On the other hand, I went to Sacramento to try and solve problems, and I think most people would agree that the Legislature, to a large degree, had been in partisan gridlock and really dysfunctional not just unable to solve the fiscal problems or the budget situations that the state of California faces, but many other issues have gone unaddressed whether you're talking about the energy crisis, affordable housing, transportation infrastructure investment or many other issues, the Legislature has just not solved the problems.
Signal: Then is it fair to say the things you deal with mostly, on a day-to-day basis, are the money issues and not the social issues?
Richman: No, I don't think it's fair to say. I deal with not only money issues whether it's infrastructure or budget or fiscal issues but I have also been very involved in health care issues and other issues. In fact, health care has been one of my primary issues since I've been in the Legislature, and (it) continues to be.
Signal: You are a medical doctor.
Richman: I am.
Signal: You still run a successful medical corporation, don't you?
Richman: Well, no. No. I was the chairman of the board before I went to the Legislature, but when I went to the Legislature in the year 2000 I resigned my position as chairman of the board. I still am on the board of our medical group and remain interested. I keep my medical license active and get my continued medical education, but I'm doing my public service, really, full-time.
Signal: Don't you still derive the bulk of your income from the medical corporation?
Richman: No. The bulk of my income comes from my state pay.
Signal: Give us a picture of your district. Is the Santa Clarita Valley the biggest single area today?
Richman: It is the biggest single component. The 38th Assembly District covers parts of north Los Angeles County and also eastern Ventura County. So the district covers the north San Fernando Valley, the Santa Clarita Valley, a little bit of Glendale believe it or not and also La Crescenta and also most of Simi Valley.
Signal: Are there differences among them or do they deal with the same types of issues?
Richman: You know, there are little differences, but I think people generally are concerned (with issues that) impact them on a daily basis and affect their quality of life issues of roads, traffic congestion, concerns about schools and health care, issues about park and open space all of those types of things. Those types of issues go across the district.
Signal: This will be your third and final term in the Assembly. What will you do in 2006?
Richman: I am running for my last term now for the Assembly. As you know, Assembly seats have three 2-year terms, and state Senate seats have two 4-year terms. And when I'm termed out from the state Assembly, I'm going to be running for state treasurer.
Signal: What do you think about term limits?
Richman: I think they're too short. I support term limits, but I think they ought to be modified and made longer. I think that short term limits, to a large degree, have resulted in short-term thinking, and I think that term limits ought to be longer.
In fact, in the past legislative session, (Assemblyman) Joe Canciamilla (D-Martinez), my Democratic friend from northern California, introduced a measure that would have modified term limits, and we also introduced a measure that would have put in an independent redistricting process. I think these fundamental political reforms in fact are very important.
Signal: You do have a safe Republican district, but do you see your district changing? Do you see a shift in the kinds of people who are moving into your district?
Richman: There has been some shift. The district has about 44 percent Republican registration and about 35 to 36 percent Democratic registration, and in fact most people in the district I would describe as being in the broad middle of the political spectrum. There are certainly some on the far right or on the far left, but most people are in the middle. And in making my own decisions, I really try and do what I think is right.
Signal: Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital was going through some financially rocky times a couple of years ago; weren't you involved in helping it get back on its feet?
Richman: I was involved and tried to help the hospital. I'm glad that the hospital is now out of Chapter 11 bankruptcy, but let me make a comment.
The sad commentary is that the majority of hospitals in the state of California are losing money. We see hospitals closing, emergency rooms closing; here in Los Angeles County we see the trauma system on the brink of collapse. Not only do we see all of these problems, but we have 6 or 7 million people in California who lack health insurance and with all of that, we see health care premiums going up at double-digit rates. So the cost of health insurance is going up 10 to 12 percent per year. So the issue of health care is important to all of us.
Signal: If one problem is a lack of insurance, is Proposition 72 on the Nov. 2 ballot an answer?
Richman: Let me just say that I don't support Proposition 72. I think we have a serious problem in the state of California with a large number of uninsured individuals again, 6 to 7 million people who lack health insurance. But I think that Proposition 72 is the wrong answer for that. What Proposition 72 does, is mandate that companies in California provide health insurance to their employees.
Signal: What's wrong with that?
