SACRAMENTO — More than 30 years after a frosty appearance at the Sacramento Host Breakfast, the capstone of the California Chamber of Commerce’s annual Business Summit, Gov. Jerry Brown returned to a much warmer welcome from state business leaders Thursday.
Brown, who first served as governor from 1975 to 1983, last spoke at the breakfast in the late 1970s. It was a difficult period for California’s economy and political environment and, by Brown’s own account, there were flashes of tension on that long-ago morning.
But this time, sounding more like a confident entrepreneur, the Democrat comfortably addressed the more than 1,100 guests and assured them he was doing everything he could to return California’s business climate to its rightful prominence. He even joked about his own transformation.
“It is a very odd experience to be the oldest guy among the electeds,” said Brown, who, at 73, is California’s oldest serving governor after having once been its youngest.
“When I was here before ... I thought I knew more than they (the Legislature) did, and that turned out to be wrong. But now that I’m older, I’m convinced that I do!”
Brown said he was undaunted by California’s chronic budget gridlock and the state’s “wall of debt,” and he insisted he could find “a zone of agreement” that would be embraced by all sides, including the Republican-leading business community.
‘There will always be conflict,” he said. “But my job is to bring people together behind real solutions.”
The solution Brown has fully embraced is his proposal for a special election on whether to extend “temporary” increases in the state’s income, sales and vehicle taxes. The Legislature has been balking, however, and polls suggest Californians aren’t so sure about the plan either.
“There’s a new poll out that shows three-quarters of Californians support my plan to let them vote on the tax extensions,” said Brown, adding “That’s the good news for me. The bad news is that half of them say they want to vote no.”
Brown already has signed off on more than $11 billion in spending cuts and transfers, but he still must come up with nearly $10 billion more for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1. Legislators are required to approve a balanced budget by June 15.
“I’m confident that whichever way the people decide, California will get back on track,” Brown said. “To my friends in the unions and the environmental movement that make it so difficult for business to create wealth, I say ‘don’t worry about it.’ And to my new friends in business, ‘it will all work out.’ Just follow my lead!”
Coinciding with the CalChamber conference, the Chambers of Commerce Alliance of Ventura & Santa Barbara Counties is holding its annual legislative summit.
Brendan Huffman, the alliance’s executive director, said he was encouraged by what he heard at the 2011 summit, as well as the message he and alliance members have been receiving during their monthly trips to Sacramento to meet with legislators, lobbyists and policymakers.
“There seems to be a different approach to problem solving in Sacramento this year,” he said. “Both sides appear to be more interested in addressing issues with less divisive rhetoric than usual. Gov. Brown’s speech was refreshingly honest and sincere.”
Holding court inside a majestic Senate Hearing Room just off the Capitol Rotunda as excited schoolchildren and map-toting tourists streamed past in the hallway outside, Chamber Alliance members met Thursday with representatives of the California Manufacturers & Technology Association and the League of California Cities, as well as Timm Herdt, the state editor and longtime Sacramento bureau chief for the Ventura County Star.
The state Senate and the Assembly were holding floor sessions Thursday so legislators were not allowed to leave their chambers.
The Goleta Valley Chamber of Commerce is represented by board chairman Steve Fedde, vice president of Sares-Regis Group; board member Mark Mattingly, executive vice president of Pacifica Commercial Realty; and chamber communications assistant Cortney Hebert.
The Camarillo Chamber of Commerce delegation includes board chairman Michael Lavenant, a partner at Landegger Baron Lavenant Ingber; board member Paige Jones Hibbits, owner of Jones Hibbits tax consultants; and Jennifer Wells, the chamber’s president and CEO.
The Moorpark Chamber of Commerce is represented by president and CEO Patrick Ellis.
From the Oxnard Chamber of Commerce are Nancy Lindholm, chamber president and CEO, and Suzanne Scar, owner of Central Coast Imaging Solutions and the board chairwoman of both the Oxnard chamber and the Chamber Alliance.
Representing the Chamber Alliance are Huffman and alliance board member Bill Macfadyen, publisher of Noozhawk and a former Goleta Valley chamber board chairman.
Wednesday’s lineup of Business Summit speakers at the Sacramento Convention Center included author and political pollster Frank Luntz, Legislative Analyst Mac Taylor; Sacramento Bee political columnist Dan Walters; Chevron chairman and CEO John Watson and Allan Zaremberg, the CalChamber’s president and CEO.