Sharp Contrasts in Steinberg Debate

OCT. 22, 2010

By KATY GRIMES

A little-publicized political debate ended up being quite charged Thursday evening at Sacramento State between incumbent Democrat Sen. President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, 20-year old Republican college student Marcel Weiland and libertarian Steve Torno.

The state Senate District 6 debate drew sharp contrasts on issues like the proper role of government, how to reduce the state’s payroll, illegal immigration, Proposition 23, the state’s water supply, education spending, the public pension system and even open-carry gun laws.

“I am proud of my record,” Steinberg, who is widely considered to be cruising to reelection and could have easily shrugged off the degate, said. “My opponents talk about private sector and jobs – it’s a false choice between the public sector and private sector, by strangling the public sector side.”

On the proper role of state government, Weiland said that “State government is to do for the citizens what citizens cannot do for themselves.”

Steinberg responded by saying he “expected to hear Weiland say a word about education. I’ve had to cut $5 billion out of education.” Steinberg then stated his support for Proposition 25, which would allow the legislature to pass the budget with a simple majority vote instead of the current two-thirds majority. “People want us to define the priorities, and then fund the priorities, while the other side votes to cut taxes but not education,” he said.

“The proper role of government,” Torno said, “is to only provide necessary services like police, fire transportation and public education.” Torno added that he would make cuts to all other services.

When asked how to reduce the state’s payroll, Steinberg spoke of the reductions made to the last two budgets under his leadership, but defended the public sector spending. “The public sector gets a bad rap,” he said.

Weiland disagreed. “First, government is not efficient,” he said. “There are 300 commissions, 79 departments and agencies that intersect and overlap, which ultimately leads to overregulation in California. The state pension system has hundreds of millions of dollars in unfunded pension liability, thanks to SB 400 signed in 1999 – we can’t afford the pension payouts.”

When asked if there should be consequences should there be for late budgets, Weiland said that the legislators should not be paid “for not doing their job.”

Steinberg said, “I’m not sure I know much about this,” leaving the audience laughing. “But a bad budget is worse,” he said, and again brought up the need to pass Proposition 25 in order to pass state budgets with a majority vote by legislators.

Torno said he agreed with both of his opponents, but said that politicians should not be paid if they cannot pass a budget. “They talked about plastic bags and motorcycle pipe noises instead. Politicians are paid to pass a budget,” he said.

On how best to help District 6 economically, Steinberg said that “The unemployment rate in California is the highest in the nation. This is unacceptable. The emerging green economy should be taken seriously.” He spoke of offering tax credits to companies willing to locate in California that run green businesses. “We can create pathways in high school to new jobs in the  twenty-first century,” he added.

Torno talked again of his proposal to cut income taxes by five percent for four years.

“We’ve lost 50,000 jobs and 9,500 businesses in the last year in Sacramento,” said Weiland. “Nothing is getting better. We need to vote out our current representatives to bring business back to District 6.”  He said businesses need to be deregulated and spoke of an auto body shop owner he met who reported the three different permits he is required to have, just to store oil on his property, costing him $3,000 a year.

The question of education funding came up — what percentage goes to the classroom versus labor. Torno said he didn’t know the breakdown but said he thinks teachers should be paid more.

“Out of every dollar, 60 percent goes to the classroom, with 40 percent to administration,” Weiland said. He added that right now, high school graduates are better off skipping college and expensive student loans and instead going right to work because there aren’t jobs available after college.

Steinberg disagreed. “It’s easy to say the economy is hurting and the legislature is dysfunctional, but no one is saying how. What measures would you pass?” he asked. “The fact is, you either respect and invest, or keep cutting education.”

Someone asked how the candidates would fix the California Public Employee Retirement System (CalPERS). Weiland said he would address the collective bargaining system and work to undo the 1999 law, SB 400, which lavished generous retirement benefits on state workers. “The state could not afford the payouts then,” said Weiland. “Union bosses have become too powerful and continue to ask for more money – it’s their job.” But the fault, Weiland said, was on “the legislators who say yes. They are at fault.”

