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Wanted: More Help for a Struggling Giant : California needs a major presidential initiative

I t’s the economy--the California economy. With the greatest possible respect, please listen to us, Mr. President.

Despite his trip this week to the West Coast, President Clinton seems to be only theoretically involved in the fact that California’s worst recession since the Great Depression is a drag on the nation’s economic recovery.

True, he has visited California twice in the last month, and it’s always an honor to have him. But each time he has offered more rhetoric than resource.

“The economy of this nation cannot recover unless the economy of this state recovers,” Clinton said on his latest visit. He noted that California has 12% of U.S. population and roughly 25% of the nation’s unemployed. We know, Mr. President.

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Your California czar, Commerce Secretary Ronald H. Brown, who has created a “California Project” in his department, also visits here a lot. But, except for his racking up frequent-flier miles, where’s the beef? Why is so little being done to help us?

The Administration for its part points to new spending for California here and there: a new $237-million high-energy physics program based at Stanford University; funds to rebuild the Bay Area’s Cypress Freeway, destroyed in the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake; $110 million for low-income housing grants to the state. In addition, the Administration has eased outdated Cold War-era export controls on computers and other high-technology products, which should help California high-tech firms.

This is all fine and dandy, but it has the feel of a desperate grab bag. By contrast, a major, coordinated, powerful, imaginative California economic initiative could help the nation as well as the state. Such a broader strategy is said to be under discussion in the National Economic Council--and, indeed, such a strategy makes sense. We think it should, at a minimum, include the following.

Put more police on the streets: Clinton’s anti-crime package, an amalgam of bills already introduced in Congress, would fund 50,000 new officers over five years. This would help Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan, who is struggling to deliver on his campaign promise to add 3,000 officers to the LAPD, and would ease Angelenos’ fear of rising crime.

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Convert military bases faster: The Administration has promised to speed the closing of California bases so they can be converted to new uses sooner. Meanwhile, California environmental firms should get priority for the cleanup contracts at these sites.

Nail down NAFTA and GATT: Booming trade was a big contributor to California’s prosperity during the 1980s. The state is a U.S. gateway to and from thriving Asian countries. Prompt passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement with Mexico and Canada, followed by a successful conclusion of the world trade talks under auspices of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, would absolutely help California over the long term.

Pay up federal IOUs for immigrant services: California disproportionately foots the education, welfare and medical bills for new immigrants, who settle here in large numbers. The federal government owes the state billions for such services.

Certainly President Clinton has his hands full with international crises like Somalia (see adjacent editorial). But to paraphrase his campaign slogan: “It’s the California economy. . . . " And the economy’s not getting any better here, Mr. President.


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