From labor laws to national politics to the housing crisis, this year’s State of the State convened some of the most influential voices and timely topics to an audience of more than 250 business leaders on the Central Coast. 

state of the state 2019

See the event photo album

The Sept. 27 SLO Chamber event brought together three of Sacramento’s top political minds: Keely Bosler, Director of the California Department of Finance; Aneesh Raman, Senior Advisor on Strategy and External Affairs for the Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development; and Dane Hutchings, Director of Government Affairs for Renne Public Policy Group. The discussion, moderated by Wendy Wendt, Executive Director of First 5 San Luis Obispo County, covered wide-ranging ground on issues that impact local business.

Weren’t able to make the event? Check out a few highlights below.

The defining issues we’ll face in 2020

As Governor Newsom’s chief fiscal policy advisor, Bosler emphasized that budgets show where the real values and priorities of an administration are. She warned that when our country experiences its next recession, California might not get as much help from the federal government as it did in 2008, making it even more critical to strategically spend one-time funds to address issues like pension liabilities.

On the same topic, Raman stated that “The economy is not working for the majority of Californians,” and that we need inclusive, sustainable growth for business owners and individuals alike to thrive.

Hutchings cautioned the audience to be wary of changing political motivations saying, “I think it’s becoming more about personal brand and less about serving the people.”

Recent state legislation: Assembly Bill 5

When it came to recently passed legislation, AB5⁠— the independent contractor law also known as the Dynamex rule⁠— was the most widely discussed.

While this law on one hand seeks to protect employees, Hutchings pointed out the dark side: laws like these encourage hundreds of lobbyists to try and carve out exemptions for specific industries. As a lobbyist himself, Hutchings opined that this type of legislation can create a system of winners and losers based on who has the most pull in Sacramento. He said there needs to be more support in place for those who don’t end up a “winner.”

At odds? California versus the federal government

Whether it’s election season or not, the contentious relationship between California and the federal government is often top of mind. For Raman, it’s California’s progressive stance on climate change that put us at major odds with the Trump administration. He encouraged Californians to remember that “it’s not a choice between the environment and the economy”— these issues are intertwined.

In addition to the 60 suits the state has filed against the administration currently, the 2020 census is a major point of contention. According to Bosler, the Newsom administration is significantly increasing state funds to help communities like San Luis Obispo get the most accurate and complete count possible in the face of what they see as the Trump administration’s effort to discourage participation. 

Economic challenges

When it came to the most challenging issues facing California, all agreed that the wealth gap⁠— California’s poverty rate is the second highest in the nation— and the housing crisis are near the top of the list. 

Hutchings proposed that an increased focus on talent development, especially when it comes to trades and technical skill building, is essential to addressing the wealth gap and helping to rebuild the missing middle class in California.

Building on that theme, Raman agreed that education and supporting children early on, starting with pre-Kindergarten education, is an important long-term strategy to address the sharp disparities between well off and struggling Californians. 

In an attempt to address this issue, Bosler noted that the governor doubled the earned income tax credit program this year. For families in the state who have young children or struggle with minimum wage incomes, this budget increase will provide direct and tangible relief. 

Narratives and myths around the ‘California Exodus’ were also brought up in the discussion.

“Migration isn’t really what we should be worried about as a state,” Raman said, pointing to a need for more research on the issue and a deeper focus on keeping the businesses that start here. “The data isn’t there yet to show that we’re having a mass exodus.”

“This whole narrative around high wealth individuals leaving the state⁠— that’s just not been what’s happened,” Bosler said. “The people that have been leaving the state have been people who have more modest means.”

Housing crisis

Speaking to the housing crisis, Bosler pointed out that the state doesn’t always have the most power in the housing conversation. However, she said that the money the state has invested in housing is “money to change things.”

In addition to that $1.75 Billion investment, Bosler also said that California has a lot of state-owned property, which could be utilized for low income housing or to help address the homelessness crisis.

“One of the things I’ve learned in my time in state government are the limits of the governor’s office,” Raman echoed. “We’ve got to⁠— across sectors and across state and local⁠— figure this out.” Bottom line, he said, is “we need to build more housing.”

Hutchings added that cities do not get a large revenue from property taxes, making it difficult for housing initiatives to be enacted at the local level.

Care about the State of California? Get involved 

As the event came to a close, Wendt asked panelists for their final thoughts on the state of our state. 

Hutchings said a major challenge is voter apathy; political engagement is everything. He emphasized that businesses can become more involved in encouraging their employees to engage in political processes, because at the end of the day political change affects business.

Bosler echoed this sentiment, saying that people need to be involved not just on a state level but also at the local level. Much of the change we are seeking is in our own backyard and that focusing advocacy around budget decisions is the best way to ensure meaningful impact. 

For Raman, it comes back to the American Dream, or more specifically, the Californian Dream, defined by “intrepid spirit and entrepreneurialism.” He said that these dreams are in peril but, he emphasized, there is still hope: “I believe with everything I’ve got that the American Dream is worth saving, and we have to save it.”