Weiland said he wants the defined benefit system needs to be changed to a contribution plan. “Just as the private sector does, public employees and employers should be making contributions as they can afford to, to their retirement plans,” he said.

Steinberg said this was an area where they disagreed. “Last month led to changes to repeal SB 400 because it assumed continued growth in the economy,” he said. But he defended defined benefit plans. “Look at the millions who lost retirements in 401 (k) plans. I say we should be raising more people up to the middle class,” he said.

Torno said that the public sector should have to pay into a retirement system the same way the private sector does, then added that “Darrell Steinberg is bought and paid for by the unions.”

Whether to allow openly carry a weapon then came up. Torno said he was in favor of open carry laws. “If all of the doors suddenly locked in this room with a lone gunman inside, but 10, 20 or 50 people in here were carrying, the lone gunman would be dead,” he said.

Weiland said he supported the right to carry a weapon, and reiterated that there are already open carry laws. “But it’s not black and white,” he said. “Societies with open carry laws are safer, and I think everyone in the U.S. should be able to, but it’s not our society’s mindset.”

Steinberg couldn’t disagree strong enough. “No way would I support open carry laws,” he said. “The rates of suicide and accidental shooting increase. I’m a believer in the rights of law enforcement. The idea that we walk down the street scares the heck out of me.” Listening to the audience grumbling, Steinberg said it appeared that the audience supported open carry laws. “You’re on the fringe,” he told the crowd, which shouted and booed back.

On immigration, Steinberg said he supported the McCain-Kennedy immigration plan with a path to citizenship.

Torno said, “I am married to a legal immigrant,” and emphasized the word “legal.” “Illegal immigration hurts jobs and increases prison costs. We have 300,000 illegal immigrants in prison, at a cost of $45,000 per inmate – all should be repatriated,” he said.

Weiland asked the audience to “keep in mind that 60 percent of illegal immigrants have family members that are U.S. citizens.” He said that the state does have a role in illegal immigration in “limiting the incentives that bring people here illegally.” Weiland added that he wants an established guest worker program in the state.

Candidates’ positions on Proposition 23, the suspensions of AB 32, California’s global warming law, were distinctive. Torno supports Prop 23 and said “AB 32 only created higher taxes on businesses.”

Weiland said he supports Prop 23 because “It is critical to business and jobs. Now is the worst time to put more regulations on businesses.”

Steinberg opposes Prop 23. “The notion it will increase jobs is a false choice,” he said. “We don’t have to choose between the economy and the environment. We must have both.”

Steinberg acknowledged that he is the incumbent target. “I respect the process and the public sector arena, and I take shots,” he said. “The notion that I am bought and paid for is insulting.” He then reminded the audience of the recent billboards along freeways by the California Teachers Association, which attacked him over recent budget cuts.

Sacramento State University, and the League of Women Voters sponsored the debate, with the League of Women Voters moderating.

2 comments

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  1. Denise
    Denise 23 October, 2010, 10:14

    We were at the debate. The League of Women voters did a fantastic job of moderating. It was great to see all three candidates debate. We were happy to see Steinberg attend even though he believes his reelection is a slam dunk. He seemed, however, condescending to constantly mispronounce Marcel Weiland’s name.

    We all must change the current legislative climate. We were impressed with Marcel Weiland’s answers and our discussion with him afterward. He has our vote!

    Reply this comment
  2. Janelle Lawrence
    Janelle Lawrence 23 October, 2010, 12:28

    This was an excellent debate put on by the League of Women Voters. I’m grateful to them for their effort to host this informative debate!
    Darrel Steinberg seems to be a very likeable person. It was interesting to me, though, that he was comfortable calling those with conservative values “On the Fringe”, and later talked about his respect for the people of California.
    I don’t think Mr. Steinberg is a bad guy, but I am anxious for a chance to see what a new leader and administration can do to improve our State by stopping the ridiculous spending and taxation. Help the economy in California! I’m voting for Marcel Weiland.

    Reply this comment

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