Jobs: Addressing All the Variables

Efforts to reform California’s governing system often focus on one or two ideas that can be turned into ballot initiatives. Billionaire Nicolas Berggruen’s Think Long Committee was different. Members agreed on a broader approach – offering a series of integrated proposals in seven major areas with the goal of designing a new governing system. Here are highlights of those recommendations for taking a holistic approach to creating and retaining jobs
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THE PROBLEM: California’s economy is strong in many ways – its diversity, its venture capital investment, its connections to the globe, its relatively strong recent job growth. But the state’s unemployment rate remains one of the highest in the country. Its infrastructure has not been adequately maintained and expanded (the state has nearly $800 billion in existing needs, according to one estimates). California’s reputation in business surveys is abysmal. And studies show that California schools are not producing enough skilled workers and college graduates to meet the projected needs of its economy.

THE BACK STORY: The Think Long Committee established its own task force—almost a committee within the larger committee— that produced an additional report on jobs.

California Issue

What is Think Long thinking?
The Think Long Committee developed specific recommendations for improving California's governance. Joe Mathews offers an in-depth look at seven specific areas afflicting the state, and what the reform organization proposed as remedies. The seven areas are:
Taxes
Voter Initiatives
State Budget Deficit
Jobs
Citizens' Council
Education
Local Government

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What distinguished this effort was its breadth. In California, economic debate usually focuses narrowly on just one topic: taxes, or regulations, or infrastructure, or workforce, or energy costs. Think Long looked broadly at these issues, and others, and the connections between them. Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom chaired the committee’s jobs task force, and economist Doug Henton and longtime San Diego economic development official Julie Meier Wright prepared much of the report.

Work began by compiling 20 years of reports on the California economy, with all the findings and recommendations put on one spreadsheet. Those working with the jobs task force of Think Long conducted 50 interviews with business, government and academic leaders around the state.

The debate, and report, didn’t speak of just one California economy. The state was described more accurately as a collection of regional economies. Early versions of the jobs recommendations backed controversial proposals that were part of the political debate—including a high-speed rail project and a water bond—but those did not make the final report.

Think Long was among the sponsors of a day-long summit in Santa Clara in the spring, and follow-up work is ongoing.

THE PROPOSAL: The jobs recommendations filled a 28-page appendix—longer than the overall summary of Think Long recommendations. The extremely detailed ideas generally fit in four areas: human capital, infrastructure, innovation, and regulation.

The report suggests ways to accelerate permitting and environmental reviews; one specific suggestion is to create “plug and play” zones in the state where permits and environmental reviews have been pre-approved to speed development.

The report argues for using user fees to pay for infrastructure, and recommends lowering the requirement for voters to approve local transportation bonds from a two-thirds majority to 55 percent. There are a host of suggested changes to better align education with jobs, and a plea for more funding for higher education.

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