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San Diego residents, lawmakers weigh in on Inflation Reduction Act

How will the Inflation Reduction Act help people right here in San Diego County? And do San Diegans think it will help them? KPBS reporter Kitty Alvarado has some answers.

The list of what the Inflation Reduction Act says it will do is hefty: improve energy efficiency, reduce health care and prescription drug bills, create green jobs, reduce greenhouse gasses, and clean up pollution — just to name a few.

But San Diegans KPBS interviewed about the new law after its signing were a little skeptical.

"Well anything that sounds good as far as a bill to the layman, 99% of the time it’s the opposite. It’s good for people at the top," said San Diegan Jeremy Dukes, who said he saw problems with some of the tax credits for buying electric vehicles. "Who can afford an electric car? And even if you can afford it, why would you buy another car if you have one that’s already working just fine?" he asked.

Dukes also questioned credits for solar panels, saying, "Sure, you may be able to afford them but do you own the house? You can‘t put them on your house if you don’t own the house... So it’s not going to help the everyday American, simple as that."

A young couple out for a walk in their North Park neighborhood with their dog said they too rent and won’t benefit from solar or the electric car credit anytime soon. But they did appreciate the action on the environment and climate change.

"I think it’s cool any time the government is trying to help out, you know, make things more green, and that’s ultimately the direction we have to go," said Alex Sturzem.

"Yeah, it’s cool they’re going to do something about that and the government is actually taking a stand on the future of the world, especially for younger people that have another 80 years to live," said Courtney Garkani.

Rep. Juan Vargas (D-CA 51) said this final bill was a compromise from a much larger bill, and and while it doesn’t do everything, he said it's moving in the right direction for a lot of issues. "This is a forward step, this is a positive step and that’s why I’m happy about it," said Vargas.

He said it does tackle the most pressing issue of our time that has been affecting everyone and he’s been trying to call attention for years: climate change. "We’re in a terrible drought right now, and people are going to suffer, and they’re suffering more and more because of climate change. And so all the things that this bill does to attack climate change I think that’s where they’re really going to benefit the most," Vargas said.

We asked Vargas about the criticism we heard about the tax credits for EVs and solar panels. "They’re right. They can’t afford electric vehicles right now, only the wealthy people can, because the price is too damn high," he said. "But with this investment of the federal government, those prices will come down and fairly quickly and you’ll see that Ford and Chevy and American manufacturers will build inexpensive electric vehicles."

Vargas also said that even renters can benefit from solar panels. "If you're living in an apartment and the people who own the apartment put in solar panels ... it lowers the cost of electricity, which then they can charge you less money for your rent."

There was one thing Vargas said he was disappointed about in the new law: the carried interest loophole was not eliminated. A cut would have changed the way private-equity income is taxed.

"The carried interest is basically having people pay lower rates that are very wealthy," Vargas said. "That doesn't make any sense, they ought to pay the same rate that the person that works with his hands or her hands, they ought to pay the same rate, how the hell does that make sense?"

Rep. Scott Peters (D-CA52) said this law has something in it for everyone, and said he’s especially proud of the prescription drug pricing reform.

"It’s going to cap the amount that seniors on Medicare have to spend at the pharmacy counter at $2000 a year, and it’s going to provide a $35 a month cap for those people for insulin," he said. "That’s something we’ve been wanting for a long time, and we were able to do it in a way that preserves the incentives for companies, a lot of them are in San Diego to continue to innovate in that drug space in that private sector."

Peters said he understands that people can be skeptical when good things come out of Congress, but they've made progress on issues from clean energy to the supply chain. "We're always talking about how we're behind China and other countries in terms of investing in our infrastructure and we've really stepped up," he said.

He said that that it will take time for the full benefits of this bill to be seen as the money is invested, but, "It’s going to make a big difference for the planet, for our grandchildren, and our children, for seniors and for people out there trying to make a living." 

But Jeremy Dukes said that’s just the point: some people can’t afford to wait. "People can barely afford to put food on the table or gas in the car to get to work which they got to pay the bills in the first place which they're struggling to pay, it’s getting worse and worse." 

What questions do you have about the Statewide General Election coming up on Nov. 8? Submit your questions here, and we'll try to answer them in our reporting.