supports SB 2. SB 2 requires a return to source, so any fees collected in Yolo County would be returned to the county for affordable housing.
Do you agree with the Governor Brown’s careful approach on the budget?
I commend him for being careful with the budget. The rainy day fund is at almost $8 billion and is critical, because we will need to rely on it at some point.
It’s a very different year this year because of the new Trump administration. Therefore, the May budget revise will be key. For example, we believe the repeal of the Affordable Care Act could create an $18-20 billion hole in this year’s budget. We need to be vigilant and do our homework.
My main focus is to ensure that we don’t negatively impact education. Education always takes too big a hit when the state has a fiscal crisis.
You are also a co-author on SB 1, which would increase the gas tax and vehicle license fee to meet the state’s road repair needs. It also creates an independent inspector general for CalTrans. Do you think SB1 does enough to reform CalTrans, which has been called the most inefficient transportation agency in the nation?
The revenue is critical – this week’s storms probably added another $100 million to the road repair bill. And yes, we need CalTrans reform. During last year’s special session on transportation, we learned that, on a straight cost per mile comparison with other states, CalTrans looks very inefficient. But we then learned that the metric did not account for California’s unique geography. We need comparable metrics and the new inspector general will help with that and many other issues.
A UC Davis World Food Center in Sacramento was a goal of former Chancellor Katehi. Last week we got news that UC President Napolitano is pursuing the project and has met with Mayor Steinberg. What are your thoughts?
My first thought is that any center must use zero-based budgeting and not take away from students’ educational experience or faculty’s professional growth.
I am all for a World Food Center in Davis. Some say that because the center will include food and health policy, that it makes sense to be in Sacramento, but I’m not convinced. The distance between Davis and Sacramento is de minimus.
The Air Resources Board is about to release its 2030 Scoping Plan, a blueprint for regulations to meet the goals of SB 32, which you supported. If the Scoping Plan economic models show a large negative impact, or if actual economic numbers start to show a slowdown, will you support ARB going full steam ahead in adopting the plan?
We need to make decisions with the best information available at the time. If a negative impact is projected, then we need to look at the details. Are there geographical differences, for instance, coastal versus inland?
I don’t support runaway bureacracy. The new legislative oversight committee set up in the SB32 companion bill (AB 197) will be valuable here. Reducing emissions is an important investment that reflects our goals and values and so we have to expect some negative impact.