Gov.’s Task Force: Opening Business & Jobs or Changing the Business World?

Joel Fox
Editor and Co-Publisher of Fox and Hounds Daily

There is a sense here that Governor Gavin Newsom’s Business and Job Recovery Task Force is set to go beyond just getting businesses open and people back to work by offering changes to the way business is done in California. 

The Task Force announced last week is an unwieldy 80-member group of legislative leaders, CEOs, labor leaders, association presidents, and others that includes the four former living California governors, although the former chief executives are listed as Honorary Members raising the question of how much influence they will wield. 

As someone who served on six state commissions that were composed of about 20 members each, I understand how difficult it is to reach consensus. Will an 80-member task force get anything done? With such a large group, and an order to produce results quickly, much power for the direction of the task force will fall to its co-chairs, Ann O’Leary, the Governor’s Chief-of-Staff and former Democratic presidential candidate Tom Steyer, who now holds the title of Chief Advisor to the Governor on Business & Jobs Recovery.

Steyer is an odd choice to run the show because he is not only a strong partisan who espouses a progressive ideology but as someone who is guiding the recovery of business while he has made a recent career of speaking out against corporate America and promoting a hard line green agenda often at odds with the business community. 

During Steyer’s introductory press conference as the governor’s advisor, Steyer said that he hopes to fashion a recovery plan that “pushes us to the better future and remedies some of the injustices, which this COVID-19 pandemic has revealed in our society.” 

It would not be surprising if he intends to pursue a progressive game plan. Look for efforts to change the way business is run. The coronavirus inspired catchphrase “New Normal,” in this case, could be seen by some as an opportunity to change the ways of business and labor into something different and “new.” Much like efforts in Congress to pile extraneous partisan agenda items into the CARES Act, similar attempts could come into play from California’s Recovery Task Force.

If the Task Force is going to get business open and people back to work quickly, it should focus on some practical steps. 

Mike Bernick who served as Governor Gray Davis’ director of the California Employment Development Department and is currently a fellow at the Milken Institute in employment policy believes re-opening procedures must be rolled out over differing sectors of the work environment. “Certain workplaces in which social distancing is easier in professional and business services probably can open first,” he said. 

Bernick also warns that, “Age should not be a factor. The presence of pre-existing conditions, rather than age, should be the determinant. The discussions so far about ‘older workers’ and ‘workers over 60’ are inconsistent with all of our other values of fairness and benefiting from ‘older workers’.” 

One place that should find agreement across the board is to find a way to prop up small businesses. Gov. Newsom, as a business entrepreneur, is aware of the importance of small business to the California economy. Perhaps small business can get relief in a program that keeps shops open (once that is okayed) by making up for reduced income associated with any rules established to continue arresting the spread of Covid-19, post lockdown.

Some in the business community are exploring an idea similar to what workers receive under the Earned Income Tax Credit. EITC for workers is an idea I believe has merit. As workers are supported because they choose to work, small businesses will be supported to keep their shops open. The program should be temporary until small businesses get back on their feet.

Another quick response to a suffering job market would include following the advice of 150 economists and political scientists who signed a letter to the governor recommending suspending AB5, the worker classification bill. 

It will be a test of the Task Force to see if recommendations for business and job recovery fall within the scope of a single ideological philosophy.

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