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Milken Conference: Where are the game-changing (political) ideas?

October 13, 2011 |  3:42 pm

A common feature of learned panel discussions aimed at eliciting solutions for pressing problems is that the participants spend all their time stating the problem, and none offering solutions. At Thursday's Milken Institute 2011 State of the State conference, the morning panel on how to get Californians back to work was such standard fare.

The lineup included Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and California Chamber of Commerce Chairman Shariq Yosufai. It was moderated by Los Angeles real estate lawyer Lewis Feldman, who did a thorough job outlining the crisis, which is defined as 1.3 million jobs lost in this state from 2007 to 2009. Then he opened the discussion by asking Newsom to explain the structural obstacles preventing state government from coming to grips with the problem.

Beyond complaining that in Sacramento "bipartisanship doesn't exist" (no, really?) Newsom merely restated the crisis ("18 counties with unemployment north of 15%...."). Ideas for simplifying the state's tax structure or budget process, or professionalizing the legislature by removing term limits? No word. All the panelists acknowledged that preserving the state's higher education institutions is crucial for California's future competitiveness, but how to do that when the alpha and omega of policymaking in Sacramento is cutting taxes? No word.

It might have been instructive to pair that panel with the one that immediately followed it on the conference schedule -- gathering three successful entrepreneurs with Caltech President Jean-Lou Chameau. All agreed that despite its expenses and problems, California remains the best place in the world to raise venture capital. Said Henrik Fisker, co-founder of Anaheim-based electric-car maker Fisker Automotive, "People here believe in dreams."

-- Michael Hiltzik

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Skilled workers a bright spot for Golden State

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