Last week, Gov. Gavin Newsom declared the obvious fact that “we are now in a pandemic-induced recession,” and appointed an 80-member “Task Force on Business and Jobs Recovery” to guide our way back to prosperity.
“We want to make this actionable, we want to make this meaningful,” Newsom said. “This is not something where in six months I’m looking forward to giving you a draft or putting out a long, thick report. We want in real time to demonstrate meaningful reforms, meaningful changes.”
Don’t hold your breath.
The group’s unwieldy size is compounded by an inability to meet personally. Moreover, its something-for-everyone composition, its polarizing co-chairs, its brief time frame and, finally, the dim history of such exercises make some positive and lasting effect unlikely.
Although California’s four most recent former governors are honorary members, the rest fall roughly into three categories — labor union leaders, large and small business executives and high-level Newsom aides, including his chief of staff, Ann O’Leary, as co-chair with Tom Steyer.
Steyer, a billionaire California investor, spent the last few years and many millions of dollars carving out a political role, including a push for President Donald Trump’s impeachment and a short-lived presidential campaign. Having Steyer, with his penchant for ideological confrontation, in the driver’s seat is probably more an impediment than a lubricant.
Sad History of Such Crisis-Tinged Efforts in Decades Past
Newsom is fond of “big hairy audacious goals,” and perhaps the task force’s real job is to place a veneer of consensus on his declared goal of nudging the state’s economy roughly in the direction of the “green new deal” that the left wing of his Democratic Party espouses.
At any rate, there’s the sad history of such crisis-tinged efforts in decades past.
Take for instance, the McCone Commission, which then-Gov. Pat Brown created in 1965 in the wake of the Watts riots.
Named for its chairman, John McCone, a former Central Intelligence Agency director, the commission was to study why the riot, which claimed 34 lives in the poor, mostly African-American Watts section of Los Angeles, occurred and recommend reforms to deal with its causes.
Its 101-page report urged, among other things, creation of literacy and preschool programs, improving police-community ties, better housing, more job-training, better health care and more convenient public transportation. Brown called it a “damn good report.”
We Should Have Low Expectations for Task Force
Twenty-five years later, in 1990, the Los Angeles Times looked back at the commission and its recommendations and concluded, “Eventually, the McCone Commission — its labors, its promise — was relegated to the dusty annals of Los Angeles history.”
A more recent example is the Parsky Commission, created by then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and the Legislature in the depths of the Great Recession in 2009 to address the volatility of the state’s taxation system — revenues that soar when the economy prospers and plunge during a downturn.
The commission, nicknamed for its chairman, businessman Gerald Parsky, was deeply divided. Parsky and a bare majority wrote a report proposing to abolish the corporate income tax, reduce income and sales tax rates, and replace them with a new tax on net business receipts. However, it was promptly filed and forgotten and today, the state is even more dependent on personal income taxes, which predictably are plummeting.
So we should have low expectations for the task force, and we should remember that California is not an island. Our economic recovery will depend largely on global economic trends and the willingness of business executives, bankers and venture capitalists to invest here, rather than anything Newsom’s commission might decree.
CalMatters is a public interest journalism venture committed to explaining how California’s state Capitol works and why it matters. For more stories by Dan Walters, go to calmatters.org/commentary.