Just as a second wave of coronavirus infections hit the Golden State hard last week, California Governor Gavin Newsom disbanded the high-profile economic recovery task force he convened seven months ago to help guide the state through the pandemic.
The group was co-chaired by former Democratic presidential candidate Tom Steyer and made up of more than 100 business, labor, and civic leaders, including former Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, Apple CEO Tim Cook, and former Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen.
Disney Executive Chairman Bob Iger was initially part of the panel but reportedly resigned in September over Newsom’s refusal to reopen theme parks.
According to Politico, Newsom announced that he dissolved the group on Friday after it released “a final report that outlines general principles and findings – but no specific new initiatives to protect California businesses in the pandemic.”
Gavin Newsom has dissolved California's economic task force, despite rising Covid-19 case numbers. The group concluded its work with a report outlining general principles and findings—but no new initiatives to protect California businesses in the pandemic. https://t.co/sKaBxKu99m
— POLITICO (@politico) November 21, 2020
In an interview with NBC Bay Area, Steyer said the Governor’s Task Force on Business and Jobs Recovery determined rebuilding efforts should prioritize “a sustainable, clean, green California” and “put the health and safety of Californians first.”
“This was a pandemic that was hurting everybody in California, but it was being disproportionately painful for essential workers, who tend to be lower-income people and people of color,” Steyer said. “Our proposals had to reflect that reality.”
Coincidentally, Steyer’s nonprofit, NextGen, has been described by Politico as “a group dedicated to slowing climate change and addressing income inequality.” Newsom’s chief of staff, Ann O’Leary, was the other co-chair of the economic recovery team. According to Politico, O’Leary had previously worked with Steyer when she was named senior vice president with NextGen in 2011.
The Governor’s Task Force on Business and Jobs Recovery, that 80 member group he appointed, has filed their report. Their most notable accomplishment it seems is telling people to wear masks and cheerleading for the elimination of gas powered cars. pic.twitter.com/yq597GYTe4
— Senator Melissa Melendez (@senatormelendez) November 20, 2020
As Politico reported:
It was not immediately clear why Newsom was shutting down his task force just as California enters a new round of business closures and a first-time curfew to fight a surge in COVID-19 infections statewide. The new restrictions have already prompted complaints from some business owners and community leaders who say it will further damage business recovery, but the governor has pointed to an unprecedented sharp rise in infections, as much as 50 percent the first week of November.
The governor’s office, in a release Friday, said the task force “advised the administration on rebuilding as quickly and safely as possible from the pandemic-induced recession,” and “has helped shape the state’s reopening guidelines,” including spearheading “proposals to address a host of pandemic impacts.”
Among the key findings of the group, according to Newsom’s office, were the need to “pursue inclusive regional strategies,” “continue to support essential workers,” and “expand support and provide flexibility to small businesses.” The task force also backed efforts to “close the digital divide,” “promote telemedicine,” and “incorporate equity and sustainability” into its work.
The task force has faced criticism for being rudderless and lacking transparency for several months. Now, the vast majority of counties in the state have fallen into the most restrictive “purple” reopening tier, slowing economic recovery efforts.
“We had a task to create this blueprint and obviously we’re not through this pandemic, but the formal task has been completed,” Steyer told CNBC.
Republican State Assemblymember Kevin Kiley called the committee’s suggestions “an anodyne report,” noting the recommendations “do not include ‘stop arbitrary business closures.’” He said Newsom put Steyer in charge of the project “to reward a major campaign donor.”
The Tom Steyer Commission has been disbanded, releasing an anodyne report whose recommendations do not include "stop arbitrary business closures." It appears the main purpose, as with so many Newsom decisions, was simply to reward a major campaign donor.
— Kevin Kiley (@KevinKileyCA) November 21, 2020
“Newsom’s decision to treat our economic recovery as a patronage opportunity tells you a lot about where we are as a state,” Kiley tweeted in July.