The 2014 agenda of Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez (D-Los Angeles)… (Rich Pedroncelli, Associated…)
SACRAMENTO — California's two top legislative leaders — both Democrats — have their eyes on 2014 as California faces big challenges in continuing to improve the state's still underperforming economy.
They're pleased that after years of austerity, the Assembly and Senate along with Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown have stabilized the state's budget, raising revenues, keeping spending in check and even socking away money for future downturns. Even so, state unemployment remained high at 8.5% in November, despite a quickening job creation pace.
"Things are moving in the right direction," said Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez of Los Angeles. Pérez, 44, is running for state controller this year. He has spent six years in the Assembly representing downtown and East Los Angeles.
Looking ahead, Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg of Sacramento is ready to return to the Capitol on Monday to keep the momentum going. "For me, my main passion these days is on economic development," said Steinberg, 59, who's being termed out of office after six years in the Assembly and eight in the Senate. He's considering running for a statewide office in 2016.
Here's how the two sum up last year's highlights and this year's challenges:
John A. Pérez
The speaker's 2014 agenda focuses on coming up with a mechanism to evaluate state regulations to ensure they don't stymie business growth. He also wants to help cities diversify their revenues by giving them a share of increases in local income tax revenues. "Cities are not doing well under the current model," he said.
Pérez hopes to build on last year's accomplishments, including passage of a law that reduced wait times for processing state-required business documents, such as incorporation papers, from 60 days to just five.
And, most significantly, a bipartisan-backed governor's initiative to replace the sometimes inefficient "enterprise zone" program with a sales tax credit on manufacturing equipment and research and development as well as a new, statewide hiring credit.
The Senate leader said his top priority this year is helping high school students get diplomas and move to community colleges to gain marketable, professional skills.
"Almost half the workforce in Greater Los Angeles has high school diplomas or less," he said. "We talk a lot about college, and it is very important, but we need to infuse the idea of career and actual workforce training beginning at 15 or 16."
Steinberg said he'd like to put off a debate until spring on renewing tax credits in an effort to deter "runaway film production" to other states. At that time, lawmakers would have a better picture of available revenues, he said.
He predicted that the new session could be just as productive as 2013, when Brown signed a bill raising the minimum wage to $10 an hour from $8 in two steps by Jan. 1, 2016.