Assemblyman Vince Fong said he has a good feeling about the June 5 election.
“We’re working hard, hitting all the communities trying to talk to as many people as possible, and we’re feeling good,” Fong said Friday afternoon. “But we still have a lot to do to fix our state.”
A former district director for Congressman Kevin McCarthy, Fong won the 2016 election for the 34th Assembly District, which encompasses a large chunk of Kern County. As vice chair of the Assembly transportation committee, he’s been a strong advocate for responsible spending and critical of SB 1, the state’s transportation bill that raised gas prices and vehicle registration prices.
He quickly made a name for himself, rising through the ranks of California’s Republican lawmakers. He was named the Assembly’s Chief Republican Whip, responsible for gathering up the votes on matters of importance to his party.
Fong faces challenger Democratic candidate Nick Nicita, a 34-year-old audio engineer, who is running on a platform of immigration justice and a shift away from Kern County’s dependence on agriculture and oil as its main economic drivers.
Issues facing California
Fong said his talks with people in Kern County boil down to one thing: affordability in Kern County.
“The policies passed by the Democratic-led legislature are making it more difficult to live and work in the state,” Fong said. “If you look at housing prices, you look at gas prices, electric bills — all those are rising because decisions made in Sacramento,” Fong said.
He added the course needs to change.
He touched on the permitting issues that he said has hindered housing and infrastructure projects. He added those need to change.
“That requires streamlining the permit process for roads, water storage and other major infrastructure projects in the state,” Fong said. “The biggest obstacle right to building homes is the environmental process under the California Environmental Quality Act.”
He said CEQA “is being used as a legal barrier to prevent affordable homes and apartments from being built not only in Kern County but also California as a whole.”
With Kern County growing and employers like the military installations and their tenant commands hiring, there will be more demand for homes “to attract people to come live in our communities.
“We need to streamline the process as much as possible to balance the environmental concerns with the growth of the community,” Fong said.
He also said the state needs newer roads. This can be done by more effectively using the resources California already has at its disposal, like those going into the high-speed rail project.
“I think when you look at our budget priorities, I think we are using funds for projects that should be stopped,” he said. “I think if we are going to debate on having $77 billion or up to $98 billion of taxpayer dollars in use, what’s the best use of it? A certain percentage should go to improving the roads and expanding the roads we have now. The only way we are going to address safety is if we add more lanes and expand roads.
He added dealing with traffic congestion also means expanding lanes on the major highways.
Safety conditions on Highway 395 are also a concern he’s looking into.
“We need to widen and improve Highway 395,” Fong said. “That’s something I’m working on in the budget right now for short-term safety, but long term we’re going to have to secure more resources to widen it further.”
Fong has in the past introduced alternative bills to Senate Bill 1, the massive transportation and gas tax law passed in 2017 and signed by Gov. Jerry Brown. The bill’s upside is that revenue from the bill goes into state and local road projects; the downside is the increased gas prices and higher vehicle registration fees.
Signatures to repeal the law have been collected and submitted to the state for the November election.
“Voters will hopefully have a choice to decide whether they support the largest gas tax increase in the state’s history,” Fong said.
He notes that because Democrats still hold a supermajority in the California legislature, they have different priorities.
“The important thing for us to remember is we have to fight for what we believe is right, so part of my challenge is to educate a lot of these members on the importance of the Central Valley and the Indian Wells Valley,” Fong said. “We have to demand accountability, so when we look at the budget, we have to make sure our priorities are funded adequately.”
He used infrastructure as an example, noting if it’s a top priority, it should be funded appropriately.
“Right now, it is close to the bottom in terms of what we fund,” Fong said. “Throughout the communities, one of the questions I’m hearing is ‘I’m paying so much to Sacramento, what am I getting in return?’ ”
He said Kern County residents are tired of paying more and getting less in return.
Fong said things also need to change for California’s business climate.
“Our business climate ranks at the bottom in every ranking I’ve seen,” Fong said. “I think the latest survey came out we were 50th out of 50th for small businesses.”
The magazine Chief Executive listed California at the bottom of its “2017 Best and Worst States For Business.” USA Today was more generous in its March roundup, placing California at 15. U.S. News and World Report also noted in March that the Golden State ranks dead last in quality of life.
He said Kern County by comparison “has done a very good job of being as business friendly as possible compared to other counties.”
He notes that California competes state by state, and there are a lot of issues that need to be addressed.
“We have to lower the tax burden, we need to hold state agencies accountable to make sure we don’t have over-regulation,” Fong said. “Let’s reduce frivolous lawsuits that are being done under [Private Attorneys General Act] … let’s reform the tax code and actually let Kern County residents keep more of what they earn.”
Military installation caucus
Fong also made local headlines for initiating the California Military Installations Caucus. He co-chairs the group along with Assemblyman Tom Lackey, who represents parts of East Kern and the Antelope Valley, including Edwards Air Force Base.
“The goal is to bring other members of the legislature together and visit other military installations,” Fong said. “Our military installations form the foundation of our national defense and California leads the way. We clearly have the crown jewel in California with China Lake, and so I want to encourage people to visit and understand the importance of its mission, and why it’s important to support installations throughout the state.”