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Legislative Summit Talks Taxes, Minimum Wage and More with Local Lawmakers

Goleta, Santa Barbara chambers of commerce host event at the Bacara Resort

A panel of local lawmakers discussed a variety of issues of interest to the business community during Thursday’s Legislative Summit in Goleta
A panel of local lawmakers discussed a variety of issues of interest to the business community during Thursday’s Legislative Summit in Goleta (Lara Cooper / Noozhawk photo)

The crowd at the Goleta Chamber of Commerce Legislative Summit on Thursday got to watch a lively debate from lawmakers as they voiced their opinions on minimum-wage increases, Proposition 13 and a host of other issues affecting local businesses.

The summit was hosted by the Goleta chamber, which partnered with the Chamber of the Santa Barbara Region to bring the event to the audience at Bacara Resort and Spa.

Moderator Keith Woods posed questions to a handful of lawmakers, including two who are in the midst of campaigning for office in next year’s electoral cycle.

Sitting on the panel were 35th district state Assemblyman Katcho Achadjian, Santa Barbara County supervisors Janet Wolf and Steve Lavagnino,  Goleta City Councilman Tony Vallejo and Santa Barbara Mayor Helene Schneider.

One of the first topics they were asked about was Proposition 13, the 1978 voter-approved initiative that limits increases in property taxes.

Discussion has been ongoing about reforming the law, and concern has been raised in the business community about a so-called “split roll” concept, that would allow business properties to be re-assessed more than residential properties, Woods said.

Schneider said that the law wasn’t perfect, but that any changes shouldn’t take an unfair toll on small business.

“There has to be a gradual process into what I would think would be leveling the playing field,” she said.

Achadjian said he would not support that type of reform.

He added that many seniors on fixed incomes live in homes that are taxed under Prop. 13, so the conversation in Sacramento then became making changes to business properties, without lawmakers realizing that most are small businesses.

“The majority are mom and pop operations,” he said, adding that the economy continues to be fragile in the state.

One of the most interesting topics the panel broached was that of the minimum wage, and the fact that a statewide $10 minimum wage would go into effect in January 2016.

Woods described his view of the minimum wage, jobs that were entry level to people in high school and college before they build their skills and move onto other work.

“That doesn’t describe reality,” Schneider countered, stating that many people are primary wage earners in their families, working two or three jobs at minimum-wage positions.

The city of Santa Barbara passed a living-wage ordinance several years ago, which found that people would need $17 an hour without benefits and about $13 with benefits to cover basic needs, she said.

Wolf also said she was in agreement with raising the statewide minimum wage, as well as increases from local jurisdictions, like the decision to increase the minimum wage in Los Angeles to $15 over the next five years.

Vallejo took a different view, saying that a universal raise “makes for a great soundbite,” he said, but would result in a lot of unemployed youth.

“All its going to do is raise the cost of living,” he said, adding that focusing on training and education so people could move up is key.

Lavagnino responded to Schneider, saying that he didn’t know what Santa Barbara’s living wage would be, and that he’s had employees making $150,000 a year complaining that they can’t buy a house.

Even at the county when searching for high level employees, “if we’re not offering enough, you won’t have qualified candidates,” he said.

“This is going to be a tough one,” Woods admitted.

The panel was also asked about the Plains All-American Pipeline Spill that occurred this past summer, dumping thousands of gallons of crude oil into the Pacific Ocean and putting many employees in the oil and gas business out of work as the pipeline continues to be shut down.

Wolf said that the county is still in an emergency situation because there is still oil oozing out of the ground, and that when the pipeline does re-start, more safeguards will be in place to prevent another spill of such magnitude. 

“It’s very unfortunate that people have lost their jobs,” she said, and stated that county counsel is working on making a claim to Plains for the lost revenue.

As the discussion wrapped up, the panelists  were asked what they’re worried about in the future, to which Wolf responded that she was most concerned about the county’s budget.

“That’s the most important part of my job,” she said. 

One major thing on Lavagnino’s mind was the impending turnover of two new seats on the county’s dais, as Supervisors Doreen Farr and Salud Carbajal will not be returning.

“I’m losing two board members and I don’t know where that will lead,” he said.

Schneider said that drought and having more water supply options are concerns for her, as well as aging city infrastructure, like the police headquarters, that badly need to be replaced.

Vallejo said that the Old Town revitalization and renegotiating the city’s revenue neutrality agreement with the county would allow them to have more money to do important city functions, like have programs for young people.

“We just don’t have it in our budget right now,” he said.

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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