OAKLAND — Despite a Covid-19 resurgence that is forcing widespread business closures, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Friday that he has dissolved his star-studded economic task force co-chaired by former Democratic presidential candidate Tom Steyer.
The group of more than 100 leaders concluded its work with a final report that outlines general principles and findings — but no specific new initiatives to protect California businesses in the pandemic. Newsom later announced the launch of a California Rebuilding Fund intended to help small businesses obtain loans to restart their operations when possible, which he said was one product of task force discussions.
The task force co-chaired by Newsom chief of staff Ann O’Leary and billionaire Democratic activist Steyer was launched with fanfare by the governor in April, and it included internationally famous leaders from business, labor, academia and philanthropy. All four former living California governors agreed to participate as honorary members.
Facing an unprecedented pandemic and economic closures, the Governor’s Task Force on Business and Jobs Recovery provided not just input to Newsom, but the political benefit of showing residents he had buy-in from across the economy.
Apple CEO Tim Cook and Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff were among those participating. One of the other big names was Disney’s Robert Iger, who initially was celebrated as a task force member. But his relationship with the effort and Newsom went south this fall as the governor maintained a ban on large theme parks, including Disneyland, and Iger ultimately resigned from the group.
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 during 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.
During its short life, the task force faced criticism from some business leaders who said that it appeared to be rudderless and provided little substance in terms of detailed planning.
The report notes in summary that “the Governor’s Council of Economic Advisers has identified a number of headwinds that California will continue to face in the near future,” which include “the coming expiration of unemployment benefits like Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, ongoing need for federal relief and the changes to life and work brought on by the rapid shift to telework.”
It says that the challenges “are especially severe for lower-income Californians who were disproportionately impacted by job losses in 2020, as well as small businesses that have gone through an entire year of unpredictability and lower revenues.”
But it wraps up with the observation that “though the future is uncertain, one thing in California has always been true: we grow when we expand opportunity for all — in every region, ZIP code and income level — and invest in our innovators. California will not rely on past successes to push forward, but instead, rise to the challenge of building a recovery for all.”