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Newsom defends economic recovery efforts and task force amid criticism about transparency

California Gov. Gavin Newsom
California Gov. Gavin Newsom defended his administration’s pandemic recovery efforts.
(Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)

Facing criticism that his economic recovery plans have lacked transparency, Gov. Gavin Newsom on Wednesday outlined efforts to help businesses weather the COVID-19 pandemic, and embraced legislative efforts to help workers, including protections against evictions.

The governor’s defense of his administration’s recovery efforts, including the work of a 108-member all-star economic task force, came as the state released updated figures on COVID-19 infections that reflect numbers from a massive backlog of cases that were previously unreported because of a computerized data system failure.

“The most urgent economic recovery tool for the business community, the one we need the most, is to stabilize this virus, to bend the curve of this pandemic,” Newsom said during a news conference streamed live over social media.

The governor outlined his economic development plans as questions have surrounded the work of the task force of business leaders that he appointed to help advise his administration’s response to the pandemic. The Governor’s Task Force on Business and Jobs Recovery includes former governors and industry leaders including Disney Executive Chairman Bob Iger and Apple Chief Executive Tim Cook.

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The Times reported this week that the task force has operated mostly behind closed doors, making it unclear how and to what degree the group is shaping the governor’s policies.

Activist Micah Weinberg of California Forward, a nonprofit focused on improving government performance, told The Times that the task force should be doing more to address geographic and racial disparities in California’s economy and to cultivate the growth of Black- and Latino-owned businesses.

Newsom said Wednesday that his administration “recognize[s] that anything we do in terms of an economic paradigm should be inclusive,” and that the task force was focusing on issues of representation in its work.

“We had a big thrust as it relates to equity, a big thrust as it relates to economic justice, social justice, racial justice,” he said of the task force. “It’s a remarkable group of individuals that truly represents the diversity of our state.”

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One of the biggest issues facing California workers is the potential for them to lose their housing as they run out of money during the pandemic, Newsom acknowledged. He said he hopes the state Judicial Council will extend an eviction moratorium to the end of this month to allow him and the Legislature to work out a longer-term solution.

“We are committed to getting something done over the next few weeks on eviction protections,” Newsom said.

The governor said he is also working with state lawmakers on the possibility of providing hiring tax credits for small businesses.

In the meantime, he said the state has eliminated the minimum franchise tax for new businesses, deferred sales tax for businesses, extended other tax deadlines and provided more than $1 billion to millions of residents through an earned income tax program.

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Newsom also said the state plans to streamline business permitting and is expediting more than $400 million in bond-funded infrastructure projects to speed the creation of jobs throughout California.

“We have confidence we can get some of these over the finish line,” he said.

The governor has struggled during the last week against setbacks in the state’s campaign against the coronavirus. On Monday, Newsom declared that his administration had resolved problems with a public health computer system that distorted test results for COVID-19.

A day earlier, the state announced the sudden departure of Dr. Sonia Angell, director of the California Department of Public Health, which is responsible for collecting electronic test results.

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The resignation followed an admission by the state last week that nearly 300,000 records had not been processed by the computer database used to provide local health officials with COVID-19 test results. The failure has hampered efforts to understand the spread of the coronavirus.

Numbers are being updated gradually, Newsom said, noting that more than half of the 11,645 positive coronavirus cases reported in the last 24 hours came from the backlog.

“The backlog numbers will come in the next couple of days,” he said. “We will then get through all of that.”

Newsom said that he believes the state’s data offers cause for optimism and that hospitalizations are down 19.3% in the last 14 days and admissions to intensive care units have declined 16% in that period.

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The numbers, he said, are “another indication that we are turning the corner on this pandemic.”

Meanwhile, the governor on Wednesday praised the decision of presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden to select California Sen. Kamala Harris as his running mate.

“It is a proud moment, historic, and it’s a very meaningful moment for California,” Newsom said.

The governor confirmed that people have already started reaching out to him with recommendations for who should take Harris’ place in the U.S. Senate if she moves to the executive branch.

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But, he added, “That is not what I am focused on right now. I am focused on what I need to be focused on and that is you and your health, that’s the economy and its needs.”


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