Richman: For one thing, that's going to make California companies even less competitive than they already are with businesses in other states and other parts of the world. We're not only competing with businesses in California, but we're competing with businesses in Arizona, Nevada and also businesses in China or the Philippines. So the more burdens that we place on business or the more mandates that we place on business, than the harder it is for them to compete.
In addition to that, Proposition 72 requires a very broad benefit package, and it requires that the employer pay for 80 percent of the insurance. Those two things together, I think, are going to drive up insurance costs. And most importantly, the people who lack health insurance generally are working, but they're working in small businesses with 50 or fewer employees. Proposition 72 doesn't apply to small businesses with 50 or fewer employees.
So if I were to solve the problem, what I would do is work on coming up with a solution that made it easier for small businesses with low-income workers to get health insurance. In fact in the Legislature, I introduced AB30 this past legislative session, that would have established a voluntary program for businesses with low-income workers that could partner with the state of California, using federal dollars that were available to us to help provide insurance to those people who lack health insurance.
Signal: Do you think Proposition 72 would help the health care industry overcome some of its financial problems?
Richman: It might, but isn't going to do any good if it just drives businesses out of the state of California and we have people losing jobs because businesses are required to provide health insurance. So I think that Proposition 72 is the wrong answer to a problem that we do need to solve.
Signal: You've written to Gov. Schwarzenegger that we can expect to see even more medical centers close. What can Sacramento do to help solve the problem right now, today?
Richman: What we need to do is address the fundamental problems that are affecting the health care system, and in this instance it's the large number of uninsured the 6 to 7 million people who are uninsured. What we need to do, we need to make sure that those children who are already eligible for programs get enrolled; we need to make it easier for individuals and small businesses to purchase insurance; we need to let businesses form purchasing pools so that they can purchase insurance just like large businesses can. And we need to make it so that insurance policies don't have to have all of the mandates that are currently on insurance policies so that we can get more affordable health insurance for the people of California.
Signal: What's your position on some of the other health-care initiatives on the ballot? Proposition 61 is a $750 million bond measure to improve children hospitals.
Richman: I support Proposition 61. I think that it is very important that our children's hospitals in the state of California are upgraded. They are centers of excellence. In this area, Children's Hospital Los Angeles is really a center where all of us send our children when they are very sick. There are a number of children's hospitals throughout the state and I support that bond measure.
Signal: Is a three-quarter-billion dollar bond measure fiscally prudent for the state to undertake?
Richman: As you know, the state still has some very serious fiscal troubles. Our budget is not yet balanced. According to the Legislative Analyst's office we're looking at a budget deficit of $7 billion; the year after that, $10 billion but in weighing the pluses and the minuses, in this instance I come down in support of the measure for children's hospitals.
Signal: Proposition 63 would tax people with incomes over $1 million for mental health programs.
Richman: I don't support that. I think it's very important that we increase our funding for mental health care; it has been woefully underfunded, and I think it is important that we increase our funding for mental health. The problem is that this is a specific tax for a specific purpose, and we have many needs throughout the state of California whether it's education, higher education, roads, highways, health care in general not just mental health care and I believe that those decisions ought to be made by the Legislature rather than using ballot-box budgeting. So for that reason, I don't support Proposition 63.
Signal: Proposition 67 would impose a telephone tax to raise a half-billion dollars for hospitals and clinics.
Richman: Almost the same answer. To me, that's applying a Band-Aid to a health care system that's hemorrhaging. I think that it's time that we stop just putting Band-Aids on our health care system.
You know, here in Los Angeles County, just a couple of years ago, Proposition B passed with just about 70 percent of the vote that was a measure that provided about $160 million to our trauma system and we have the same problems today with our trauma system that we had two years ago. Nothing has improved. In fact, we see additional trauma systems closing.
So, again, I think what we need to do is fundamentally address the issue of the uninsured in the state of California so those people who lack health insurance can get better care and so they don't go into the emergency room and get the most expensive care and generally put a financial burden on our entire health care system.
Signal: Taxing telephone use to raise money for hospitals and clinics seems sort of like spending car taxes on things other than transportation. Where's the connection?
