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Local leaders take Capitol advocacy trip

Government: Loss of enterprise zone and education funding key issues

Posted: March 25, 2011 1:55 a.m.
Updated: March 25, 2011 1:55 a.m.
 

On the sixth annual pilgrimage to Sacramento, 73 representatives from the Santa Clarita Valley’s business and community organizations trekked north Monday for two solid days of meetings with California legislators.

The logistics-heavy annual trip was coordinated by KHTS AM-1220, Santa Clarita’s local radio station. During the tour, lawmakers met face-to-face with people in the community and hear from residents on a number of key issues affecting both residents and the business community.

The key issues addressed in meetings with legislators this year included concerns over loss of education and mental health funding, transportation issues and state-mandated water-chloride treatment.

Of particular concern to the business community is the threat to economic benefit programs. An informal coalition of local business groups set aside special meetings to discuss options with state politicians and legislative aides.

Legislators also set aside time individually to meet with the contingent of residents and answer questions from the community.

A large group of local residents traveling to Sacramento by bus is a powerful way of getting our voice heard, said Carl Goldman, owner of the KHTS broadcasting group.

“We’ve tried every year to take people from different political beliefs and backgrounds,” Goldman sad. “We tried to get as diverse a group as possible this year.”

The grassroots lobbying tool has brought close to 500 local residents to Sacramento, each representing a diverse group of people and views.

Many have paid for the trips out of their own pockets and taken time off from work to travel to Sacramento and advocate for programs affecting the Santa Clarita Valley, in a show of democracy in action.

General meetings
This year, community members met with a number of politicians, including Assemblyman Cameron Smyth and state Sens. Tony Strickland and Sharon Runner to discuss issues residents felt were vital to those who live and work in the SCV.
Assembly Speaker John Perez addressed the group at length upon its arrival in Sacramento.

Representing the interests of local residents and businesses were Mayor Marsha McLean and Michael Murphy, the city’s intergovernmental relations officer.

McLean pressed legislators on two issues in particular that could have the biggest effect on residents and businesses, chloride in water-treatment mandates and proposed elimination of the redevelopment agencies and the Enterprise Zone programs.

State representatives also heard from community members regarding the drastic cuts schools have suffered and concerns regarding cuts to mental-health funding.

Other issues addressed included transportation needs, fiscal outlook for California and film and tax credits.

Economic coalition
As the meetings with SCV residents were ongoing, smaller core group meetings were held with local business leaders to discuss the threat to redevelopment agencies and enterprise zones. Gov. Jerry Brown called to eliminate both programs under his proposed budget plan.

There has been a coalition in the SCV working on the Enterprise Zone issue for several months. There is certainly some interest by some members of the Legislature at instituting some changes to the existing redevelopment program and enterprise zones, but the group did not hear anyone say they were interested in doing away with either of those, Murphy said.

Enterprise Zone is a program that gives businesses that operate within certain areas tax breaks for hiring disadvantaged workers. The SCV Chamber of Commerce, the Santa Clarita Economic Development Division and the region’s nonprofit SCV Economic Development Corp. have jointly spearheaded an effort to work with the local business community, examine the success of its local enterprise zone and see what steps can be taken to salvage the economic programs for the future.

The informal coalition of business advocates met with 18 targeted members of the state Legislature who members believed were critical to the ongoing discussions about enterprise zones, said Damian Jones, the SCV chamber’s lobbyist.

“Many of the legislators expressed support for the enterprise zone program but were trying to figure out how to save this program and still balance the state’s budget,” Jones said. 

The core groups set up meetings with legislators believed to be influential or swing-vote candidates among the assemblymen and senators, most of whom were Democrats, said Bill Kennedy, CEO of the SCVEDC.

As time was short, local advocates did not want to waste precious time meeting with legislators who already were in favor of protecting the economic programs.

“Our local legislators have been strong supporters of enterprise zones from day one, and we need them to keep up the fight,” said Jonas Peterson, president of the SCV Economic Development Corp.

One thing all participants agreed upon was cuts are definitely going to be made to repair the state’s fiscal health.

Enterprise zones
Underlying the governor’s proposed cuts to the economic programs is the assumption that eliminating the programs will save close to $1 billion, Peterson said.

But he said that assumption does not factor in the tax revenue, jobs or tax savings benefiting local communities that have enterprise zones.

“We argued that enterprise zones, as an investment, have a greater laid than the expense of enterprise zones,” Kennedy said.

The economic program is safe at least until June, Kennedy said. Beyond that, Kennedy believes if the zones survive with some kind of reforms, the Santa Clarita Valley’s zone stands a good chance of surviving.

“I feel optimistic we will see some form of Enterprise Zone benefits survive,” Kennedy said.

The SCV is home to several aerospace, defense technology, biotechnology, film and media companies, which are viewed as key to California’s strength. For that reason, Kennedy feels the existence of these industries locally position Santa Clarita to survive any long-term reforms.

While the local business community would like to see the whole program remain intact, on the whole, it’s open to reform, Peterson said, adding that there is room to improve the program.

Also, Santa Clarita was identified by the Department of Housing and Community Development as having one of the best-run enterprise zones in the state, citing it as a model program.

“These factors should give Santa Clarita an advantage,” Kennedy said.

Executives from two local companies, ADI and Princess Cruises, also traveled to Sacramento as well to share their Enterprise Zone experiences with legislators, said Dana Cop, the SCV Chamber board chairman.

The executives were able to cite specifics as to how many people they’ve hired and whom they’ve hired as a result of the program. And it gave the legislators a chance to hear from real employers.

Chamber president and CEO Terri Kingery Crain agreed. The overall opinion of all involved was mostly positive, and most legislators were receptive.

Local activism

The coalition of SCV community representatives persevered on their journey to Sacramento this year despite the Grapevine being closed due to a late spring snowstorm, resulting in a 10-hour bus trip to the state Capitol.

The intense effort to craft a viable state budget, and legislators being unexpectedly called to the floor for bills they were scheduled to introduce, kept trip organizer Goldman busy balancing a fluid schedule.

Despite all the last-minute schedule changes, he managed to coordinate with all the key parties and ensure local residents were able to meet with every single legislator that had been scheduled.

“Every year, we hear back from different legislative speakers. They think it’s pretty exciting such a large group from Santa Clarita spends some time in the Capitol,” said Kevin O’Neill, chief of staff to Assemblyman Cameron Smyth.

“They like the activism in Santa Clarita,” O’Neill said.

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