Local Politics

Friday, Sep 28 2012 06:07 PM

Assembly candidates agree a lot, but tangle over who's better experienced

BY ANTONIE BOESSENKOOL Californian staff writer aboessenkool@bakersfield.com

Pedro Rios and Rudy Salas worked to differentiate themselves as candidates for the 32nd Assembly District seat Friday, though they agreed on the state's high-speed rail plans, tax increases and whether overregulation is hurting Central Valley businesses.

The two met with The Californian's editorial board. Salas, a Democrat and Bakersfield city councilman since 2010, oversees crews for his family's construction business. Rios, a Republican and former Delano city councilman, is starting two agriculture service businesses in Delano and has a background in teaching and small business.

"I'm in a better position to actually get things done for our area," Salas said. Salas has worked in the White House and in the state Assembly for former Democratic state Sen. Dean Florez, of Shafter and said connections he made in Sacramento and as a Bakersfield councilmember would help him bring business to the district.

But Rios countered that years of political experience don't equate to effectiveness in the state legislature.

"What has political experience given us? Squat up in Sacramento," Rios said. "I've been in the trenches. ... I know what it is to run a business."

Both men said overregulation is turning off businesses that otherwise might make their home in the district.

Salas said he's talked to business owners who say the slowness of the regulatory process is preventing them from moving forward.

"That's one of the things already that I've been talking with (state Sen. Michael) Rubio and (state Assemblyman Henry) Perea (about)," Salas said. "How are we going to make (the California Environmental Quality Act, which requires environmental reviews for any project) reform a big part of next year's legislative package. ... The duplicative services just doesn't make sense. ... It's driving away our small businesses."

"I'm trying to bring a lot of other businesses to the Central Valley, especially manufacturing. My big selling point is corridors that we have, 99, I-5, 58, east-west, especially when they expand the rail lines there," he said.

Rios said regulation and taxes are "choking" businesses in the state.

For example, he said, regulations on businesses under Assembly Bill 32, aimed at cutting greenhouse gas emissions, weighs disproportionately on California versus neighboring states.

Rios said three trucks he owns for his businesses won't be allowed under the legislation in a few years, though they'd be allowed in Arizona.

"The dominant party right now has been passing a lot of that legislation," he said.

"Let's make it evenly across the board," he said of air quality controls. Businesses create economic growth, but are expected to perform under stricter regulations.

"That needs to be changed in my view," he said. "We are competing against other states" to attract business.

Salas said were he to win, he'd be a moderate in the legislature.

"I kind of live in the 80 percent in the middle," rather than what he characterized as the left and right extremes, he said. Moreover, he already knows many legislators in Sacramento.

"They're looking at me (in Sacramento) as .. (among) moderate Democrats."

Rios said were he to win the seat, he wouldn't be dismayed that he'd be in the minority party in the Assembly.

"Democrats can pass any legislation," he said. "Right now, there is no balance in our state legislature."

On taxes and plans for a high-speed rail system, the two men basically agreed. Both oppose the state's plans and said they'd only support raising taxes for an unforeseen crisis, such as devastating and wide-ranging crop damage in the San Joaquin Valley, Rios said. But they wouldn't support tax increases just to fix the current budget deficit.

"If you have it during the current scenario, where we're just continuing to overspend, no way," Rios said about Gov. Jerry Brown's proposal to increase taxes.

Salas voted with the Bakersfield City Council to oppose the state's high-speed rail plan in its current form.

"They haven't made a compelling argument," Salas said of the High-Speed Rail Authority spearheading the plan.

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