Richman: There's not much of a connection. So I think that this the wrong way to go. I think that we do need to answer the problems of health care; a colleague of mine, (Assemblyman) Joe Nation (D-San Rafael), and I are in fact holding five town hall meetings throughout the state of California on health care issues. This past week we held our first town hall conference at UCLA and it went very well. He and I plan on introducing bipartisan legislation in January to address these health care issues of access, coverage, and also efficiencies in quality.
Signal: Is health-care where you see yourself making the biggest contribution in Sacramento?
Richman: No, I think I've made a contribution on budget issues and fiscal issues. It was our bipartisan group that proposed, in fact, what ultimately became Proposition 57 and 58 (March 2004), so we've made a real difference in that issue.
I participated and played an active role in the workers compensation measure this past year, and in fact many of the suggestions that I had made on workers compensation reform were included in the workers compensation measure. Besides that, I've played an active role in infrastructure investment something that's very important in Santa Clarita transportation. You know that last year I was the author of Proposition 53, which would have dedicated more money to infrastructure investment.
So those types of issues, along with political reform measures like modifying term limits and redistricting and also the open primary, have been things that are very important.
Signal: California ranks 48th in the nation in transportation spending. Your Proposition 53, which failed, would have required Sacramento to dedicate funds to capital improvements like roads. Without Proposition 53, what can be done to convince the Legislature to put more money into roads? Does it come down to political will? It seems we have a big problem.
Richman: We really do have a big problem. And it really is the political will necessary to invest in infrastructure.
Back in the 1960s and early '70s, our state invested much more in infrastructure. (At) that time, we invested between 15 and 20 percent of the general fund annually on infrastructure. Over the past decade, we've invested two-tenths of 1 percent annually on the infrastructure. So it's no wonder that our roads are congested, they're crumbling, we have concerns about our water supply and water quality and also concerns about parks and open space.
We need to have the political will necessary to invest in infrastructure. Even more, the last two years we've taken all the money from transportation the Proposition 42 money, the sales tax on gasoline and taken that money to close the general fund budget deficit. So we have problems with transportation, infrastructure funding throughout the state, whether it's here in Southern California or northern California. It's critical that we make the decision to invest in our infrastructure.
The first step I think we need to do is close the loophole for Proposition 42, the sales tax on gasoline, so we can ensure that money goes to transportation infrastructure funding where it was meant to go.
Signal: Will you be bringing another measure to the ballot? If Proposition 53 didn't work, will you try again or tack a different tack?
Richman: I think the next tack we're going to take is a measure that in fact would close the loophole on Proposition 42.
You know, the voters voted a couple of years ago, overwhelmingly, to dedicate the sales tax on gasoline to transportation projects roads, highways and other transit programs. Every year since the voters made that decision, we've taken that money to close the general fund deficit. So I think it's important to close that loophole to ensure that almost $1.4 billion every single year in fact goes to transportation rather than going to close the deficit.
Signal: Cities and counties also complain about being robbed to close the state budget deficit. How involved were you in this year's budget compromise? Tell us about Proposition 1A.
Richman: I was involved. We thought it was very important to protect local government, cities and counties. We thought it was important not to balance the state's budget on the backs of local governments.
You know, throughout the state of California, local governments are laying off people, reducing services luckily not here in Santa Clarita, but in other places throughout the state and what are we doing at the state level? Well, we've been increasing salaries, increasing benefits, and hiring people. Something's wrong with that picture.
So, I just didn't think it was right to keep taking money from local governments. What Proposition 1A says is that after this year and next year, we can no longer take money from local governments without paying it back. So it really protects local government funding in the future and keeps the Legislature from raiding that money that goes to local governments.
Signal: Another "medical" ballot measure is Proposition 71, stem cell research. What's your position?
Richman: I am a very strong supporter of stem cell research. I think that stem cell research will offer a lot of benefits in the future: potential cures for Alzheimer's disease, stroke, Parkinson's disease, spinal cord injuries, diabetes and many other diseases.
But in this case, Proposition 71 calls for a $3 billion general obligation bond, and I just don't think that we can afford that right now. Because of the fiscal issues associated with Proposition 71, I'm not going to be voting for it.
Signal: The Democratic Club of the SCV submitted the following question: "Why do Republicans care more about pharmaceutical special interests than the health of California taxpayers?"
