Capitol Alert

Kevin McCarty talks arena, taxes, as he seeks Assembly seat

With the November election drawing closer daily, Sacramento City Councilman Kevin McCarty told reporters and editors in The Bee’s Capitol Bureau why he is running for the state Assembly. Below are some excerpts from our conversation.

Tell us why you’re running.

I think first and foremost is to continue my commitment to public service and serving my hometown here of Sacramento … with a big focus on key issues like reinvesting in our schools and education system.

Proposition 30 was passed specifically with an eye to that type of investment in our school system. Do you think it would be appropriate to extend that tax when it expires?

I think Prop. 30 and new revenues in the state budget was a good sized Band-Aid, tourniquet, what have you, but we need to do much, much more. So I think that’s the first step, is re-upping Prop. 30 in a few years. … I think there should be a case to make it permanent.

I think there’s a big thing that we’re missing and that’s looking at the existing expenditures in the state budget. … I want to reform the state budget process. It’s probably going to be one of the first bills I introduce.

If Proposition 30 came up again, would you not vote for it in the Legislature out of principle and say it needs to go on the ballot?

I want to put these measures on the ballot. I have the same approach to the school bonds, to the (Kings) arena subsidy, to our city sales tax – I think voters need to weigh in on these things. On such a big fiscal policy, voters need to decide.

These races where we have two Democrats or two Republicans running – tell me what you’ve figured out so far. How is that working?

Frankly, it’s very confusing to a lot of voters. … (Democratic Sacramento City Councilman) Steve Cohn and I, frankly, are the same on 99 percent of the issues.

So if you and your opponent are the same on 99 percent of the issues, how substantial is that 1 percent difference, and why should it convince voters to choose you over him?

I’ve been unafraid to ask the tough questions, to break from the pack and be independent on big financial issues.

Frankly, one of them is the big subsidy on the arena, and I think that voters see that. I think especially whether it’s Democrat or Republicans, many times they are very distrustful about government spending. I think they want an elected official that breaks out the calculator, breaks out the pencil and the pad of paper and asks the tough questions.

Do you think that arena thing is the biggest single difference between you and your opponent?

I would think that’s a big issue, and the big difference, I think, is that it was an expenditure that reached the level that it warrants voter involvement. Just like your question about the tax measure and Jerry Brown – the Legislature and Jerry Brown could have done that on their own, but they decided something so big needs to have voter participation.

Speaking of hot-button issues, the governor has on his agenda twin tunnels and the bullet train. What’s your sense about those two things?

The twin tunnels I vehemently oppose. Sen. Lois Wolk is right that the Delta and our water system are not just plumbing. They’re a living, breathing ecosystem.

One of the things that I am concerned about (with high-speed rail) is that we’re focusing on the backbone of the Central Valley, which I think is a mistake. I think we should focus on the population centers.

I’m very concerned as far as using the cap-and-trade dollars to fund those first phases of the high-speed rail, in large part because, as you know, we’re supposed to achieve reduction in our greenhouse gas emissions by a certain year, and the time frame that we’re supposed to achieve that by is not jiving with when we’d have the high-speed rail online.

One of the positions you’ve taken that’s been somewhat controversial was opposing the Nestlé plant. Can you talk a little bit about your views on water and why that led you to oppose that plant?

That plant started kind of on the QT with some guy just saying “go” without going through the traditional processes. But the bigger question that I had, that I’m still trying to address here in Sacramento, is volumetric pricing on our water.

We have great water here – it’s very cheap. Whether it’s a Nestlé or 7-Up or a major user who’s using our really cheap water and getting a bargain-basement price for it, the same as people pay for their water to water their lawns, I think is wrong. I think we should have an approach like, frankly, most cities in Southern California have, where they charge tiered prices.

What do you think about public employee pensions? Has the governor and the Legislature done enough on that?

I support responsible pension reform. I helped lead the way with the city on this issue: I took a tough stand with our police officers union who didn’t want to pay their employee share.

I supported the state legislation in 2012, the Pension Reform Act. I think that needs to play out. We need to see how that’s implemented.

There was a new effort this past year by Mayor (Chuck) Reed out of San Jose to have a tougher approach with existing people in the PERS system. I did not support that; I opposed that, and I will continue to do so. I think we owe it to let the 2012 reforms play out.

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