It’s never lost on me that I was elected to office in the midst of a turbulent and fractured political time. A recent example of the type of unproductive and inaccurate political rhetoric emblematic of this turbulence was the May 18 (Betty Arenson) column, “Smith Joins Democrats on High Tax Plans.”
My experience in local public service has shown me that it’s never productive to retreat to our silos. We accomplish the most when we set aside our differences, actively listen to each other and collaborate on our shared goal to better our community.
Above all else, I made a commitment to good governance when I was elected to represent the nearly 500,000 residents of this district. I am working hard for each and every one of the members of our community, irrespective of political affiliation. Part of my promise toward governing for the people, by the people includes parsing through falsehoods by presenting the facts. Now more than ever, it is of chief importance that we identify and resist red herrings.
On May 9, I voted “no” on Assembly Bill (AB) 162. The bill would have tied the hands of the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) to administer six critical programs, in particular services that protect our older adult population and Californians with disabilities. These services ensure that everyone has access to 911 and emergency services, and that we have safe, reliable telephone and internet service in rural communities and key locations, such as schools and hospitals.
Here in Santa Clarita, we know all too well the threat of wildfires and earthquakes. When disaster strikes, we must make sure our first responders have the infrastructure to communicate important safety information to the public, particularly to our vulnerable older adults and disabled community members. As Chair of the Joint Legislative Committee on Emergency Management, I am working to protect and improve our ability to communicate during disasters.
The assumption that this bill would prevent a “text tax” is grossly inaccurate. Though texting was being considered by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) as a universal service program, which is funded through a surcharge on each customer’s phone bill for intrastate telecommunications services, exempting texting services from the universal service tax. Calling this bill the “text tax repeal” is nothing but an erroneous misnomer.
According to the Jan. 7 nonpartisan bill analysis:
“In November 2018, the CPUC issued a proposed decision examining whether or not text messaging service revenues should be subject to the universal service programs surcharge. Over the years, there has been a steady decline in revenues for the state’s universal service programs, while the demand for these programs has steadily increased. Before the proposed decision, text messaging services were neither classified a ‘telecommunications service’ nor an ‘information service,’ under the federal Telecommunications Act of 1996.”
“It is unclear why this bill is necessary given the CPUC’s actions following the FCC’s declaratory ruling. Furthermore, it is unknown what technology might exist in the future that the FCC may classify as an ‘information service,’ which would also be exempted from the universal service programs surcharge under this bill. Absent the CPUC ability to draw new sources of revenue to fund the state’s universal service programs; the alternative is for it to increase its surcharge on existing services, therefore putting a higher burden on those who still use traditional telephone services; or slowly diminish the level or quality of service provided to the millions of Californians who depend on these programs to communicate with the outside world.”
I have also received inquiry on my AB 1507, which closes a loophole in the California Charter Schools Act allowing districts to authorize charters who could operate classroom sites and resource centers outside of their jurisdictional boundaries.
We are at a crossroads in public education — California ranks at the bottom 10 in per-pupil spending. Every student has a diverse set of learning needs, which is difficult to address when even the most successful school districts are struggling to meet rising costs and balance budgets. That’s why we must empower our local education agencies to deliberate charter decisions. When both charter and traditional schools are governed by the local school board, it allows neighboring schools to facilitate better relationships, share resources and elevate all students to foster a greater love for learning.
AB 1507 has been mischaracterized. First, this bill is not a tax-raising ploy to serve unions. This bill merely establishes greater accountability, transparency and oversight so local school boards can step in and address challenges within charter schools.
This isn’t to take away parent choice. I worked closely with local school boards and charter operators, education stakeholders and the California Charter Schools Association to craft a workable bill that allows existing charters to have a clear path to ongoing operation. AB 1507 eliminates bad actors, which I had seen too much during my time as a school board member for the Newhall School District.
Since I was elected last November, 12 of my bills are moving through the state Legislature. My bills, if signed into law, will bring hundreds of thousands of dollars back to the community, which has been historically slighted and underserved by the state.
None of my achievements in the Assembly so far would have been accomplished were it not for working with my colleagues across the state, across various levels of local government, to build bipartisan and multi-jurisdictional support. I have seen cumbersome taxes impede small business operation and property taxes chip away at the livelihood of middle-class families. To the entire community, I say: I hear you, I see you and I’m here to serve you.
I will always be committed to the truth and telling you the truth, which includes calling out political deception. When we’re all working with accurate information, we can do our best for our community and our state.
Assemblywoman Christy Smith represents California’s 38th Assembly District, which includes the communities of Santa Clarita, Simi Valley, Agua Dulce, Castaic, Santa Susana Knolls and North San Fernando Valley.