The three elected officials who directly represent Turlock on a state and federal level visited Latif’s Restaurant on Wednesday, where they took part in a public forum sponsored by the Turlock Chamber of Commerce.
U.S. Rep. Jeff Denham (R-Turlock), State Sen. Anthony Cannella (R-Ceres), and Assemblywoman Kristen Olsen (R-Modesto) touched on myriad issues in a wide-ranging discussion, lasting approximately an hour.
Job growth and the economy were a main focus for all three officials – as were attributing the down economy to the current leadership in both the state and federal government.
"You have a real reason to be frustrated,” Denham said. “I am frustrated"
Denham, a farmer, said he could expand his business today, but uncertainty about key issues like health care has left him unwilling to do so. It’s a problem faced by many small business owners, he said.
“I'm ready to hire, I want to hire, but we've got to create some certainty and stability around those core issues,” Denham said.
California should be courting employers, Cannella and Olsen both said. But instead, they say the current leadership continues to impose new regulations, and is unwilling to meet with businesses to find solutions. That’s lead to a situation where, for the first time, California has more jobs leaving the state than entering, Olsen said.
“That’s a travesty,” Olsenj said. “And the only way we’re going to turn that around is by creating an environment where small businesses want to be here.”
The only way out is reform, both Cannella and Olsen said. Many areas need reform, from onerous environmental regulations to renewable energy requirements, they said.
Most important to the state’s future economic success – and developing a competent workforce – could be fully funding education, as voters requested with Proposition 98 in 1998, Cannella said.
“We’re not doing that,” Cannella said. “We fund it partially and we say, ‘We’ll pay you the rest later,’ and we never pay.”
The state needs to be more proactive in attracting jobs as well, Olsen said, creating an economic development plan for the entire state. Such a document would indicate which industries the state would look to foster, and what regions are best suited for what sorts of development.
All three spoke of the potential for new industries in Turlock, from manufacturing to biotech labs and distribution centers.
The forum covered many more topics, from the elected officials’ current work in office, to the need for water storage projects, the future of the postal service, Turlock’s need for additional roads funding, the farm bill, redevelopment, and education.
Though the problems are many, all three assured the approximately 50 people in attendance that those problems are solvable.
“We're at the helm of a great state, with great potential, and we can fix all this. It isn't rocket science,” Cannella said.
The event was sponsored by the California Prosperity Project, a nonpartisan nonprofit affiliated with the California Chamber of Commerce which seeks to provide objective information about economic issues and the political process, and the Alliance for Affordable Services, a not-for-profit association which negotiates savings on the behalf of small business owners on Capitol Hill.