California Governor Never Met a Task Force He Didn’t Like

If you were able to make it through California Governor Gavin Newsom’s almost three-hour budget briefing, you’ve probably been following the enormous funding proposals included in the $222.2 billion budget estimate.

You can save 167 minute of your time and read the blog post by PRI’s Tim Anaya.

Governor Newsom is nothing if not prepared. As a former communications director and public relations account manager, I have to applaud Newsom for his impressive command and preparation. But the governor’s extensive preparation underlies the one issue that could come back to bite him in 2020 and beyond: his hands-on approach with everything.

Look no farther than the task force, strike force, and working groups the governor has created since his election in 2018:

  • The Commission on Homelessness & Supportive Housing led by Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg and Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, which is also called the Governor’s Council of Regional Homeless Advisors;
  • The Healthy California for All Commission will look at creating a single-payer healthcare system solely run by the government;
  • The creation of the DMV Strike Team who issued a dismal report about the state of the California Department of Motor Vehicles;
  • A $5 million task force to brainstorm assistance for Californians struggling with student debt announced in the 2020 state budget proposal;
  • A blockchain working group run by the Government Operations Agency in the California Department of General Services, that was noted to have “significant fiscal costs in the low hundreds of thousands of dollars;”
  • A wildfire strike force charged with finding solutions to address California’s catastrophic wildfires;
  • The formation of a behavioral health task force to review polices and programs around mental illness, substance abuse, and updates to the Mental Health Services Act.

One perspective on the governor’s laundry list of strike forces and working groups is the administration is turning to industry experts for help on emerging and ongoing issues. An independent task force can provide insightful ideas and findings and offer more thought-leaders and experts to weigh-in on solutions.

Some of these working groups could help California prepare for things like the future of jobs and the economy or the impact of new technology like blockchain.

Others are short-lived and serve as a benchmark for state leaders and the administration to determine the next course of action on wildfire policy or a poorly run state agency.

Another perspective to take on the governor’s “hand in every public policy cookie jar” is micromanaging. Look no further than the last days of the 2019 California legislative session for an example of this.

When Governor Newsom got involved in the contentious issue of medical exemptions for vaccines, it led to confusion and criticism from supporters and the media. Taking a page from the President Trump’s tweet-first playbook, Newsom tweeted that he wanted additional amendments to a bill that had already passed the state assembly and senate and to which he had announced his support, confusing the bill author and supporters.

The issue was resolved quickly, and Newsom signed the bill after his suggestions were included.

The governor’s plethora of working groups and commissions are a mixed bag. Some may be beneficial, others unfortunately appear to be a echo-chamber for big government policies with over-representation from allies and government officials and little to no representation from industry experts or private companies.

California should bring together the leading minds on problematic issues, if those groups reflect the diversity of public and private sector thought needed for real solutions. If the governor listens, these government strike force and working groups could led to real policy changes. Or they’ll be a useless expense by taxpayers that just serves to reinforce the Governor’s pre-conceived notions.

Evan Harris is the media relations and outreach manager at PRI.

Nothing contained in this blog is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of the Pacific Research Institute or as an attempt to thwart or aid the passage of any legislation.

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