What’s the pathway to a championship team in sports? Or successfully navigating a startup to a billion-dollar company? Every coach or CEO would tell you the same thing. It’s all about the talent.
Earlier this month, Gov. Jay Inslee announced his private Safe Work and Economic Recovery Leaders Group for Economic Recovery. Given the incredible and diverse talent in Washington state, one might expect known small business leaders or C-suite entrepreneurs from retail, technology, manufacturing, aerospace, travel or food.
Instead? A transit activist, three labor leaders and the head of communications for a winery.
President Donald Trump has Jared Kushner running a coronavirus response team — and we rightly look at that, shake our heads, and wonder why he didn’t choose the best minds in America. Explain to me how Inslee’s list of political friends is any better? His advisory committee lacks the horsepower and experience we need as our state tries to recover from the coronavirus shutdown.
Compare Gov. Inslee’s council with groups assembled by other state leaders like Colorado Gov. Jared Polis or New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, both Democrats. These other governors have convened formidable groups akin to Seahawks Quarterback Russell Wilson and the Legion of Boom. We have the Oregon State Beavers.
Colorado and New York have an all-star cast of corporate executives, philanthropists, entrepreneurs and business owners. Gov. Polis has tapped, for example, former Level 3 Communications CEO James Crowe, Colorado Rockies owner Dick Monfort and union leader Gary Arnold to his council. Gov. Cuomo has superstars like Dr. Shirley Jackson, former chair of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission and Ajay Banga, CEO of Mastercard. It seemed that Inslee was more concerned with checking the boxes with big political supporters than fielding the best team.
For instance, Washington has the headquarters of at least two Fortune 500 companies — Amazon and Starbucks — that not only had to close their offices and stores in China with the advent of COVID-19 but developed and implemented best practices to reopen them.
There is lots of talk of a V-shaped recovery — with economic improvement as steep as the decline — but the magnitude of this crisis continues to build. In April, private-sector payrolls hemorrhaged 20 million jobs nationally. By comparison, the previous record during the height of the Great Recession in 2009 was 835,000 jobs lost. That’s a factor of 24 times.
In Washington state, 810,000 people have filed for unemployment to date. The consequences and longevity of this economic shutdown are going to be immense, with a lot of companies unlikely to survive this catastrophe. The restaurant industry, for example, is a low-margin business with high fixed expenses. It’s hard enough to be profitable when operating at full capacity. How will these restaurants manage with social distancing at 50% occupancy?
Too many state officials making the critical decisions on the economic start are people not economically affected by this shutdown. They’re still getting a full paycheck, and their defined-benefit pension plan won’t be jeopardized if the economy is cut in half. They won’t lose the business they spent a lifetime building. They don’t have to worry about missing next month’s mortgage payment because their small business is still closed.
Gov. Inslee needs to treat the economic impact with the same expediency and focus that he has shown in fighting the health effects of the pandemic. Fantasizing that the federal government is going to magically make our state budget 100% whole is a pipe dream. Even if the federal government comes through with some assistance for state and local governments, dramatic cuts must be made.
Unlike the federal government, states cannot print money, and their budgets have to balance. Washington state approves budgets on a biennial basis, meaning we have a 24-month budget cycle. The longer you wait, the deeper the cuts will need to be to bring the budget into balance.
I was the Senate budget writer in 2009 during the Great Recession. The cuts and choices that needed to be made were brutal. I can still vividly remember the pained look on Gov. Christine Gregoire’s face during our budget discussions. It broke her heart to dismantle programs she had so strenuously believed in and fought for, but she understood that hard choices must be made in times of crisis. The question is whether Inslee will follow Gregoire’s example of strong leadership guiding us through the Great Recession.
It’s easy for Inslee to throw rocks at a deserving target — President Donald Trump. Real leadership is shown when you first get your own house in order.
We need to be smart about how we open up, ensuring our health while putting our economy back together on a strong footing. We owe it to every worker and business in Washington to put a winning team on the field.