2022 election: Q&A with June Cutter, California State Assembly District 76 candidate

There are three candidates on the June 7 ballot for the newly drawn state Assembly District 76, which includes San Marcos, Escondido, Rancho Bernardo, Rancho Santa Fe and San Pasqual: businesswoman/water advocate Kristie Bruce-Lane and business owner/attorney June Cutter, both Republicans, and Assemblymember/educator Brian Maienschein, a Democrat. The top two vote-getters will advance to a Nov. 8 runoff election. The San Diego Union-Tribune Editorial Board sent each a 13-question survey and is their responses here. Bruce-Lane declined to participate.

If you have comments or questions about the election or any of the candidates after reading this interview, please email Editorial and Opinion Director Matthew T. Hall at matthew.hall@sduniontribune.com.

Below are June Cutter’s responses and a link to Maienschein’s.

Q: From wildfires to sea level rise, the climate emergency is increasingly affecting California. What immediate steps should California lawmakers be taking to address it?

A: Clean air and clean water are essential and must be a priority at all levels of government. Wildfires are a major climate issue that impacts our entire state, including San Diego County. Wildfires endanger human lives, valuable property and entire ecosystems; they also wreak havoc on any progress we make in the fight against climate change.

Year after year, California’s carbon reduction goals are being obliterated by wildfires. California wildfires burned 4.3 million acres in 2020 and emitted 112 million metric tons of carbon dioxide — akin to the greenhouse gas emissions of 24.2 million passenger cars driving in a single year.

The good news is that we can fix this. The bad news is that our state government continues to drag its heels. It has been nearly three years since Gov. Gavin Newsom promised to fast-track wildfire prevention projects. As of mid-April, not a single project had been completed.

California lawmakers should take immediate action to reduce the fuels that are causing wildfires to explode. This includes prescribed and managed burns, which produce only a small fraction of the smoke emitted by catastrophic wildfires. Vegetation management is necessary to prevent the human devastation and catastrophic carbon emissions caused by wildfires throughout our state.

Q: The governor’s pleas to reduce water use have been widely met with indifference. What, if anything, should state lawmakers be doing to address drought conditions?

A: Statewide, average water use is roughly 50 percent environmental, 40 percent agricultural and 10 percent urban. Residential water use is such a small percentage of California’s total water consumption. Before our state lawmakers ask any of us to reduce our water use, they must fulfill the basic responsibility of building, repairing and maintaining our water infrastructure.

In 2014, California voters entrusted the government with $7.5 billion for Water Quality, Supply and Infrastructure Improvement under Proposition 1. This included $2.7 billion for new water storage projects. As of June 7, 2021, however, only $150 million of the authorized money has been spent on water storage.

California lawmakers must expedite the creation of water surface storage, the construction of new dams and the repair of existing canals and pipelines. We are the world’s fifth-largest economy and the most populous state in the country, yet we are serviced by an antiquated and broken water system. Californians pay the highest income tax in the nation, and we have the right to demand infrastructure that works.

In urban areas, we can also create additional water supplies through desalination and water recycling. In rural areas, we must prioritize the delivery of water to the communities that need it most. We also need to ensure that our agricultural communities have sufficient water to sustain their role as the breadbasket of America.

Q: What would you do to address the surging gas prices in California?

A: While we continue to work on comprehensive solutions, Californians need immediate relief. I would suspend the California gas tax and increase domestic oil production within the state of California. Soaring gas prices have highlighted the importance of increasing our domestic oil supply — California oil is cleaner and cheaper than foreign oil. The surplus in our state budget also demonstrates sufficient revenue to suspend the California gas tax and backfill the cost of roadwork using the state’s general fund.

Gov. Newsom’s proposed plan picks and chooses which Californians will benefit from a rebate and provides no lasting impact on the cost of goods and services throughout the state. His plan also requires bureaucratic red tape and more tax dollars spent on administration of the rebate. Suspending the gas tax is a solution that requires less administration and provides immediate benefits to all Californians, including those who will benefit from a reduction in the cost of goods and services.

Q: How do you strike a balance between reducing the state’s dependency on fossil fuels and addressing energy affordability issues, including the high cost of gasoline?

A: While we continue to support innovation in the energy industry, we have a duty to prioritize oil that is produced in an ethical and environmentally conscious way. It is disingenuous of Sacramento Democrats to claim that they care about the environment as they turn a blind eye to oil that is produced on foreign soil.

