State officials and the business community agree: transportation funding, education, and housing are critical issues facing California in 2016. With a delegation of 75 business, academic, and elected leaders, OCBC met with many of the state’s top officials to discuss action on these issues during its annual One Voice, Two Capitals advocacy trip to Sacramento February 29 and March 1. From cabinet secretaries to legislative members, motivation to cooperate with bipartisan agendas was strong. This spirit of cooperation is most evident throughout the lower legislature where many express the move to a 12-year term allows for more time to foster the expertise and relationships needed to develop strategic, long-term solutions for the state’s most difficult issues. Overall, OCBC is optimistic about this trend toward bipartisanship amongst party leadership and is hopeful it will translate into more reasonable approach to lawmaking in California.
As California continues to fall woefully short of the billions needed to repair and maintain critical infrastructure projects across the state, the discussion of a comprehensive funding package was a major theme throughout the trip. A keynote by Transportation Secretary Brian P. Kelly kicked off the trip with a comprehensive briefing on the Governor’s transportation funding objectives proposed in the state budget. Kelly focused on funding and new revenues, emphasizing revenues can be achieved without increasing taxes, and agreed that regulation reforms were also a necessary part of the solution. The conversation continued with Assembly members Jim Frazier and Jim Beall, both expressing commitment to finding a comprehensive solution that will fix the extreme degradation of today’s roads and continue to maintain repairs. Continuing off the momentum of the federal FAST Act and Frazier’s AB 194, both assembly members stated support of increased local control to ensure transportation dollars are spent to the fullest potential, including more efficiency in state agency oversight, partnership between Caltrans and local agencies, and an alternative to the gas tax. Without a long-term comprehensive solution even more burden will be placed on local governments to fill the gap.
The delegation had robust conversations with a handful of legislators on the need to grow California’s economy to support innovative jobs creation and increasing educational opportunities to develop a workforce that can fill those jobs. Assembly Democrat Leader Chris Holden remains a top advocate for advancing workforce development initiatives, and emphasized the importance of spurring growth in job-rich industries such as international trade and tech; while continuing efforts to make college and vocational training in these areas more obtainable for California’s students. OCBC values Asm. Holden’s partnership in this effort by supporting the successful passage of AB 288, Career Pathways, and looks forward to future collaboration. Senator De Leon also expressed his intent to address the growing skills gap issue by working to add 15,000 new enrollment slots for California students to UC and CSU schools, and increasing funding for community colleges.
While action to address the state’s housing crisis still seems as stagnate as the state’s housing growth rates, conversation in a few of the trip’s meetings moved the needle in the right direction. Many acknowledged the harmful impact of CEQA litigation on housing cost and agreed there was room for more flexibility. While it does fall short of meaningful action, the conversation was open for healthy dialogue, most notable with CalEPA Secretary Matthew Rodriguez. Senator De Leon supported higher density development as a solution to the housing shortage, citing success in other major cities such as San Francisco and Paris.
Climate Change and the Economy:
Not surprisingly, the hot-button issue for many was that of climate change, however, the delegation experienced productive conversations on how to balance climate change measures with economic growth. Both Cabinet Sectary Keely Bosler and CalEPA Secretary Rodriquez expressed openness to learning about the real-life impacts of new climate change regulations. Specifically, Bosler acknowledged the impact of SB 743, revised changes to CEQA guidelines on transportation, on local government control by handing down new rules and regulations without tools for implementation. In response to the Porter Ranch gas Leak, Rodriquez ensured that mitigation and investigations moving forward are focused on the prevention of a future incident while also balancing the actual, minimal, impact on the environment with the reality that 5 million households depend on the operation of that well. The delegation was also pleased with Assembly member Matt Dababneh focus on advancing public-private partnerships to spur economic growth throughout the state. He advocated for an economy that incentives business growth and market-driven solutions to address some of the state’s more challenging issues such as climate change, instead of relying on the inefficiencies of government.