Richman: I think that's a ridiculous statement. I mean, every day I'm a Republican, and every day I'm working to improve health care access for Californians and to improve our health care system. So it's not a matter of protecting pharmaceutical companies; it's a matter of improving health care for Californians, and that is something I work on everyday.
Signal: Are you in favor of giving people greater access to medicine from Canada and elsewhere?
Richman: I don't think that importing drugs from other countries is the answer. In fact, the General Accounting Office of the Congress (has) done a number of studies that have shown that importing drugs even from Canada is not safe.
What happens is, particularly using the Internet, oftentimes those drugs are coming from third countries Bulgaria, Indonesia, Malaysia; they're not in fact coming from Canada. And there's no way that the country of Canada, and the drugs that are in Canada, can solve the problems here in the United States. We absolutely have to solve the problems of high drug costs here in the United States, but importing them from Canada and other places is not the answer.
Signal: The Democratic Club also asks about the minimum wage: "Why do Republicans propose billions of dollars in corporate welfare but oppose an increase in minimum wage, when all of the known studies show that jobs are not lost when the minimum wage is increased?" Do you agree with that premise?
Richman: No, I don't. I think the biggest issue we face here in California is an environment in which businesses can succeed and we can get good, middle-class jobs. And right now, businesses are leaving California. They continue to leave California.
In fact, my colleagues in Nevada, in the state Senate there jokingly, but only half jokingly state that the California Legislature is the economic development corporation for the state of Nevada.
Businesses are faced with high workers compensation premiums, high unemployment insurance costs, high energy costs, burdensome regulations we are the only state that has a paid family-leave program we have lack of flexibility on overtime, and we have Proposition 72 on the ballot which would mandate health coverage to be provided by employers.
All of those things are making business here in California less competitive, and if we don't have an environment where businesses can succeed and people can get good middle-class jobs, then we're not going to have a successful society. People won't be paying taxes; we won't have the money to invest in health care or education or roads or highways. So, fundamentally, we need a state where businesses can succeed and people can get good middle-class jobs.
Signal: You mentioned workers compensation again. Some have described the past year's reforms as a half-way measure. Should we expect to see more reforms coming?
Richman: No, I think this year's measure was in fact a good measure. It has not yet been implemented and will come into effect after January. Most of the provisions in the legislation involve changing the way medical care would be delivered to injured workers; change the way the termination of permanent disability would be made; and also issues regarding apportionment in other words, if work contributed only 10 percent to an injury, then the benefits would be 10 percent of what they would have been otherwise.
So, I think that there were some very significant and positive changes in the workers compensation reform we passed this year, but they've not yet been implemented. My expectation is, over the next two or three years, businesses are going to see a drop in their workers compensation premiums.
Signal: One ultra-local issue of importance to people in Santa Clarita is the perchlorate contamination stemming from the Whittaker-Bermite site. The state Department of Toxic Substances Control is the lead agency for the cleanup, and when things were going slowly, you spoke to the agency chief to prod things along. Do you see a chance for the cleanup to be put on even more of a fast track?
Richman: I think we've made very good progress. I think that both the cleanup of the groundwater and the cleanup of the dirt is proceeding very well. I've had recent meetings with DTSC and also with Whittaker, and I think that things are right on schedule. I think the plan is to begin cleaning up the dirt soon, and I'm very pleased with the progress.
Signal: What do you plan to do the next two years in the Assembly?
Richman: I'm going to continue to work on issues like infrastructure investment, a broad range of infrastructure, whether it's transportation, energy or other infrastructure needs for the state of California. I'm going to continue to work on health-care issues, both the issues of health-care access, coverage, and also issues of cost efficiencies and quality. I'm also going to continue my work with my colleagues on bipartisan work where we're working for political reforms, whether it's the independent redistricting or modifying term limits.
Another thing that I'm going to be working on is pension reform. I think that the issues of public employee pensions has increasingly become a problem throughout the state of California. The city of San Diego, Orange County, Contra Costa County, all have billions of dollars of unfunded pension liabilities, and those pension liabilities are putting increasing financial pressures on local governments.
See this interview in its entirety today at 8:30 a.m., and watch for another "Newsmaker of the Week" on Wednesday at 9:30 p.m. on SCVTV Channel 20, available to Comcast and Time Warner Cable subscribers throughout the Santa Clarita Valley.