California uses about 1.8 million barrels of oil per day, but we only produce 463,000 barrels domestically. We currently import 75 percent of our oil from foreign sources, including Russia and the Middle East. Moreover, California is an “energy island” – meaning that oil produced in other states does not get sent to California. Compliance with existing regulations makes California’s oil the cleanest on the planet. Restricting the production of California oil only increases our reliance on foreign oil that does not comply with California’s environmental or ethical standards.

Knowing that we simply cannot function without oil, the question becomes whether we want our oil to come from overseas where we have no control over how it is produced, or do we want to invest in the cleanest oil on the planet by producing it domestically here in California? Does the environment no longer matter if the damage is being caused on the other side of the world?

I will support commonsense policies that protect the environment across the globe while enhancing our economy here at home.

Q: How would you bring down the high cost of housing, both for homeowners and renters?

A: The housing affordability discussion often centers on the provision of low-income housing. I believe that a comprehensive affordability discussion must also include workforce and middle-class housing. To make housing more affordable for both homeowners and renters, we need to increase the supply of housing across all income levels. This means we must remove the restrictions and regulations that make it harder and more expensive to build in California.

For half a century, the California Environmental Quality Act has stifled growth in the housing market, and it is safe to say that the impact of this anti-development mindset has more than caught up with us. To address California’s housing shortage, Sacramento Democrats continue to propose “one-size-fits-all” bills like 2020’s failed Senate Bill 50, followed by SB 9 and SB 10 in 2021.

Policies like this do not solve the housing affordability issue, nor do they address other barriers to entry. They also do not take the uniqueness of our neighborhoods and communities into consideration. We must reduce the regulations that increase the cost of building homes statewide and restore local control over restrictions on building so that neighborhoods and communities can expand and grow in their own unique ways.

The fastest or easiest solution to a problem often leads us to kicking the can down the road. We need comprehensive, growth-minded solutions to California’s housing shortage. After all, home ownership is a key to the middle-class dream, and we want to preserve that opportunity for future generations.

Q: Homelessness is growing dramatically across the state. How would you address it?

A: We need to address the root cause of homelessness for each individual and for the increase of homelessness across our state as a whole. We have spent billions of dollars on the epidemic of homelessness in California, but the problem has only gotten worse.

Unsheltered individuals need to receive services that address the root cause of their homelessness. We must create a legal right to shelter with mental health, substance abuse, housing navigation and other support services for homeless individuals, coupled with a legal obligation to vacate public spaces if they refuse such shelter.

California must eliminate “soft on crime” policies that allow individuals to possess narcotics and commit thefts under $950 without repercussion. California must also reduce the early release of unrehabilitated criminals who will inevitably occupy our streets. This is not just an issue of homelessness but also public safety.

We must also audit all state funds used for mental health, substance abuse and homeless services. We need metrics to measure the effectiveness of these funds. We cannot keep throwing good money after bad — if the type of service being provided is not effective, if funds are being wasted or diverted in any way, if there is any fraud or abuse within the system, these problems must be brought to light and funds must be diverted to programs that actually work and make a positive impact on the problem of homelessness.

Q: What, if anything, should the state do to make mass transit a viable option for commuters?

A: The uniqueness of our neighborhoods and communities must be considered in the discussion around mass transit. I do not believe that mass transit systems can simply be dropped into communities that were not planned to facilitate them. Suburban families are unlikely to use mass transit while carpooling their kids to school, transporting sports equipment and making their weekly run to Costco.

With that said, I believe there may be pragmatic ways to expand and grow the mass transit system in San Diego and throughout the state. This will require careful thought and patience, along with coordination of how new communities are planned and built.

The high-speed rail is a perfect example of a plan that was too big to be practical, and California taxpayers somehow find themselves continuing to fund a project that has no feasible end. Expansion that is more steadily paced, piece by piece, neighborhood by neighborhood, may be the better way to look at mass transit.

Q: How will you balance public health with economic and educational concerns going forward in this pandemic or the next one? What specific steps and strategies, from lockdowns to mask mandates, would you recommend or rule out if there is a new surge in deaths and hospitalizations?

A: Transparency, consistency and data-driven decisions are key to handling this pandemic and any other future public health crises that come our way. Educating the public on the scientific reasons behind each public health recommendation and being transparent about both the need and the efficacy of each guideline is crucial to building a sense of personal and communal responsibility.

The last two years have shown us how to keep our schools and businesses safely open during a health crisis, and I do not foresee any reason why our schools and businesses should be shuttered once again. The lockdowns of 2020 and 2021 were particularly damaging to our school-aged children who suffered learning loss, mental and emotional instability, substance abuse, domestic violence and increased rates of suicide — just to name a few of the many ramifications we are seeing as schools open back up. We simply cannot put our children through this again.

