Local residents had the rare opportunity to speak directly to their elected representatives on Wednesday, at Turlock's second annual Government Night.
The event, hosted by Stanislaus County Supervisor Vito Chiesa, brought U.S. Rep. Jeff Denham (R – Atwater), State Sen. Anthony Cannella (R – Ceres), and Turlock Mayor John Lazar to a town hall meeting, where they offered perspectives and answered constituents' questions.
“This is a great opportunity for us to really get federal, state, and local elected officials together to answer a variety of your questions,” Denham said.
Wednesday's event, held at Medeiros Elementary School, drew only about 100 attendees – far fewer than the first Government Night, held in February 2011. That event drew more than 300 Turlockers to the Turlock War Memorial, in large part due to rampant concerns regarding state and federal budgets.
Though the outcry has lessened, major budget cuts are still pending across the country. Both the state and federal budgets still earned large explanations from Denham and Cannella
The House will introduce a budget in the next two weeks, Denham said, in hopes of getting the first full federal budget approved in three years. Denham implored the Senate to work with the House in developing a budget which cuts costs, rather than refusing to vote on the House budget as in years past.
“If they don't like our budget, that's fine,” Denham said. “But we need to show the two houses can work together.”
Cannella admitted the state budget was largely out of legislators' hands this year, with Gov. Jerry Brown (D) unilaterally imposing a budget plan. That plan sees California bridging a $10 billion deficit with a combination of cuts and new taxes, most of those on the rich.
“When you look at some of these cuts, they're pretty darn painful,” Cannella said. “... It's going to be on the ballot in November, so you can decide if you want to tax yourself.”
California's proposed High-Speed Rail system drew numerous questions from the audience. Both Denham and Cannella were opposed due to rapidly escalating costs and an unproven business model, just as government has less funding for such projects. But Chiesa and Lazar both said some transportation enhancements are needed, be it train, plane, or automobile to meet California's growing population.
“If it's not part of the whole portfolio, then we're doomed for failure,” Chiesa said.
Topics of growth, education funding, crime and immigration were also addressed. And Denham spoke on his efforts to sell 14,000 unneeded federal buildings, terming it a “way to bring in revenues without raising taxes,” make it easier for veterans to get private sector jobs, and create additional water storage in the Valley.
But the number one concern of most audience members was repairing the economy, and creating local jobs.
“Nothing will fix our ills faster than jobs,” Chiesa said.
Government budget shortfalls, declining education spending, can all be addressed with more tax revenue, which comes as more people work and spend their money. And that money can be spent on homes, solving the foreclosure crisis, or at failing businesses, propping up near-bankruptcy retailers.
According to Chiesa and Lazar, Turlock is in an excellent position to make a recovery, with Old Navy, Ulta Beauty, and Blue Diamond – tallying between 500 and 800 jobs alone over five years – all due to open in Turlock in the coming months.
“The economy has kind of shifted a little bit in Turlock,” Lazar said. “Good things are happening here.”