Leaders of the Santa Clarita Valley business community joined residents and elected representatives Tuesday at the Hyatt Regency Valencia for the Valley Industry Association’s second annual State of the State presentation.
Sen. Scott Wilk, R-Santa Clarita, and Assemblywoman Christy Smith, D-Santa Clarita, were the featured speakers for the event, discussing issues related to education, transportation and legislation that could potentially affect SCV residents.
Both representatives began Tuesday’s State of the State discussing the budget recently signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom.
Smith prepared powerpoint presentation detailing how the state intended to spend some of its funds in the coming year, including the millions of dollars that are earmarked to go towards educational causes and emergency management for natural disasters like earthquakes and wildfires.
Smith also shared her belief that California needs to become nationally competitive in the realm of education while she spoke on the shortage of seats in the CSU and UC system and the millions of dollars slated for K-12 and higher education systems.
The assemblywoman added, “This year’s budget invests considerably to make sure we’re expanding both of those systems.”
Wilk said he’d never criticize the budget of a governor who was in their first year, but the senator did share his belief that California is too dependent on income tax.
“Right now, we got 40 million residents in this state. 150,000 of those people produce 47% of our general fund budget —150,000 — and so we can’t continue to soak the rich because they’re going to leave,” Wilk said, before touching on the state’s “public employee pension time bomb.”
Wilk said the pension problem has been a long time coming and quoted Warren Buffet stating he would be hesitant to do business in a state with large pension liabilities.
Wilk called the situation depressing and daunting before adding he isn’t exactly sure when the pension problem will “blow” or how the state should address it — especially once one considers that California already has the highest income, sales, gas and corporate taxes in the country, he said.
“So it’s going to be interesting times,” Wilk said. “I’m really concerned about it and I think that’s information that you ought to know.”
Question & Answer Session
A query related to health care was the first crowd-submitted question read by emcee Ed Masterson during the event.
Smith said a single-payer system is too expensive to be a viable long-term solution for California. Wilk agreed and became emotional as he shared his personal experiences with the state’s healthcare system.
“Honestly, the private sector needs to do a better job,” Wilk said, mentioning the callous treatment his family recently received while undergoing treatment for cancer. “We need to move to have as broad access as possible.”
The conversation would soon shift to school safety and the crowd applauded the Senator as he shared a story about the time a fourth-grader felt it necessary for their school to install metal detectors.
Attendees had a similar reaction when Smith shared her views on the detention centers and how she is constantly keeping in touch with Rep. Katie Hill, D-Agua Dulce, to see if there is a compassionate way to end what some see is a humanitarian crisis at the country’s border. Wilk agreed that the country’s immigration system needed to be improved as he shared the story of a staff member who waited more than a decade to become a citizen.
Smith was also adamant about the need for more resources to improve transportation in the local area, especially on Interstate 5 and The Old Road.
“We need CalTrans to come down and ride that road with the two of us and explain kind of what’s going on there, because the bad lanes in some cases got worse,” Smith said. “North L.A. County is the last big place that we can do significant and smart housing development (but) we can’t do that without transportation.”
Smith added, “Locally, we need to continue to push as a community… so to the extent that you can, write to the Senator and myself so that we can keep carrying that message.”
Wilk would then speak about his attempt to assist foster youth through Senate Bill 219. He also discussed a bill co-authored with Smith that would address homelessness before the final question was presented by Masterson.
The two speakers also were asked to consider where they’ll be in five years, and the crowd chuckled when Wilk said he intended to be retired. Smith added she plans to be preparing to become the California state superintendent of public instruction.
“It was very informative,” said Lorena Prado, who attended Tuesday’s luncheon and serves as J&M Events’ director of operations. “I appreciated the heart shown by the senator, and it was nice to hear that while we may be frustrated with certain things that are happening, (elected representatives) might also be, as well.”