It turns out that Los Angeles Democrat Kevin de León, the incoming state Senate President Pro Tem, does know a thing or two more about the Central Valley than his June interview with a Los Angeles Times political columnist suggested.
In case you missed it, Sen. de León rankled Valley residents when he said, "I don't think it makes sense to lay down (high-speed rail) track in the middle of nowhere. It's illogical. No one lives out there in the tumbleweeds."
De León's staff almost immediately backtracked from those statements, and Tuesday the senator made a day-long visit to Fresno, where he apologized for remarks he termed "inartful" and touted the benefits to the Valley of legislation that he authored.
"It is critical that Fresno succeed, because if Fresno doesn't succeed, then the state of California doesn't succeed," de León said during a meeting with The Bee Editorial Board.
He also said that he wants high-speed rail construction supported by federal funds to start in Fresno, while state funds are used in Los Angeles and the Bay Area.
Assembly Bill 31, authored by de León in 2008, is pouring $368 million into parks for poor neighborhoods throughout the state. Indeed, Fresno is getting three new green spaces with help from that bill — the Martin Ray Reilly, Universally Accessible and Cultural Arts District parks. All together, AB 31 is funding 26 parks in the Central Valley.
De León's Senate Bill 535 requires California to spend no less than 25% of AB 32 cap-and-trade funds in disadvantaged communities. As the 2014-15 budget pegs the cap-and-trade kitty as $832 million, this will bring big bucks to the Central Valley for such things as transit, energy retrofits for agriculture and state buildings, and housing.
De León also wrote the bill (SB 39) that led to Proposition 39, which voters overwhelmingly approved in 2012. The proposition closed a tax loophole benefitting out-of-state corporations and it is generating about $1 billion a year for the state. Half of the tax revenue goes to the general fund and half is earmarked for school energy-saving projects for five years.
De León said that he is proud of the fact he was able to convince fellow legislators and Gov. Jerry to approve a spending plan that includes funding specifically for schools with a high percentage of students receiving free or reduced-price meals.
As a result, Central Valley schools will receive about $90 million to cut energy costs in the first wave of funding. This, in turn, will enable districts to put their energy savings into classroom instruction, the arts, athletics and after-school programs.
As de León's district is one of the poorest in the state, it has many of the same challenges as our local communities. When he takes over as leader of the Senate, we expect him to afford Central Valley constituents the same respect that he gives the people who voted him into office.