Throughout the last several weeks, Governor Gavin Newsom has issued a number of executive orders to combat the spread of the COVID-19 virus. Without criticizing the tremendous efforts that are already being made, I want to propose a few additional steps that California’s governor could further contain the damage this virus is wreaking. Some of these recommendations may run counter to the political momentum of California’s one-party state, but perhaps in these extraordinary times, they should be considered based solely on their efficacy.
(1) Suspend AB-5, the new law that prevents millions of Californians from working as independent contractors. This law, which has attracted fierce opposition from people of diverse ideologies, is particularly harmful during this crisis. AB-5 has already put hundreds of thousands either out of work or into legal uncertainty regarding their future, and now it’s preventing hospitals from hiring part-time freelance nurses, support staff, translators, phone counselors, and others.
(2) California’s regulatory burden placed on individuals who want to operate as independent service providers was oppressive before AB 5. Now is a good time for Governor Newsom to issue an executive order to revise occupational licensing requirements. In particular, permit nursing school graduates to fulfill their clinical rotation requirements using simulations instead of in-hospital rounds which have been discontinued during this pandemic.
(3) Immediately free California’s nursing schools to graduate as many nurses as qualify for certification. This would end the state Board of Registered Nursing’s attempt to use its authority unconstitutionally to limit new nurses and to control the schools that train them. The governor can immediately rein in this out-of-control agency, and allow 10,000 new nurses into frontline emergency medical positions.
(4) As the economy stalls, with sales tax and state income tax revenues set to take a nose dive, to forestall a complete financial meltdown of state and local government finances, implement a non-refundable 20 percent cut to compensation for all public servants, to take effect immediately and last until all sheltering restrictions are permanently removed. Apply the reduction to all forms of compensation including hourly pay, overtime, specialty pay, all forms of “other” pay, and salaries. Unlike during the budget crises of 2009 and 2010, most public sector workers are needed to continue to perform their jobs, so this time there will be no “furloughs” to accompany these pay cuts.
(5) In order to improve the ability of small businesses to survive, for all California businesses with fewer than 50 employees, suspend all state and local minimum wage rules that raise the minimum wage beyond the federal minimum wage.
(6) Require all school districts to implement online learning to the best of their capacities, and ban school districts from not offering online learning simply because not all students have access to the internet. Require all school districts to do the best they can.
(7) Suspend Prop. 47 which downgraded property and drug crimes, and resume enforcement of the laws that were superseded by Prop. 47. Employ the National Guard to construct tent compounds on publicly owned land in rural areas to incarcerate offenders.
(8) Use the National Guard to clear the streets of homeless people. Relocate them to established shelters and improvised new shelters. Require all public and private homeless shelters, including the new ones being improvised in recreation centers, hotels, and other public and private venues, to enforce sobriety and shelter-in-place mandates. Use the National Guard to relocate uncooperative offenders to supervised tent compounds on publicly owned land.
If one might search for a common theme to the policies of the one-party state that defines Gavin Newsom’s California, it would be that whatever big business and big labor want, big business and big labor get. Small businesses often fail because they cannot to adhere to the overdone laws and regulations that apply in California. When it comes to housing, apart from very high end luxury condos and mansions, California’s home builders can no longer profitably build housing without subsidies. The high cost of living and the decimated middle class are consequences of giving big business and big labor everything they want.
Another common theme embodied in California’s political culture is “protecting” the rights of every “marginalized” individual and every “marginalized” group no matter what the cost. This is seen everywhere, from keeping disruptive students in K-12 classrooms to permitting intravenous drug addicts to pursue their “lifestyle” unencumbered and in full public view. It is seen in rules, formal and de facto, that require “proportional” representation for every ethnic and gender identity, across every student body, corporate workforce, government bureaucracy, or government contractor.
All of this benefits big business, big labor, and big government (which in California is now merely a subsidiary of big labor). California’s one-party elites rely on leftist billionaires and public sector unions to fund a relentless public relations campaign assuring Californians that the one-party regime is fighting for them. But it isn’t. Rather the result of the one-party regime in California is high taxes, ruined schools, lawless streets, a crippling cost-of-living, and punitive regulatory obstacles to small businesses and independent contractors.
One of the great ironies of California’s political economy today is that California’s public servants could afford to earn less, if they earned less. Paying excessive pensions means fewer employees can be hired which means paying more overtime. Meeting these ever escalating personnel costs means there isn’t public money left anymore to fund infrastructure, which means home builders now have to pay infrastructure fees that add hundreds of thousands to the cost of homes. It also means fewer homes get built, reducing supply, which adds additional hundreds of thousands to the cost of homes. It is time to reverse this entire costly cycle, and public sector unions might cooperate in the process, if they truly care about all of California’s workers.
Governor Newsom, his ultra-rich compatriots, and California’s big labor bosses have done very well for themselves. And with every law they pass that only the wealthy and financially resilient can weather, their power and their profits grow. It is time for them to abandon their hypocrisy. It is time for them to either stand up for all of California’s workers, or admit the truth at last, that they are the party of privilege and wealth.
At a time like this, California’s one-party regime – along with fate itself – remind us how little power we often have over our own lives. But unlike the cruel fate of this pandemic, Governor Newsom can choose the course he sets for the rest of us. Perhaps he might consider this list, and extend some practical steps of mercy to millions of ordinary Californians.
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Edward Ring is a co-founder of the California Policy Center and served as its first president. This article originally appeared on the website California Globe.