Anthony Cannella held a Ceres town hall meeting attended by about 50 people Friday and explained his controversial stand against his own party on a number of votes in the state Senate.
Cannella, the former Ceres mayor who represents the 12th Senate District, bucked members of the Republican establishment by voting for a reformation of enterprise zones. Cannella said the zones created jobs, especially in the Valley, but that Gov. Jerry Brown was determined to do away with them while agreeing to strike a compromise which the senator supported.
Brown saw enterprise zones as a wasteful failure and Cannella acknowledged there were abuses. He said that a Sacramento strip club was receiving tax credits of $37,000 per employee. And he noted that a Palo Alto business moved several blocks to be in a zone, fired all workers and rehired a new set at half the wages as the first.
Without the compromise, said Cannella, enterprise zones would have disappeared entirely. In exchange for reforming the enterprise zones through SB 90, Cannella got the governor to provide a sales tax exemption for manufacturing and biotech research companies.
By creating pilot projects through GO-Biz in former enterprise zones and military bases, the state provides additional assistance to the regions that need it most, said Cannella.
"For example, I knew the hiring tax credit qualifying wage of $12 was too high for areas such as the Central Valley. The wages you have to pay for a worker in San Francisco's enterprise zone is much higher than the wages in Ceres. The Central Valley is very different than the Bay Area and a ‘one-size-fits-all' approach will only penalize our more depressed areas. As a result, the pilot program will set the qualifying wage at $10."
In addition, there were many businesses that earned hiring credits through the EZ program and effectively used them to employ more workers, but they have not been able to use all of them. Those businesses will now have 10 years to use those credits. Additionally, the state will provide clean-up legislation this month to ensure that those hired in enterprise zones by the end of this calendar year will be vouchered so businesses can claim the associated credits.
SB 90 also expands the sales and use tax credit from 4.5 years statewide and seven years within a former zone to 8 years statewide.
Cannella also aligned with labor unions and against his party in his support of Senate Bill 7 which calls for charter cities to pay prevailing wage rates on public projects. SB 7 makes charter cities eligible to receive or use state funds for a public works project only if the city has a policy of requiring contractors on all its municipal projects to comply with the state's prevailing wage law. As a civil engineer by trade, Cannella said he doesn't find that prevailing wage adds the claimed 30 percent to the cost of projects but does provide for better built projects.
"What I see is when bids go out a person who doesn't pay prevailing wage versus a person who does, the bids are two percent lower because they know what a person that pays for prevailing wage has to pay," said Cannella. "They're not saving 30 percent."
He also noted that materials, not labor, is the biggest part of a public project.
Cannella's vote on the bill, sponsored by the State Building and Construction Trades Council, AFL-CIO, was unpopular among conservatives.
"I am who I am," said Cannella. "I'm going to do what I think is important and willing to explain why I did it."
Cannella was asked about water issues and noted it's a huge issue to him. California is in drought cycle and next year the federal allotment could be zero next year, which will affect the west side communities of Mendota and Firebaugh.
"If I was king I would fix it in a day," said Cannella. "I would say we build more storage. I'm not (king) but I think we have opportunities."
Cannella said he supportd Gov. Brown's Bay Delta Conservation Plan to build twin tunnels under the Delta to avoid impacts to the Delta smelt to meet the state's water needs but wants to interject a discussion about developing more reservoirs and dams.
"We've got to have more storage. There's like a Holy Jihad against water storage. I don't understand it. I really don't get it. But again, when people really want something -- the tunnels -- then there's obviously something we want - storage - let's work together. I'm hoping in the next three to four weeks to have a proposal.
When asked about hydraulic fracturing, called "fracking," Cannella said California has an "unbelievable opportunity" to get to oil shale and create numerous high-paying jobs.
"There are some environmental concerns to think about," said Cannella, who is off to North Dakota this week to see how the oil industry has alleviated impacts to the environment. "It has to be regulated. We don't want people going all over the place fracking but we also have to make it available. It would put so many people to work in the state of California. It would change California."
He also discussed his efforts to give more money to the counties hardest hit by the state's early release program. Cannella said transferring lower level offenders from state prisons to local jails "in theory it makes sense because local government is the most responsive form of government," but hurts local communities for lack of adequate funding.
According to Cannella, flaws that need to be fixed including the funding disparity between counties. He is working on a bill that would have money follow the prisoner rather than just give counties so the counties that actually house the prisoners will get the money.
Cannella is also a sponsor of SB 302, the School Lunch Protection Act. It requires additional oversight and regulation of school lunch programs in direct response to a recent report that revealed the improper diversion of nearly $200 million dollars from school lunch programs for low-income students.
"It is unacceptable that children from low-income families are being taken advantage of by those tasked with providing them an education," said Cannella. "The purpose of a school lunch program is to provide them the same opportunity for a quality education as every other child in California. I cannot believe that a school district would literally take food from the mouths of children."
He also addressed his sponsorship of SB 741, the Fairs Sustainability Act to fairs improve entrepreneurial opportunities and reduce costs.
Cannella was asked about the dismantling of redevelopment agencies in California, something he feels was bad for communities. He predicts it will come back in a different form but said "it will be horrible."
Ceres School Board trustee Betty Davis asked Cannella to see what he can do to see the state pick up deferred payments. Cannella said the state is getting better about speeding up its deferments.
With passage of the new state budget last June, Cannella said the state implemented a new education funding formula to correct huge discrepancies in the way schools are funded. Brown realized that it is unfair to give wealthy areas more money than poorer areas like the Valley. As an example, Canella said Palo Alto gets $14,000 per child while Ceres gets $6,498. The new funding formula takes into account the number of students who are living in poverty and those learning English. The final implementation will see Ceres receive $11,614 per student.
Cannella also dropped off backpacks collected for the Latino Community Roundtable giveaway. The backpacks were handed out Sunday at the Ceres Flea Market.