Assembly Candidates Bonta, Guillen Push Populist Streak At San Leandro Forum

Rob Bonta, Abel Guillen

ELECTION ‘12//ASSEMBLY 18 | With the days tumbling quickly towards election day, 18th Assembly District candidates Rob Bonta and Abel Guillen unfurled noticeable shades of populism during a forum Wednesday night in San Leandro.

Both progressives stances came into sharp relief on the subject of Gov. Jerry Brown’s pension reform bill quickly passed by the Legislature at the end of the August session. The problem is not $2,000-per-month pensioners, said Guillen. “We should be going after the managers, folks who are CEOs of hospital district with high salaries. That’s what I would have gone after first.” Earlier on a question regarding the possible closure of San Leandro Hospital, Guillen mocked the CEO of Sutter Health, the owner of the facility for making “$10,000-per-minute, or something like that.” Guillen’s opposition to the governor’s bill bled into a second question when he said, “Instead of beating up public employees, we need to look at the private sector and for them to say, ‘Hey, how come I don’t have pension, also?’ We should all have pensions, don’t you think?”

Bonta added rushing a bill through the Legislature late at night and at the last minute is “not a recipe for good legislation.” “It totally does an end-around the good faith public bargaining process at the heart of rights for working families,” said Bonta. Both of his parents receive $30,000-a-year pensions, he told the audience and he is working on his own for the future. “We owe it to hard-working employees to provide the pension that was promised to them.”

A similar tone of populist anger also crept into a discussion of making funding for schools more equitable. San Leandro and Alameda both lie at the bottom for funding per students in the entire county. San Leandro students, for instance, bring in nearly $1,000 less per student in school funding than children in the Tri Valley. “The formula we have now for receiving funding from the state is archaic, outdated; it’s inefficient,” said Bonta, whose children were plaintiffs in a lawsuit against Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger for chronically underfunding mandated school services. “Different district have different challenges and resources need to be allocated accordingly,” he added, such as district’s with disproportionate numbers of low-earning family, second language learners and large achievement gaps. “We’re going the wrong way, guys. But, I think you know that with where we’re headed with our public schools,” he said.

Guillen, whose background is in finance and also sits as a trustee on the Peralta Community College board said he has seen the inequities of state funding across the state. However, at one point, he drew quizzical looks from some in the audience when he said, “I worked down in Bakersfield, down in the Central Valley and there was school district—I thought we had bad schools down here–but this one particular school, literally, in their classroom, they only had one electrical outlet in the classroom.” Afterwards, Guillen said he misspoke and was only referring to the state of decay he witnessed down south and not to disparage local area schools. Guillen also said he would move to change the formula for distributing state funding to schools. “You’re educational outcome should not be based on where you live,” he said. Like Bonta, Guillen also supports Measure L, the San Leandro Unified School District’s $39 school parcel tax on the November ballot.

Later, a bit of hypothetical thinking may have provided a fresh insight into how either candidate would perform on the fly, if elected to the Assembly. On a question that assumes Proposition 30, the governor’s sales tax measure fails this November, both discussed how they would move to plug the potentially enormous budget short fall. Prop. 30 won’t improve things, said Bonta, but it ensures the state’s budget situation won’t get worse. He added Brown could call for lame duck session of the Legislature or quickly prepare for another ballot measure in the near future. They could also wait until December and call in the new fresh-faced Legislature, he posited. “Get the new legislators, once they are sworn in to the table to try to do what is the state’s job. What it has failed to do time and time again, which is create a balanced budget to address the cost side and the revenue side.”

At no other time did Guillen become more animated than when he described disgust with Sacramento’s inability to function smoothly. “They can’t make deals, so they come to us to decide,” said Guillen. “It’s the Legislature’s job to make those tough decisions.” He would also try to work with those across the aisle. “Those Republicans in Kern County love their kids as much as we do up here,” he said. To help increase the chances of passing Prop. 30, Guillen said voters needs to know exactly where each dollar is going within their specific municipality. “And that will bring government closer to home.”

Categories: #AD18, Abel Guillen, Assembly, Jerry Brown, legislature, populism, progressives, Prop. 30, Rob Bonta, S.L. School Board, san leandro, schools, Sutter

2 replies

  1. Not having been to the forum, its hard to judge which of the two candidates bent over further trying kiss the rear ends of public employees.
    Both seeming to portray the meek pension reform that was passed as punitive and harsh.

    Guillen talking about the $2,000 per month pension, and Bonta talking about the $2,500 per month pension as being typical.
    The truth is that if you look at workers retiring in the last couple years, with current salaries, and with the current, post 1999 pensions rates, you find those who have completed a true career of 30 years or more, the pensions are double and triple the figures given by these two candidates.
    Average for the state, about $67,000 and for more local, such as Alameda County and Contra Costa County, over $80,000
    (those figures do include safety employees)

    The mythical figures thrown out by these two candidates include all those employees who only worked 5 years or 7 or 10 or 12 years. It also includes all those who retired prior to the past decade when pension rates were greatly increased and when salaries were far lower, even after adjusting for inflation.

    So their figures are those used to mislead the public into thinking public employees are putting in a full career, then getting mere peanuts for a pension.
    Take a city in their assembly district, Oakland.
    If you went to work for Oakland, from age 23 and retired at age 60, and say you were a street painter. (painting lines on the street, etc.)
    You earned a base salary of $68,000 a year before overtime. After you retired at age 60, as described above, you got a 99.9% pension, or your full $68,000 salary for the rest of your life.
    You also got $425 per month in medical benefits, continued even after you turn age 65 when you entered Medicare.
    Now, that is not for some high end manager or even a police officer or firefighter. That is for a “street painter” classification worker.

    Hardly the $2,000 per month or $30,000 per year each of these two politicians describe in their apparent opposition to Browns rather minimal pension reform.
    They either don't know the true figures or they are intent on distorting the truth and misleading voters.


  2. Guillen’s comments about the state of public pension systems are frightening. As a public employee, I accept that many public agencies have failed to properly plan and fund pensions and retirement health benefits. I’m willing to compromise to ensure that my pension is safe. I’m willing to contribute my fair share to give the public confidence that some employees are not getting overly generous benefits.

    Guillen should be embarrassed about his time on the Peralta board. The board improperly gambled with public funds intended for retirement benefits, investing in derivatives and swaps that lost millions and nearly bankrupted the district. He was a self-proclaimed expert in public financing yet supported these terrible decisions. Candidates need to be honest about these issues facing the public sector and be willing to make the tough decisions rather than paying lip service to those who shout the loudest. If accurately reported, his comments were shameful.


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