More than 100 local business and community leaders attended the Valley Industry Association’s fourth annual State of the State at the Hyatt Regency Valencia Friday afternoon.
Santa Clarita Republicans Sen. Scott Wilk and Assemblywoman Suzette Valladares discussed their work at the state Capitol in a conversation with Ed Masterson, VIA’s vice chair of workforce development.
Valladares, who is serving her first term in the Assembly, kicked off the conversation at Friday’s luncheon with remarks on public safety, public safety power shutoffs, wildfires and the state’s Employment Development Department.
She said Sacramento lacks the political will to “do what’s right” for victims of crime, noting she’s opposed legislation that makes it easier for gangs to get away with a variety of crimes.
“That horrific bill comes from the mindset of wanting to protect criminals versus victims,” Valladares told the audience, calling it a “backwards” mindset.
Wilk characterized the Legislature as having three de facto parties: The Republicans, the Democrats and the progressives, who hold sway over their more moderate Democrat colleagues.
“There are regular Democrats, but some of those Democrats, because they’re younger and they’re politically ambitious, they’re just kind of riding the wave,” Wilk said. “I know they’re casting votes they don’t really like but they’re going to cast them.”
Sacramento Democrats have adopted an attitude that “doesn’t respect business,” according to Valladares.
“We’ve lost 20,000 businesses this past year due to COVID, and (Democrats) continue to add regulations and laws and policy that crush business,” she said.
As Republicans, both legislators find themselves in Sacramento’s “super minority.” Despite that, Valladares said she remains optimistic about combatting bad policy.
“I do have colleagues who behind closed doors know that the policy they’re supporting is bad and they vote for it anyway,” she said. “It’s frustrating, challenging, but I’m up for it.”
Wilk said he’s approached his work with the advice of his predecessor, Cameron Smyth, a former assemblyman and current member of the Santa Clarita City Council.
“Try to get to ‘yes,’” said Wilk, noting common sense doesn’t always prevail in the halls of power. “When you’re in the super minority, I’m willing to make a bad bill less bad.”
Wilk and Valladares sounded the alarm on the state’s EDD debt accumulated during the pandemic.
Valladares said the $24 billion debt is “going to be paid on the backs of small business” if the state doesn’t use its $76 billion surplus to pay it down.
The legislators also touched on water issues, the California high speed rail project, the state’s budget, the wording of state ballot measures and people leaving California.
Valladares said the state’s mismanagement of water infrastructure impacts the cost of living in California.
“Water is hard to get for farmers in the Central Valley and across California and that disproportionately affects minority communities and communities where it’s so expensive to live,” she said.
Wilk and Valladares each advised on actions businesses can take to stay aware of the state’s affairs.
The senator recommended being educated on the issues, suggesting reading the work of nonprofit news website CalMatters.
“I don’t believe that the people who sit in the seats with us would be sitting in (those) seats if in fact we had an informed electorate that knew what was going on,” Wilk said, adding that the Republican Party has to do a better job communicating its ideas to a diverse audience — something he has emphasized since becoming the Senate Republican leader in January.
Valladares encouraged business owners to reach out to her office to connect with business resources and talk with their friends who aren’t represented by business-friendly legislators.
“They need to put the pressure on in other areas where it matters,” she said. “Even all the moderate Democrats and Republicans put together can’t stop a tax increase.”