Newsom offers new twist on old California tale 

As the nation’s last space shuttle was making its last landing for its last mission last month, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom was finishing up a report on jump-starting California’s recession-stricken economy.

Therein lies a tale.

About 40 years ago, then-Gov. Ronald Reagan created a high-profile job for his handpicked lieutenant governor and putative successor, Ed Reinecke — chairing the Economic Development Commission, with its main mission to secure the space shuttle for California.

Reinecke didn’t last very long. In 1974, he became ensnared in an offshoot of the Watergate scandal. He was indicted for giving false testimony and forced to resign.

A year later, Reagan’s successor, Jerry Brown, tried to abolish the Economic Development Commission as a waste of money. But then-Lt. Gov. Mervyn Dymally lobbied the Legislature to keep it alive, and it survived for several more decades, albeit without ever having any noticeable impact.

Brown is back in the Capitol for his second stint as governor, and fellow Democrat Newsom has an office just a few feet from Brown’s digs. As usual, it might as well be 100 miles away. And with almost no official duties, Newsom, like his predecessors, is creating his own niche in hopes of remaining politically visible.

Hence, “An Economic Growth and Competitiveness Agenda for California,” which Newsom unveiled last month.

“For more than 10 years, the state of California has lacked a strategic, statewide economic plan,” Newsom said. “And in the last decade, we have reaped the bitter consequences.”

Have we?

Is California’s stubborn recession a “bitter consequence” of not having an economic plan? Have we become “the perfect job-killing machine” that a blue-ribbon commission declared? Or are we just feeling the impact of a cyclical recession that will pass in time?

There’s no consensus among economists, much less politicians, on the state’s economic malaise and what, if anything, can be done to cure it.

Brown seems to think that prosperity is returning, albeit slowly. In fact, he’s banking on it, having “balanced” the budget this year on an assumption that the state will see a multibillion-dollar surge of revenues.

Newsom appears, rhetorically, to have cast his lot with the mostly conservative critics who say that overreaching laws, regulations and taxes are retarding the economic recovery.

However, other than reopening the state’s overseas trade offices, which were closed because they didn’t do anything, Newsom offers few concrete steps.

If the report serves any purpose, it may be to kindle the debate that California has needed to have for a long time, to wit: What is our future in a highly competitive global economy, and what do we need to do to make a prosperous future a reality?

Dan Walters’ Sacramento Bee columns on state politics are syndicated by the Scripps Howard News Service.

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Dan Walters

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