While business owners struggle with the state's lagging economy, our legislators are in partisan paralysis, taunting each other from their party soapboxes with the standby mantras of "Raise taxes! Decrease spending!" There seems to be little incentive for the parties to work together, despite the voters' desire that they do so. A few legislators from both parties have come together to try to reach a budget compromise. Although they are showing true leadership in attempting to reach an agreement, they are being ostracized by many of their own party members.Thanks to anti-business legislation, California is now the worst state in the country in which to do business. We also win the prize for the highest workers' comp costs in the nation.
How did we get here? What can we do to fight back?
It is partisan politics at its worst in Sacramento. We are electing more liberal Democrats and more conservative Republicans. Many of them were elected to their positions with little prior experience in government. I would guess that few of them have ever had to "make payroll."
Three actions have led us to this untenable situation: term limits, closed primaries and status quo redistricting.
Although voters love term limits, their negative effects are being felt. Every election year, one-third of the legislature turns over, bringing in a new raft of lawmakers. It takes at least two years to learn the job, and in four more they're out. Inexperienced legislators are in powerful positions.
During the two elections that were "open" primaries, voter turnout increased because people could vote for any candidate regardless of party. That meant that candidates had to appeal to a broader constituency, not just their liberal or conservative backers. Party leaders sued, however, and open primaries were overturned by the court.
The status quo was sewed up in 2001 when legislators of both parties cooperated in a gerry-mandering effort to re-draw the lines of congressional districts to preserve the political status. We now have "safeÓ Democrat and Republican districts throughout the state.
The Democrats outnumber Republicans in the legislature, and many of them are strongly anti-business. Three of the leaders are Senator John Burton (D-San Francisco), Senator Sheila Kuehl (D-Santa Monica) and Senator Jackie Speier (D-Hillsborough). Last year Kuehl brought us SB 1661, the six-week paid family leave program, and this year Speier and Burton have authored SB 2, a mandate that requires all businesses to pay for health-care insurance for their employees and their employees' dependents.
Last year Kuehl teamed up with the California Trial Lawyers Association to raise money to defeat any moderate Democrat who was running in the primary. They raised millions of dollars, funneled it into local campaigns and were very successful in eliminating any Democrats who might have been supportive of business.
We need to fight back. Our legislators don't seem to understand that the economy won't get better unless they make it easier for businesses to create new jobs. We need to tell them. Here's what we can do.
Create a louder voice. The largest chambers in the four North Bay counties have formed a regional association called The Alliance of North Bay Chambers. Together the four chambers, Fairfield-Suisun, Napa, San Rafael and Santa Rosa, represent more than 5,000 businesses and 70,000 employees. Our mission is to lobby state elected officials on legislation that affects our region. Through the Alliance, we have access to a greater number of elected officials and a louder voice.
Push for workers' compensation reform. Businesses are leaving the state because of the cost of operating in California, led by the increased cost of workers' comp insurance. According to the California Chamber Alert, a Sacramento housekeeping service with 10 employees will be paying 40% of its payroll in workers' compensation costs. A similar business in Nevada would pay less than 5% for the same coverage.
A package of bills to reform workers' compensation is being sponsored by the California Chamber. It includes legislation to improve the definition of "injury," to reform the permanent disability system to more accurately reflect worker injuries, to cut down on medical fraud and to require that injury ratings for permanent disabilities be based upon proven medical guidelines. We need to support these bills.
Support the roll-back of anti-business legislation. Senator Chuck Poochigian (R-Fresno) has authored SBX l l, a bill that will roll back some of the anti-business, "job killer" legislation passed in recent years.
Some of the legislation covered in the bill includes:
the workers' comp benefit increase, legislation allowing local jurisdictions to establish local labor laws, binding arbitration for agricultural employers and the eight-hour overtime legislation. We need to strongly support this bill.
Financially support pro-business candidates. The California Chamber has asked all local chambers of commerce to help raise funds for their Political Action Committee. The Chamber's PAC was actively involved in supporting pro-business candidates during the last election, but it needs more money to effectively compete with the fund-raising capabilities of unions and trial lawyers. Members of the Alliance of North Bay Chambers plan to raise money for the California Chamber PAC so that our success rate at electing pro-business candidates throughout the state can be greatly increased.
Call, write or e-mail your elected officials about the terrible cost that legislative mandates are taking on your ability to create new jobs.
The business climate in this state is not going to get better until we all decide to change it. Stop supporting candidates who vote against business. Get involved with your local Chamber and its lobbying efforts. Call your legislators. Demand that the interests of business be respected.
We can turn this around if we speak with one voice and deliver the same message. No more mandates!
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