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Lawmaker Olsen vows fight for more funding for Valley communities
Rural communities like Ceres and Hughson continue to be short-changed in state funding with big city power broking legislators claiming a disproportionate share of the money pie. State Assemblywoman Kristin Olsen (R-Modesto), however, told the Ceres Chamber of Commerce last week that she will continue fighting for equitable funding between rural and urban areas for infrastructure projects and other needs.

Although she does not represent Ceres - Bill Berryhill does - Olsen was the guest speaker at Friday morning's coffee gathering at Las Cascada Mexican Bar & Grill. Approximately 24 business and city leaders turned out to hear her and ask questions.

"The Central Valley typically gets lower funding than the rest of the state," Olsen told an informal Ceres crowd, despite the Valley being one of the nation's top five most impoverished areas and suffering from a 17 percent unemployment rate. It is the formula of representation that gives the advantage to Los Angeles and San Francisco, said Olsen. The reason? Assembly districts are drawn to encircle 450,000 constituents, which means one rural legislator can represent numerous counties. Los Angeles, in contrast, has about 20 Assembly members who put Valley concerns in the backseat. Olsen said she is forging a coalition with 15 other Valley lawmakers to "find common ground" and gain a louder voice.

"Republicans and Democrats must fight to get resources here."

Olsen prefers returning to a one senator and assemblyman per county system "so more rural counties won't be overlooked." Stanislaus County would have the same influence as Los Angeles, said Olsen. But she said it may be "nearly impossible" to overturn a court decision which reversed the "one person, one vote" system.

"I call myself a frustrated optimist but the stakes are too high to give up," said Olsen.

The state's imposition of a CalFire tax on property owners in mountainous counties to pay for firefighting service is an example of how urban legislators run roughshod over rural residents, Olsen said.

She also touched on the complex and "inflexible" method in which the state doles out road funds. She used the Highway 120 Sonora Bypass as an example, noting that it was originally designed with two off-ramps to provide access to businesses along Mono Way. Because the project was believed too expensive, the off-ramps were cut from the project. However, construction costs dropped due to a shortage of work and the budgeted dollars were available, the California Transportation Commission said to "go back to the rear of the line" since alteration would make it a new project.

"We need to figure out ways to streamline to see the best use of taxpayer dollars," she said.

Olsen decried Gov. Brown and Democrats for promoting the state's high-speed rail project with its $160 billion price tag that "puts our children and grandchildren in tremendous debt." Citing a lack of a business plan to show high-speed rail could support ridership free of state taxpayer subsidies, Olsen scoffed at the notion that the Bakersfield-Chowchilla line makes economic sense. To the contrary, Olsen said "unless you're a correctional officer or a prisoner, you probably have no reason to go to Chowchilla." The line will also take out farmland and a chunk of the Chowchilla business district.

Olsen said the measure only passed a vote of Californians when Democrats slipped in funding for unrelated transportation projects in the Bay area and Southern California.

It would have made more sense, Olsen said, to use a fraction of project cost to improve existing transportation corridors. She advocates the extension of BART over the Altamont into the Valley and the widening of Highway 99. She noted that the freeway is the largest transportation corridor west of the Mississippi River yet is only two lanes wide for most of its distance in the Valley.

Olsen accused fellow lawmakers for the "vacuum of leadership in Sacramento" and failing to work on issues, many of which are not polarizing in nature.

The effects of the leadership vacuum of the "once golden state" is that state population is now in decline as people leave for states with less regulations and taxes.

An advocate of lowering taxes to stimulate the state economy, Olsen said she resents how Brown has threatened to inflict "trigger cuts" on education if voters fail to support Proposition 30 to generate $8 billion in tax hikes. "It is inappropriate to hold our kids hostage ... as a way of getting voters to support tax increases."

She predicted a defeat of Prop. 30 will be due to voters who "do not trust Sacramento and will not be willing to send them more to spend."

"Imposing higher taxes on overtaxed Californians lacks compassion and lacks logic."

She predicted that when the measure fails in November lawmakers will be forced to discuss priorities and talk about leveling off spending increases in social services.

"If they take 15 to 20 days off the school year, the public is going to go nuts," predicted Olsen.

When asked of her opinion of possible elimination of Business Enterprise zones giving tax breaks to business, Olsen said "it's foolish ... to eliminate the last economic tool available." State lawmakers abolished all redevelopment agencies - Ceres included - last year to seize millions for state coffers.

Deputy Police Chief Mike Borges agreed that the Valley is often given the short end of the stick. He said he's noticed how Bay Area jurisdictions have received more state realignment funds to help law enforcement deal with prisoners released early from state prisons.