gavin_newsom_thumbs_up.jpgBusiness leaders and elected officials, among them San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed and 49ers president Jed York, discussed government and tax reform and the recovery of jobs and the environment today as part of a forum at Santa Clara University.

The morning-long “Projections 2011” conference was sponsored by the Silicon Valley Leadership Group and featured separate panels focused on environment and regional planning, civic engagement and government reform, job recovery and workforce preparation and taxes and competitiveness.

The panelists were asked questions about solutions to some of the issues that persist in California, including the unemployment rate, failing education system, and tax policy.
On the environment panel, Newsom touted California’s AB32, known as the Global Warming Act, as a “Godsend.”

The law requires the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, Newsom said.

“We need stretch goals and we need to jumpstart this economy,” he said. “AB32 is essential in doing that.”

Fellow panelist Jeremy Madsen, executive director of Greenbelt Alliance, suggested the implementation of a gasoline fee and investing in building communities where people have space to walk and bike.

Raquel Gonzalez, market president of Bank of America, said she would like to see the state continue investing in mass transit projects like BART and high-speed rail.

The panelists spoke favorably about redirecting funds from road and highway projects to create sustainable regions.

On the civic engagement panel, Maria Teresa Kumar, executive director and co-founder of Voto Latino, a nonpartisan and nonprofit organization that reaches out to young American Latinos, shared some statistics.

Kumar said 18 million Latinos are eligible voters and that the average age of a Latino is 27 years old.

She said her organization is using social media to increase voter turnout and political involvement.

York said it took the efforts of not just local politicians but also the community to push the stadium project forward.

“It’s not about how we do in the election,” York said. “We need to work together as a community to make sure this is the greatest stadium in the country, and in the world, in the next 30 years.”

Sunne Wright McPeak, CEO of California Emerging Technology Fund, said there is disconnect between the government and taxpayers. She said more focus is needed on increasing employment, decreasing poverty and crime, and improving health and education in the state.

“We need bold leadership, not big government,” McPeak said.

When asked about his thoughts on economic competitiveness as part
of the job recovery panel, SunPower CEO Tom Werner said, “I think it’s fair to say that green jobs is the real deal.”

Werner said his company has contributed to the workforce by expanding from 35 employees to 6,000 in the last six to seven years.

Arun Ramanathan, executive director of Education Trust West, said California’s diverse student population is an asset to the economy. He said attention must be paid to how investment funds in education are spent, setting targets for school systems, and maintaining funding for programs that are successful.

Ken McNeely, California president of AT&T, said one of his biggest concerns is an aging workforce. He said more than half of his employees are due to retire in the next five years. He said education reform should include early childhood development and an overhaul of school curriculums to incorporate technology into classrooms.

As part of the final panel on taxes, Brocade CEO Mike Klayko said a decision he made recently to keep his tech company in San Jose was not easy.

He said many companies with offshore earnings have had to consider using their offshore currency to purchase foreign companies and earmark jobs to those foreign entities because it is difficult to find an investment in the U.S. that earns more than 39 percent, which would be the tax rate to repatriate their foreign earnings back to the U.S.

Another alternative companies have is to move their headquarters outside the U.S., meaning that those companies would be at a tax disadvantage against foreign as well as domestic companies, Klayko said.

He said a long-term solution in the form of comprehensive corporate tax reform is necessary.

Klayko praised Reed for his dedication to keeping green tech companies like Brocade in San Jose. Reed said California ranks 51st on a list of best places to do business and that he wants to help improve that.

Reed also acknowledged that retirement costs are increasing faster than revenue and that the city hasn’t been able to keep up, leading to reduced funding for city services.

Khalida Sarwari, Bay City News

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