By Matthew Allen, Vice President, State Government Affairs
2020 is finally in our rearview mirror. We’ve been waiting for this moment, feeling on some days that it might never arrive. The personal and financial toll that the COVID-19 pandemic has wrought on our lives and the California agricultural industry has been staggering and incalculable. Yet, we have risen to the occasion as an essential sector and should be proud of the many substantial and collective contributions that the entire industry has made to fight this pandemic. Our farmers and farmworkers have kept our state, nation, and world fed with safe and nutritious food all while facing new daily challenges. At the time of this writing, the first doses of the Pfizer vaccine have arrived in California. This is a very welcome sign and offers great hope for 2021.
Of course, 2020 was also a key election year. In addition to the hugely contested presidential race, California had its own hard-fought battles with which to contend. Key among those was Proposition 15 which was soundly defeated. This proposition would have removed the Prop 13 property tax protections on commercial and industrial properties; thus increasing costs on California’s growers and food processors. This was a very important and a substantial win for our industry and for taxpayers generally.
The defeat of Proposition 15 likely means that there will be an even more aggressive pursuit within the California Legislature in 2021 to introduce and pass bills that would raise taxes on large businesses and “wealthy” taxpayers to supplant the state’s anticipated budget deficits due to the COVID-19 pandemic. These potential tax increases will be more challenging to defeat since the California Senate has added to its Democratic Supermajority status with this election cycle. This also means that the more moderate voices in the Senate will almost certainly have a more challenging time in mounting traction to defeat anti-business or anti-agricultural bills.
It is anticipated that we will see the usual legislative proposals introduced this year. In addition to the reintroduction of the plastic packaging bills that WG recently helped to defeat, there is an expectation that we will see bills that continue the attempt to further restrict crop protection tools, add additional and costly labor protections, and double down on California’s environmental justice goals. Wildfire protection and mitigation will also be a central topic since 2020 was a record wildfire year.
In short, our industry is not likely to be given a hiatus on challenging issues. That said, WG will continue advocating on our members’ behalf to not only lessen additional potential negative impacts on our industry but to find new opportunities that will help nurture our ability to survive and thrive in California. The COVID-19 pandemic has brought to the surface a great frustration with our state’s impractical and costly policies that harm both employers and their employees. The voices of these impacted constituents will be louder in 2021 because they are fighting for the survival of their businesses and their livelihoods. Legislators may have finally gotten to a place where they can no longer continue to ignore the facts and hope for a better news cycle.
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