On Wednesday morning, U.S. Representative Jeff Denham (R-Turlock), State Senator Anthony Cannella (R-Ceres), and Assemblywoman Kristin Olsen (R-Modesto) joined community members and local officials at Latif’s Restaurant in Turlock for the Stanislaus Business Empowerment Forum, sponsored by the California Prosperity Project and the Alliance for Affordable Services.
Notable attendees to the event hosted by the Turlock Chamber of Commerce included Turlock Mayor John Lazar, CEO/President of the Chamber of Commerce Sharon Silva, City Manager Roy Wasden, Councilman Forest White, Councilwoman Mary Jackson, Stanislaus County Supervisor Vito Chiesa, Turlock Unified School District Board of Trustees President Eileen Hamilton, and City Council candidate Steven Nascimento.
With the theme of the public forum being ‘Business Empowerment’, the panelists spent majority of their time discussing economic development, job creation, the agricultural industry in the Central Valley, and much more. Members of the audience were also allowed to ask the panelists questions during the second half of the forum.
“We need to change the culture in California,” stated Senator Anthony Cannella. “We need to stop acting like business owners are only takers, and start realizing they are also givers.”
All three officials attributed the collapse in the economy to state regulations that are in need of reform.
“For the first time in the history of California, more families and businesses are leaving the state rather than entering,” stated Assemblywoman Kristin Olsen. “That’s a travesty.”
“If we improve the process by how we make decisions, then we’ll have a more fiscally responsible and transparent government,” she continued.
Other topics in the forum included education, water storage, the postal service and vacant postal offices, workforce development, bringing new industries to the valley region, their current work in legislation, roads, and state increment financing.
Denham also shared sentiments of frustration with business taxes after one business owner shared his own aggravation with running a small business and the difficulties in expanding his business.
“You have a real reason to be frustrated,” stated Denham. “I’m frustrated. I can’t plan my own business for the next five years, or even the next five months. I’m ready to hire, I want to hire, but we need stability to ensure ongoing employment.”
Turlock Unified School District (TUSD) Board of Trustees President Eileen Hamilton also took the forum as an opportunity to ask the elected officials regarding education financing, Proposition 30, and how the educational system lacks critical thinking skills due to the emphasis on mandated testing.
“We over test,” stated TUSD Trustee Hamilton. “I think something should be done about that.”
Senator Cannella shared that he believes art and music programs still need to be a priority in schools to help create students who are capable of critical thinking skills.
“We want well rounded individuals,” stated Senator Cannella. “Not just computers.”
“Thousands of state prisoners are now the responsibility of counties instead of the state,” stated Assemblywoman Olsen in response to Hamilton. “The schools have been getting the shaft over decisions like that. I am hopeful that the legislature will be forced into this discussion later in November to invest in our schools.”
Olsen also stated that there is a disconnect in measuring academic performance, as many high school students who pass the required exit exam are still having to take remedial classes upon entering college.
Turlock Councilwoman Mary Jackson asked the elected officials for innovative ideas on receiving funding, specifically $10 million, for road improvements, as she would like to fix the Fulkerth on/off ramp on Highway 99.
Senator Cannella shared that he was a supporter of Stanislaus becoming a ‘self-help county’ in order to receive more state funds for road improvements, however, this would only be possible should the county vote in favor of a ½ cent sales tax initiative.
“I would recommend us going for the self-help county status,” stated Cannella. “Nobody likes to pay new taxes, but I think more people are willing to pay them when they can see the differences.”
Congressman Denham also shared frustration with the California delegation, stating that the 53 member congress has been disjointed.
“Democrats and Republicans are not coming together for transportation bills,” Denham shared. “I expect to have a delegation that works together better than they ever have.”
Turlock City Manager Roy Wasden also brought about the discussion of the statewide elimination of Redevelopment Agencies earlier this year.
“I think one of the biggest mistakes that the legislature made last year was to eliminate the RDAs,” stated Olsen. “The answer is to reform the RDA system, not to eliminate them. While most legislatures today would say that they regret that decision, the fact is that they did it.”
Cannella also stated that “redevelopment is dead” and is unlikely to come back under Governor Jerry Brown.
“It’s difficult to tell local voters to support this when they know the state government can pull the rug out from under them at any time,” stated Denham in regards to the elimination of the redevelopment agencies.
Although the officials all agreed that there are a variety of serious problems that face Americans today, they also agreed that these problems could be fixed in the future.
“Things are tough right now, but there is hope,” stated Cannella. “There are a handful of us, Democrat and Republican, who are working together. We’re at the helm of a great state with great potential, and we can’t fix all this unless there is the political will to do great things.”