Can California's New Governor Fix State Tech?

Gavin Newsom wants to upgrade the DMV to allow credit card payments, improve the technology used in state courts and launch a digital innovation office.

by Bryan Anderson and Adam Ashton, The Sacramento Bee / January 14, 2019
The California Capitol Shutterstock/trekandshoot

CAN NEWSOM FIX STATE TECH?

The DMV isn’t the only state department that Gov. Gavin Newsom wants to bring into the 21st Century.

He signaled repeatedly in his first week in office that he wants California state government to do a better job incorporating cutting-edge technology into the services it provides.

The first notice came on his second day in office, when Newsom signed an executive order boosting funding for Cal Fire. Some of the money will go toward placing fire-detecting cameras in state forests.

Another order he signed that day announces a “new flexible approach to procurement” that would set out a challenge to “innovators” and allow them to come up with solutions that state bureaucrats might miss. Newsom’s order calls the process an “innovation procurement sprint.”

The order directs the Department of General Services and the California Department of Technology to write guidelines, and it encourages other agencies to make use of the approach. State officials did not answer questions about it last week.

On Thursday, Newsom at his budget press theatrically called for the DMV to start accepting credit cards.

We’re going to accept credit cards,” Newsom said. “It’s a governor in 2019 in California saying that we’re going to accept credit cards in 2019 at the Department of Motor Vehicles. That is in the ‘you can’t make that up’ file.”

His budget has other clues about Newsom’s tech goals. It has $42 million to improve technology used by state courts and $36.2 million to launch a state office of digital innovation.

But the job is harder than it looks. California has a long record of over-budget, slow-moving tech projects. They include a failed payroll upgrade at the State Controller’s Office to a tax-collecting program so cumbersome that one of the world’s biggest accounting companies chose to submit returns instead of dealing with the new system.

State Auditor Elaine Howle delivered a reality check on the state’s tech abilities last week with an update on the unfinished state accounting system known as FI$Cal. It’s been under development since 2005 and it costs more than $900 million.

As of November, Howle wrote, 43 of the 64 state departments that are supposed to use FI$Cal exclusively for their budgeting and accounting tasks are unwilling to give up the old programs that FI$Cal was supposed to replace.

“It is unclear whether or when the entities’ concerns with making a full transition from their legacy systems will be resolved,” Howle wrote.

A SHAKEUP IN GOP CHAIRMAN’S RACE

Travis Allen has been the presumptive favorite to become the next chairman for California Republicans. But now, another person has entered the race.

Jessica Patterson officially announced her candidacy Friday morning, vowing to “rebuild a GOP team.” The California Trailblazers CEO has the backing of many establishment Republicans, including House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy. She also has support from 19 California lawmakers, including Senate Minority Leader Pat Bates and Assembly Minority Leader Marie Waldron.

Patterson’s 13 endorsements in the Assembly are particularly noteworthy, given Allen served in that chamber. Steve Frank is also in the running. The winner will replace the party’s outgoing chair, Jim Brulte, at the party’s convention vote on Feb. 24.

LEGISLATIVE PRIORITIES

We’re in store for a busy 2019 in Sacramento. Lawmakers have much to get done. On the latest edition of the “California Nation” podcast, Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon and Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins indicated housing and wildfires will be at the top of the priority list.

The two had slight differences on the issue of tax increases, with Rendon adamant no additional fees are on the horizon. Atkins seemed more open to the possibility, saying she envisions the party taking advantage of its supermajority in the Senate.

Gov. Gavin Newsom’s budget proposal includes a couple potential tax increases. One would fund projects that would provide cleaner drinking water in poor communities; another could boost the state’s emergency dispatch system.

LOOK TO LATINOS

GOP political consultant Mike Madrid doesn’t see a way out of the funk his party is in.

“California has officially become a one-party state,” he wrote in a Friday column published by The Bee. “The once-mighty California Republican Party has marginalized itself into a shrinking regional club.”

Republicans lost seven congressional seats and several legislative races in the 2018 midterms.

The path forward? Madrid says Latino lawmakers are best positioned to hold Democrats in check. “The possibility that the GOP could resurrect itself – or that a new third party might arise – seems remote. It’s more likely that the growing Latino Legislative Caucus, which outnumbers Republicans in the Legislature, could fill the political void.”

©2019 The Sacramento Bee (Sacramento, Calif.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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