The coronavirus pandemic has been a time of heroism: medical professionals saving lives, workers checking people out at the grocery, public officials preparing their communities. Many of these heroic actions, though, are happening in spite of the economic and government systems that we had in place before the crisis.
As we recover and rebuild – and we will – we must take the opportunity to address these shortcomings in California. We must recommit ourselves to providing real economic equity. We must create a government that works for the people. And we must track our progress toward these goals in a way the public can see and trust.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration, the Legislature and local governments were all committed to creating a “California for All.” One example is the Regions Rise Together initiative that California Forward and the leaders of our California Stewardship Network launched last year with the Office of Business and Economic Development and the Office of Planning and Research.
At inclusive gatherings throughout the state, we saw energized business, nonprofits and faith leaders come together with public officials to work on improving the economies in their communities. And racial equity was at the center of these conversations as modeled by the Fresno DRIVE process celebrated when we hosted last year’s California Economic Summit.
Despite these good efforts, California still has the highest level of real poverty, and there are profound differences in economic outcomes for people across different ethnicities and geographic regions. These inequities have been magnified during the crisis when we are often depending the most on those who have the least financial security. As we move forward with our efforts, we must double down on inclusive planning that provides economic equity for all.
The second deficiency in our state is the siloed structure of our budgeting process, which can stand in the way of developing a cohesive fiscal strategy that is flexible in the times of crisis. The complexity of constitutional spending restrictions and an almost infinite number of special funds means that it is nearly impossible to set priorities and adapt policy to achieve them.
The state is now seeing the prudence of recent reforms such as the creation of the Rainy Day Fund, which California Forward was among the first to propose in 2009 right after we were created by the state’s largest philanthropies in the wake of the last economic crisis.
There will be more work to do to build on what we are learning in this moment. This is also true of regulations that are being relaxed such as those preventing medical professionals from putting their full training to work to serve the state. Many of these rules were not good ideas in good times, and we will be well served not to bring them back.
Finally, the state must use the period of recovery to recommit to measuring whether we are making real progress toward creating inclusive and environmentally sustainable economic growth. We have lots of policies in place to achieve those ends, but they are not often measured in terms of outcomes and rarely changed to be more effective.
A central tool for doing this will be the California Dream Index, a project that we are working on with the state and a broad coalition of partners that use evidence to drive better public policy in areas from racial equity to children’s health. The intention is to align these efforts around a tight set of measures of economic mobility and security. This will give us a “North Star” as we rebuild more equitably.
Finally, we hope that the period of recovery will be one of humility, when we recommit to working together across parties, regions and interests to truly create a better state for everyone who lives here.
Only then will we rebuild a better California.