California is known for its innovative, entrepreneurial, think-different spirit that has born some of the most important industries and companies in the modern era. But California’s great attributes must be tethered by nuts-and-bolts basics and foundations that allow all Californians to enjoy living and working in this state.
In other words, there is a time for dreaming and a time to be practical. With the governor set to unveil his revised budget proposal, we urge him to remember that now is a time to be practical.
California now has tens of billions of dollars in excess funds between a budget surplus and federal COVID-19 relief. But we should not confuse that money with an excuse to start a bunch of unsustainable programs without first fastening the nuts and bolts.
We do not need to overthink this. The state continues to be plagued with too many persistent problems: exorbitant cost of living, a lack of housing, homelessness, crumbling infrastructure, devastating wildfires, unreliable energy grid and government dysfunction. Though these problems have been discussed for years, it is impossible for anyone to say satisfactory progress has been made.
On top of that, COVID-19 has not only revealed significant flaws in our ability to respond to a pandemic and shortcomings in our health care infrastructure, but it has also left a trail of wreckage in our schools and economy as kids have dealt with emotional anxiety and delayed learning, and families have suffered tremendous financial setbacks.
We need to get people back to work. The state’s unemployment rate, at 8.3%, is still nearly double what it was prior to the pandemic. This, coupled with a lack of housing that’s affordable, has disproportionately affected minority and low-income communities, further dividing the haves from the have-nots.
Schools must safely and fully reopen soon. We must focus on the struggles of our children and avoid making it worse. Lawmakers overwhelmingly passed a bill months ago calling for schools to reopen. Since then, few have. This must change.
Our infrastructure, once the envy of the nation, is withering from neglect. We must repair our crumbling roads and alleviate congestion to improve commuters’ quality of life, while expanding broadband internet access to all Californians and tweak laws to promote distance learning and work.
Drought is coming and years ago voters called for more water storage and access to water. It is time to stop delaying and take action now with critical long-term investments.
Wildfires continue to be a threat not only to our lives and property, but to the environment as well. Even as California pursues aggressive climate change goals, those goals are undercut by wildfire emissions. We need to listen to the experts and properly maintain our forests and vegetation to combat wildfires.
We need to bolster our health care staff and infrastructure, while investing in lowering the cost of medical education and providing incentives for essential health care workers to serve low-income, rural and underserved areas.
Our energy policy is a disaster, as anyone suffering through summer months with intermittent energy blackouts knows. Instead of banning fracking permits (an extraction process deemed safe by the state), and instead of relying on foreign oil (which is the result of reducing domestic production), we should work with the energy industry to protect jobs and our energy independence, and come up with innovative ideas to continue to lead the world in protecting the environment while lowering costs on consumers.
And we need to fix our unreliable and unresponsive government services. The problems at Employment Development Department, where more than a million unemployed Californians have been without benefits for more than a year because of government dysfunction, have laid bare the need for a more efficient, effective and accountable government, not a more expanded one. We need a complete overhaul of dysfunctional state agencies that provide no customer service.
We could go on, but the main point is that we should not consider adding more programs and expanding the size of the government until we first learn to make government actually work effectively for Californians. This does not require new taxes or big ideas. It involves political will, sacrifice of personal ambitions and the can-do, hard-working spirit that made this state the wonderful place it is.
We owe it to all Californians not to be irresponsible, but to be effective.