Observing the California Economic Summit meeting last week, I couldn’t help think of the six state commissions I’ve served on. Commission members worked diligently and produced proposals to improve state governance in the areas of taxes and finance, transportation, initiative reform and even constitutional restructuring. The end result from all that work – nothing. The obvious question: Can the ambitious California Economic Summit successfully craft change to achieve its agenda of job creation and improving the economy?
Hosted by California Forward and the California Stewardship Network, the second annual summit concentrated on its goals of modernizing the state’s infrastructure, developing a 21st century workforce, improving access to capital, advancing manufacturing, creating efficiencies within the regulatory environment, enhancing the working landscapes between rural and urban regions and increasing housing supply.
A tall order, indeed.
But, it is not as if the attendees at the Summit (about 500 or so civic-minded folks representing business, labor, non-governmental organizations and elected officials) started from scratch. As Jim Earp of the California Alliance for Jobs said in an opening panel discussion, many of the solutions that the subgroups were proposing were not new. However, the solutions often run up against conflicting agendas and lack of political will.
So what’s the California Economic Summit strategy for breaking through the barricades to foil the inertia of the status quo?
One idea is to focus change on the regions of the state. A great emphasis was put on dealing what was termed the “two Californias” – the more well-to-do coastal region and the high-unemployment eastern side of the state.
The solutions will come locally, many at the Summit observed. Keynote speaker, Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom, said no white horse was coming from Sacramento.
Making things work from a local prospective is different from all those commissions on which I served. The commissions were products of the legislature and as such were to report back to the legislature with recommendations to be implemented by that body.
That’s not to say that certain proposals from the Economic Summit will require legislative action. However, that remains a difficult road. As Senate president pro tem Darrell Steinberg said, successfully passing a law is hard – even with a supermajority.
It was encouraging to note that small business was featured at the Summit for its ability to create jobs – if burdens and hurdles are reduced or eliminated. As Mike Niggli of San Diego Gas & Electric said in a morning panel, small business must get into the game.
Last year the Summit focused on helping small businesses and start-ups to get a foothold and work with government, business and universities to improve business opportunity through dealing with permits and regulations. The Summit especially supported the manufacturing sector and worked with the Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development, GO-Biz, to assist small business.
More must be done to encourage all types of business to create jobs — and that doesn’t necessarily mean creating new legislation but often reducing burdens.
One example of a new burden was pointed out by San Diego Gas & Electric’s Niggli who cited a new “linkage fee” — a charge on nonresidential development to help subsidize low-cost housing – recently adopted in San Diego.
He said that will just chase businesses away.
As Lt. Gov. Newson put it succinctly in his speech, “You cannot be pro job and anti-business.”