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S.D. assembly comes to Brawley's aid

June 20, 2002|By DARREN SIMON

Staff Writer

BRAWLEY — This city has found a champion in a San Diego assemblyman in its effort to obtain a designation expanding the city's ability to offer tax breaks to new businesses.

But with Brawley's hopes riding on the quick formation and passage of an Assembly bill, time may not be on the city's side.

The designation sought known as a state enterprise zone would enable the city to offer tax incentives to any new business wishing to locate in the area covered by the designation.


Earlier this legislative season a bill creating the designation and authored by Assemblyman Dave Kelley, a Republican, who represents the Imperial Valley and parts of Riverside County, died in the Senate Housing and Community Development Committee.

Assemblyman Juan Vargas, a Democrat who represents the San Diego area, has agreed to co-author a new bill with Kelley that again would attempt to earn Brawley the enterprise zone designation.

Bill Dohring, a lobbyist for Brawley and the Imperial Valley in Sacramento, confirmed Vargas' willingness to support Brawley's effort.

Vargas, who was in committee meetings at the state Capitol, was unavailable for comment.

One sticking point, however, is that the deadline for adopting new bills is June 28, which, in effect, means there is not enough time to draft a new bill, move it through committee so it can be voted on by the full Legislature.

Dohring said there still is hope.

He said he will seek a waiver of rules if necessary to give the bill on the enterprise zone more time beyond the June 28 deadline.

However, Dohring said even that may not be necessary. With the state's fiscal woes, the Legislature may opt to work through the summer. He said that would push back the deadline for new bills.

Still, he said time is of the essence.

Now that Vargas has agreed to co-author a new bill, several steps must be taken.

First, Dohring said, he has to find a bill that has died in committee and attempt to "hijack" that bill by adding the Brawley enterprise zone to it.

Then, Dohring said he would "gut" that bill by removing any language in it pertaining to other issues so the bill would contain nothing by Brawley's issue.

Dohring said he thinks a bill that deals with no other matters than the enterprise zone would have a better chance of making it through committee than a bill that dealt with several topics.

He pointed out that was the problem with the original bill in which the enterprise zone issue was included. That bill, AB 499, dealt with a number of issues and, he said, therefore died in committee.

When asked if AB 499 could be resurrected with the co-authored bill by Vargas and Kelley, Dohring said that is not the case because that bill already has been resurrected by another legislator to be used for some other matter. Brawley's issue already has been gutted from that legislation.

Dohring said a new bill can be found and hijacked by the end of the week so the legislation can be reviewed by a committee as early as next week.

"The important thing, we have to find a bill," he said, adding, "I think there is definitely a chance. Hopefully I can get it done by the end of the week."

He added, "The point is, I've never given up."

Neither has Brawley city officials, who are banking on the enterprise zone designation as a way to further the city's effort to attract new business in the wake of the opening of the beef-processing plant.

City officials have said the plant has generated a lot of interest from other businesses that could provide ancillary services to Brawley Beef LLC.

Currently, the city of Brawley has a state designation known as a manufacturing enhancement area, which enables the city to provide tax breaks to a limited kind of business related to the manufacturing of a product.

The city earned that designation through legislation passed in 1998. That legislation was authored by Kelley, then a senator. The city with Kelley's help drafted the legislation creating the MEA after the city was denied an enterprise zone designation at that time.

In 2001, again with Kelley's help, the MEA was expanded to cover the land upon which the beef plant is now located. The move was critical in attracting the beef plant to the city.

Now, city officials say, it is time to replace the MEA with the enterprise zone, which works similarly to the MEA, but is much broader in scope. The city could offer tax breaks to other non-manufacturing businesses.

Dohring said some legislators may not want to offer tax breaks in such a difficult fiscal period.

Dohring said he hopes state leaders see past that kind of reasoning and look to the increased revenue the state would see if Brawley did earn the enterprise designation.

He pointed to increased payroll taxes as one benefit and an increased number of people spending money, adding to the economy, as more people are employed.

As part of that argument, he said the MEA brought the beef plant to the Valley and since then the unemployment rate has dropped about 10 points from 24 percent to about 14 percent.

The enterprise designation would bring business to the area, potentially decreasing the unemployment rate by another five points.

"I'm just very encouraged, but it's going to take a lot of work," Dohring said of the city's chance of obtaining the new designation. "We have an opportunity."

>> Staff Writer Darren Simon can be reached at 337-4082.

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