California has a long to-do list, featuring healthcare reform, repairing the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, continuing to lead the fight for a clean environment, updating transportation infrastructure and fixing the broken system of governance. But those challenges and many others have been moved to the back burner behind two matters that deserve, for now, to come first.
One -- the state's second-biggest emergency -- is the economy. The recession is national in scope, but California has been hit hard by home-loan defaults and must take steps to slow job losses and speed recovery. That, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger says, is the reason he is demanding a rollback in environmental protections that he claims are slowing the construction of projects funded by bond money. He also wants more private contracting of state works.
But there is a difference between emergency response and panic. Getting the economy moving and getting people to work, though tremendously important, can't excuse throwing all those back-burnered pots off the stove entirely. Schwarzenegger embraced California's environmental leadership; it would be foolish for him now to sweep aside the California Environmental Quality Act in the name of marginal or speculative economic stimulus. There may be a public-policy debate to have over CEQA, but it should not be ditched merely to boost growth.