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Sunday, Jun 4, 2023

Moving the Agenda

Moving the Agenda Republican assemblyman Keith Richman says the state needs better investment in transportation infrastructure and a more long-term view of how to handle problems By BRAD SMITH Staff Reporter Keith Richman is the kind of citizen legislator term limits was supposed to encourage. A physician and medical group executive for two decades, he was elected to the state Assembly in 2000, in part inspired by his father, an MD who served for four terms on the Los Angeles Community College Board. The Northridge Republican’s 38th District includes parts of the far northwest San Fernando Valley and much of the Santa Clarita and Simi valleys. Along with serving on the Assembly’s Health and Insurance committees, the Republican lawmaker has become a vocal proponent of doing away with what he describes as a “loophole” in 2002’s Proposition 42, which was designed to dedicate money raised by the state’s sales tax on gasoline to transportation projects. The ballot initiative allowed the Legislature and governor, however, to set that aside in order to support the state’s General Fund budget, which provides funding for state services ranging from education to health and the justice system. Richman has also become an advocate for transportation improvements across the region, speaking at news conferences sponsored by Mobility 21, a coalition of elected officials and business groups advocating for a variety of highway and rail improvements, mostly in the Los Angeles Basin, Orange County, and San Gabriel Valley. That list includes: -Alameda Corridor East Railroad/Street Crossing Improvements -Est. $920 million; I-5 Regular and Carpool Lanes (I-605 to Orange County Line) and Carpool Lanes (Route 134 to Route 170) -Est. $910 million; I-10 Carpool Lanes (I-605 to Route 57) -Est. $350 million; I-405 Northbound Carpool Lanes (I-10 to US-101) -Est. $1.5 billion; I-710 Corridor Improvement Program – Phase 1 -Est. $1 billion; Los Angeles International Airport Ground Access Improvements (Metro Green Line Connection and FlyAway System Expansion) Est. $120 million; Metro Exposition Light Rail Project (Downtown Los Angeles to Santa Monica) -Est. $1.35 billion; Metro Gold Line Eastside Extension -Est. $900 million; Metro Gold Line Foothill Extension – Pasadena to Montclair Est. $1.3 billion; Metro and Municipal Operators Bus Expansion and Improvements and Metrolink Rail Expansion and Improvements -Est. $300 million. Richman says that even though the projects are outside his district and for the most part, outside the San Fernando Valley, they will benefit commuters and businesses north of the Santa Monica Mountains. Question: You have said repeatedly that California needs to put more money into infrastructure. Why do you believe there is a need? Answer: Clearly over the last 20 years the Legislature has not had the fiscal discipline to invest in transportation infrastructure or other infrastructure needs on a regular basis. In the 1960s and 1970s the state invested 15 percent of the general fund on infrastructure, but over the last decade we’re invested (much less) of the general fund on infrastructure and that lack of investment shows up every day in our congested highways, crumbling roads, concerns about water supply and water quality. Q: The Legislature approves the budget, but the governor, who over the last 30 years were mostly Republicans, formulates the budget. Why the difference with the 1960s, when there was a lot of infrastructure investment? That was also before Proposition 13. A: That investment was done in bipartisan manner under governors Pat Brown and Ronald Reagan. It was before Prop. 13 but I don’t think that’s not the issue. Even in 1999-2000, when the economy was booming, there was very little investment in infrastructure and so the difference is that back in the 1960s and 1970s legislators and the governors had a long term vision of where California was going, a plan for it, and took steps to implement those plans. Q: And that is different today? A: Now it is very rare that legislators or other government officials take a long term view for California’s future. I think it is time to have a long-term view. California is gaining about 500,000 people every year and so in 2025 California is going top have about 10 million more people then it does now. We’re at about 36 million so we’ll be looking at 46 million people, so whether it’s issues related to affordable housing, transportation infrastructure investments, water supply or water quality, it’s important that we plan for them. Q: And the public’s role? A: I think the public is very concerned about the future and they express their concerns with their comments about traffic and roads and water and the lack of open space. The public is very concerned about these issues but has very little confidence in government’s ability to solve these problems. There has been an attitude by some that if you don’t build it they won’t come, but the population has continued to grow and it’s expected to continue. Q: So how can the sort of investments you’re speaking of be funded? A: Our water infrastructure has been taken care of through fees and revenue bonds, but there has been a lack of investment in transportation infrastructure. A couple of years ago the voters approved Prop. 42 by about 70 percent of the vote, and that would dedicate the sales tax on gasoline to transportation projects, but each year since that’s been enacted the governor and legislators have taken that money and used it to help close the general fund deficit rather than use it for transportation projects. So I think it’s very important that before we ask the voters to give us more money, we use the gasoline sales taxes they are already paying. Q: But that would reduce the general fund, which means there would have to be cuts elsewhere. A: There are always going to be complaints and that goes back to the importance of having the investment in infrastructure and infrastructure in general; whether its putting the reins on public employee compensation, conforming public employees’ pensions to private pensions, there is money to be gained. Q: Where, exactly? A: In transportation we have almost 22,000 Caltrans employees; with little money to invest in transportation projects, wouldn’t it make sense to look at some of that? Q: Do you support using (non Civil Service) engineering staff for public projects? A: I am a supporter of design-build contracting; there have been a number of studies where design build contracting is more efficient. Q: Politically how likely are these ideas? A: I don’t think any of these changes would be easy, but they are necessary. The Prop 42 money amounts to about $1.4 billion and in a general fund budget of approximately $80 billion; I think it is doable, and necessary. Q: What would that money translate to, in terms of transportation projects? A: It would translate to significant investment in transportation projects in Southern California. We are at risk of losing our federal funding because we are not in conformity with the federal Clean Air Act. Right now we’re close to zero (investment in transportation), the budget that eventually passed had about $180 million in general fund dollars and money gained from Indian gaming compacts its about $1 billion, but that is a one-time infusion of money. It is not an ongoing source of revenue. Q: How much support do you have for trying to increase the state investment in infrastructure? A: The business community has recognized this issue and taken an ongoing role. The Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce has gotten involved, the Valley Industry and Commerce Association has, and business organizations throughout the state have recognized the importance of mobility and transportation infrastructure investment. In addition to that, in general people who are concerned about the economy of California have recognized this is critical. The people who build roads, the trade labor groups are in support, and most people recognize the importance of transportation investment, particularly while they are sitting on the freeway sitting in traffic. Q: How is it going in the Legislature? A: The last few weeks we’ve been working on Prop. 42 but that doesn’t look like its going to get through the Legislature, we attempted to bring one of those measures to the floor but it was defeated on a party line vote. The opponents say they think it’s important to maintain the flexibility to help close the general fund budget fund deficit with the gas tax money. SNAPSHOT: Keith S. Richman Title: Assemblyman Age: 50 Education: MD, UCLA 1978; Master’s of Public Health, UCLA 1983 Most Admired Person: My father, Dr. Monroe Richman Career Turning Point: Leaving medical practice and going into the state Assembly Personal/Family: Wife Deborah, married since 1978; daughters Rachel, Dina

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