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State speaker meets Valley

California's Assembly leader endorses high-tech's desire to improve education but disagrees with industry self-regulation.

SUNNYVALE, California--A state Democratic leader today endorsed the high-tech sector's desire to upgrade the state's education system but disagreed that the Net industry should be self-regulated.

"There were no surprises, but the day brought home that education was clearly their No. 1 priority," Antonio Villaraigosa, speaker of the state Assembly, said after a meeting with Silicon Valley firms at National Semiconductor, sponsored by the American Electronics Association.

"I'm not sure that I share the belief that government shouldn't be involved at all in [Internet regulation]," he added, saying government sometimes servers as an arbiter of conflicts.

"There's enough work for government that we shouldn't be putting ourselves where government should not be," Villaraigosa said. "I do not accept that we have no role, [however,] especially with respect to consumers."

Joe Drooling, an AEA senior vice president who runs the trade group's California operations, praised Villaraigosa as a "quick study" on high-tech's public policy issues, despite his lack of experience in technology.

"I don't think he knew we were as involved in education," said Dan Condron, a Hewlett-Packard public affairs manager who heads the AEA's education committee, noting that his group's education agenda is consistent with that of Villaraigosa.

California legislators and Gov. Pete Wilson have been at odds over what to do with a huge surplus in the state budget--how much would be refunded to taxpayers and how much spent on boosting public education.

"The fight about the budget is a fight about the future--we have a $4.4 billion surplus, but this issue of tax cut vs. investment in education is very much an issue of what kind of state we want to live in," said Villaraigosa, a former union organizer whose district is in East Los Angeles.

On regulating Internet commerce, Mitch Gorsen of EDS called for a totally hands-off approach by state government, while praising the Assembly's recent action to put a three-year moratorium on new state and local taxes on the Internet.

"This ought to be industry-led and consumer-led, a form of self-regulation," Gorsen said. "The role of government ought to be to validate the efforts of industry and consumers."

But Gorsen argued that the state should expand its use of technology, specifically urging greater use of credit cards, debit cards, and electronic funds transfers. He also suggested more acceptance of electronic documents for required filings.

In other comments, Villaraigosa said he thinks there's a good chance a $9 billion bond issue to build new schools and upgrade old ones, the largest bond issue ever in California, will be put before state voters.