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San Luis Obispo chamber's State of the State event features insight into politics, health insurance

clambert@thetribunenews.comMarch 8, 2013 

There are no longer meetings of the Big Five in Sacramento — a term used to describe the governor and the four top leaders in the Legislature — Senate Republican Leader Bob Huff told a business luncheon Friday in San Luis Obispo.

Huff, a Republican from the Los Angeles County town of Diamond Bar, offered the observation while speaking about the Democratic supermajority.

Republicans are heavily outnumbered on several important Senate committees, he told a crowd of nearly 250 people at the San Luis Obispo Chamber of Commerce’s 2013 State of the State event.

“I have good relationships with all of them, but we do not get together and collaborate,” Huff said. “And I don’t think that’s good for the state. It’s very partisan.”

Huff didn’t support Proposition 30, which temporary raises taxes to primarily fund education, noting “it doesn’t hurt us to have to streamline … rather than just getting money to keep do what we’re currently doing.”

But when asked for his opinion on the approach Gov. Jerry Brown has taken to balance the budget, he said the governor “did a fairly decent job of balancing the needs.”

Three other speakers touched on other topics, including the federal Affordable Care Act, pension reform and the state’s initiative process.

Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones, a Democrat elected in 2010, is now tasked to guide businesses in implementing federal health care reform.

In response to a question, he noted the new law could prompt some employers to reduce a worker’s hours or make some employees part-time, and the Legislature may look at ways to address such a response.

He also mentioned a tax credit available to employers of less than 25 full-time employees or those with an average employee payroll under $50,000. He suggested small business owners go to a website, www.healthlawguideforbusiness.org, for more information.

Jones said one of his main concerns is getting a ballot measure passed in November 2014 that would give the insurance commissioner authority to reject excessive health insurance and HMO rate hikes.

Another speaker was hedge-fund billionaire Tom Steyer, who spent millions to support Proposition 39, which closed a tax loophole benefitting out-of-state corporations.

Steyer, a Democrat, mainly spoke about the initiative process, noting because of a “pretty big logjam in the Legislature,” the state’s initiative process has proliferated and turned “into a huge experiment in direct democracy.”

Marcia Fritz, president of the California Foundation for Fiscal Responsibility, spoke about pension reform and two major changes made last year, including the passage of the Public Employees Pension Reform Act. The measure made changes to state public employees’ pensions if hired on or after last Jan. 1.

The other change, she said, will reform the way cities, counties and states have to report pension liabilities and costs.

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