Day two of annual bus trip packs busy schedule.The annual KHTS Tour of Sacramento continued unabated into the night Monday and started Tuesday with a group as energetic as the bright morning sun.
A networking dinner was held at The Old Firehouse restaurant in Old Sacramento where participants were able to get acquainted and discuss the issues they'd traveled north to explore, as well as take a little social time It was the calm before the intellectual storm of budget updates from speaker Mac Taylor, from the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst's Office.
Taylor's message was not all gloom and doom, but a cautious warning that things will probably get worse before they get better. He handed out a Budget Analysis booklet that outlined the progress made by implementing both revenue increases and spending reductions – as well as the deteriorating outlook of the state's economy.
Still, Taylor wasn't run out of the room on a rail, despite the closeness of the tracks to the historic restaurant. The group seemed even more determined to tackle issues come the morning when a lineup of speakers was ready for their questions.
Politicians serving the Santa Clarita Valley joined the group for dinner; Senators George Runner, Tony Strickland, Assemblywoman Audra Strickland and event sponsor, Assemblyman Cameron Smyth all worked the room, touching base with those who worked on campaigns, meeting many who were new to Sacramento. To a participant, the journey was already time well spent.
Senator George Runner was at the top of the lineup Tuesday morning, eschewing a speech to open the floor to questions from the 70 seated in a Capitol hearing room.
The upcoming election in May, alluded to by Taylor Monday night, was high on the group's list of inquiries; they quickly found out that Runner is in favor of changing the lottery and leaving salaries at current levels every year that there is no balance budget. He also indicated support for Prop 10, which would redirect funds to support core children's programs and services and Prop 63, the Mental Health Services Act.
Runner also talked about getting the schools out of their contracts with unions, citing the unions and a competitive bidding process they support with causing many budget woes for both the state and private industries. He also challenged Chamber of Commerce administrators to really talk with their members and find out where they stood on the issues instead of mirroring the will of the California Chamber. Runner pointed out that the country's current financial crisis has most of them operating in survival mode.
Ron Davis, the state Legislative Director for the Association of California Water Agencies, spoke about the water crisis, the threat to the endangered Delta smelt and salmon and the shortage of water due to climate change and critical drought conditions.
He apologized to those who had come in 2008, explaining that his message hadn't changed much because the crisis was a continuing one. He said that water delivery to Central Valley agriculture is on course to be reduced significantly, so much so that there could be thousands of farm workers unemployed this summer because farmers are also shifting to a survival mode.
Davis encouraged conservations measures be taken both from business standpoints and as personal efforts, especially in light of Governor Schwarzenegger's declaration of emergency drought conditions and his goal of reducing water use by 20 percent by 2020.
Following Davis, Assemblyman Roger Niello spoke, introduced by Smyth as "The Don Fleming of Sacramento," alluding to Niello's family business of automobile sales.
Neillo, one of the "Gang of 6" – referring to the six Republican Assembly members who voted for the state budget during the lockdown in February, reminded the group that the state's budget recovery is tied to the country's recovery.
"We will not raise any new taxes, but there will still be revenue shortfalls," he said. "However, the $8 billion gap will be covered in June."
He cautioned the group that the infrastructure of the state had been compromised by both the budget and the state's bad credit rating, encouraging anyone with "shovel ready" projects to apply for federal stimulus monies, which are soon forthcoming.
Asked if schools should require financial education as part of their curriculum, Niello, who also has a background as a Certified Public Accountant, said that he doesn't like to tell school districts what to teach, turning the challenge around to those members of the public sitting next to school board members in the gallery.
"You should be asking your boards why they haven't added this to their requirements,"' he said.
And asked about a current proposal to raise Workers Compensation rates to 27 percent for employers, Niello said that the proposal came from the Insurance Commission and he was not sure of the reasoning behind burdening small business owners, but assured that it was not a done deal.
The last speaker before the group headed out for a tour of the Capitol was Jack Scott, Chancellor of the California Community Colleges. Scott, whose daughter is a teacher at a Saugus District school, is a former legislator and retired president of Pasadena City College, telling the group that his experience from both sides of the issues gives him a unique perspective.
He answered questions about courses and budgeting, encouraging business and colleges – as well as other educational institutions – to work more closely together in tough financial times.
Rounding out the afternoon, the group is scheduled to hear from Assemblyman Hector DeLaTorre, who is chair of the Assembly Accountability and Administrative Review Committee, Assemblyman Mike Eng, who is chair of the Assembly Transportation Committee, Senator Tony Strickland and Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher, who is vice-chair of the Assembly Health Committee.
Listen to KHTS AM-1220 Tuesday afternoon, when some of the participants will be interviewed on the air about their Sacramento experience.