What to Expect of Governor Newsom

Richard Rubin
Attorney Richard Rubin has taught at the University of San Francisco, Berkeley and Golden Gate University, is a regular columnist for the Marin Independent Journal and was Chair of the California Commonwealth Club Board of Governors, 2017-2019.

Gov. Gavin Newsom has just submitted his first preliminary budget– a mind-boggling and very big $144 billion. But so is California.

It takes a lot to run the 5th largest economy in the world and satisfy a population which may already have passed 40 million!

It also requires judicious use of money so it does not prematurely run out—something which his famously thrifty predecessor made sure did not happen.

Newsom has some very big and bold ideas that will not come without costs. But we don’t hire governors to make promises they cannot keep and there will be a watchful eye on all he intends to do every step of the way.

He takes office with a whopping $21.4 billion surplus which could dwindle very rapidly if the financial climate turns sour.

Newsom is a businessman who knows that he must keep is eye on the bottom line.

That is as it should be. It is the taxpayers who must foot these bills and they are entitled to get what they pay for. From his days as Mayor of San Francisco—a city renowned for advancing some pricey social programs that have not always worked—Newsom knows he will be under close scrutiny.

He also came in with balanced budgets despite an entrepreneurial spirit that helped to pioneer the dot com boom which helped transform the city into a financial colossus.

He knows also that the voters elected him by a large margin to tackle some of the state’s most vexing issues—and this will require sound investments in people and programs and even some measured gambles that all visionary leaders must be willing to take if there is to be progress.

First up is the housing crisis—a carry-over from the 2008 recession which did in thousands of homeowners who are still recovering and many of whom have lost jobs that are not coming back.

Another is the separate but related endemic of homelessness that plagues many cities and continues to defy every solution which has been thrown at it.

It is little secret that the state’s education system lags well behind many others far less prosperous and you cannot compete with a poorly- trained workforce.

Newsom is proposing ambitious pre-school programs that will carry a hefty price tag and expansion of health care coverage which will become cheaper over time if insurance costs are reigned in along with those of prescription drugs.

No doubt these measures will inspire some fierce opposition, but they are battles worth having in return for greater fiscal responsibility on other items.

One project dear to his predecessor where Newsom is likely to take a hard look is the high-speed rail system planned to eventually run the entire length of the coast. Some are labelling it a “runaway train” with a budget already topping $79 billion.

A more urgent matter is wildfire prevention and management after weather disasters the past few years over which even vigilant governors have little control.

Paying down the giant and always growing pension fund debt must also be high on the list of priorities.

Jerry Brown who critics dubbed “Governor Moonbeam” for his expansive ideas during his first tour in Sacramento four decades ago came away in the end looking like a tightwad—a reputation he assiduously promoted.

It paid off with resounding victories at the polls and steady popularity throughout his final two terms.

But Brown mastered the art of governing becoming adept at a delicate juggling act performed for all to see which managed to stifle opposition and solidified his standing as a pragmatic leader.

Newsom will have the latitude to put his own stamp of leadership on the office which could propel him to even greater heights or foil him if he sets unrealistic expectations.

Having supermajorities in the legislature does not hurt. But he needs to be wary of some of his Democrat cohorts chomping at the bit to open the state’s pocket book after Brown’s frugality.

The boo birds are already coming out even before the ink on his first budget has dried.

Newsom, like everyone who ever held the office, has the right and indeed the duty to tell us what he plans to do and how he wants to do it.

California has always been a place with big dreams and dreamers equal to the task, and the nation is the better for it.

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