I am vaccinated and boosted. I have never refused to wear a mask. But those are my personal choices, and I do not believe that it is the government’s place to impose those choices upon any individual. Mandates infringe on personal freedom, medical freedom and religious freedom. I believe in doing my personal best and trusting my neighbors to make the right choices for themselves and their families — even if those choices are different from mine.

Q: California has the strictest gun laws in the nation yet has had some of the nation’s worst mass shootings this year. What more, if anything, should be done to reduce gun violence in California?

A: When you have the strictest gun laws in the nation but still experience some of the nation’s worst mass shootings, the logical conclusion must be that legal gun ownership is not the cause of these problems.

We must pivot our discussion from law-abiding citizens who follow the rules and register their guns to the massive number of illegal guns floating around our Golden State. Every California lawmaker should be focused on getting those illegal guns off our streets and out of the hands of criminals. That is the only way to make a real impact on gun violence in California.

Q: California has adopted a number of criminal justice reforms in recent years. What would you change and why to ensure justice is equitable and effective?

A: “Soft on crime” bills are not the answer — Propositions 47 and 57 have done great harm to the quality of life in California. Early release without proper rehabilitation and theft without consequence are not sustainable solutions for an orderly society.

First and foremost, we must invest more in our law enforcement officers and provide them with the training and tools they need to protect our communities. Defunding the police or reducing the resources we provide to our law enforcement officers will not fix the purported problems within our criminal justice system.

Rather, I believe that any discussion regarding the equities of the criminal justice system must start outside the system itself. California lawmakers must address the needs of our most underserved communities before we can really talk about criminal justice reform. Are we doing our best to ensure that all children have the resources and education they need to build a future within the confines of the law? Are we ensuring that all children have the best start in life, and a shot at the American Dream? We need to talk about the root causes of poverty and the value of exceptional education before we can talk about criminal justice.

Q: What single change would you make to improve California’s K-12 public school systems?

A: The most impactful way to improve California’s K-12 public education system is school choice. Every California family should have the option to decide where the education dollars associated with their child should go — public, charter, private or home school. This will create competition in the educational marketplace and incentivize all schools to perform better for their students.

Your ZIP code should not dictate your future. School choice will give families in underserved communities more opportunities to lift themselves out of poverty and provide all of California’s children with options for exceptional education. Socio-economics aside, one size does not fit all kids, and school choice will give families the ability to find the best school for their students and give parents a broader role in the education of their kids.

Parents should have a say in what their kids are learning and how their kids are being taught in school, and schools should provide transparency in what they are teaching and how their students are performing. The education of our kids should not be a mystery, and school choice is the most direct way to address California’s education issues.

Q: Should taxes in California be increased? If so, which ones?

A: Absolutely not. Our state government does not have a revenue problem. It has a spending problem that is perpetuated by legislators who are not acting as good stewards of the taxpayers’ money. Tax dollars are not Monopoly money — they are hard-earned dollars that you and I have sent to Sacramento under the assumption that they would fund the basic needs of our communities.

There is a surplus in the state budget, and we should be talking about reducing taxes, not increasing them. California currently taxes middle-class individuals and families like they are wealthy. A single person earning $60,000 in adjusted gross income pays the same marginal tax rate of 9.3 percent as a person making $290,000. A family earning $120,000 pays the same 9.3 percent tax rate as a family making $550,000.

I would propose a middle-class tax cut that exempts the first $50,000 per person, or first $100,000 per family, from state income tax. This would be a tremendous help to California’s working-class and middle-class families, especially as we continue to recover from the economic devastation of the pandemic and soaring inflation.

Q: What is the most important issue we have not raised and why?

A: California needs to stop pushing veterans out of our state. We are one of only six states that still fully tax military retirement among the 41 states that impose income taxes on residents. In doing so, we are precluding veterans from retiring in the state of California. This is a tremendous disservice to our military service members who sacrifice life and limb to protect our freedom. This is also a tremendous disservice to our own economy, which is losing the post-retirement economic power of both veterans and their spouses to other states.

We should exclude all retirement income received from the United States armed services from state income tax. We should also increase the property tax exemption for disabled veterans so that low-income veterans can afford to stay in California. In that vein, we should also create programs specifically directed towards the housing and rehabilitation of our homeless veteran population.

California can and should do better by the veterans who served and continue to serve our great nation.

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