Here's another thing you can say for Jerry Brown: He delivers a speech in under a quarter-hour. In keeping with my belief that the freedom of any society is proportional to the brevity of The Leader's big addresses, I'm heartened that California Gov. Brown's State of the State speech came in at fewer than 1,800 words written. In delivery, including extemporanea, asides and pauses, the speech lasted about 15 minutes. More kudos to the legislature for resisting the clap-creep that has turned State of the Union addresses into multi-hour tissues of applause lines. At a few points, Jerry even asked for the lawmakers to pipe up with a little more ovation.
As the limited applause suggests, the State of the State, which focused mainly on the governor's austerity budget, was not a great crowd-pleaser. Brown's main point – backed up with some shameless evocations of the bloody struggles for democracy in Tunisia and Egypt – was that Californians must, once again, trudge out to the polls for another goddamn special election. This time the governor's combination of tax increases and defrayed spending increases will be on the table for voter approval. We'll see what that looks like in practice, but I can already see titles like "Saves Our Neighborhoods from Destruction by Restoring Redevelopment Funds" or "Ensures Public Safety by Protecting Fair Pensions for Deserving Workers." Certainly the entire lengthy budget is not going to be put up for a popular vote – just the controversial pieces.
The Republicans are already saying nix-nix to that, noting that Californians have voted pretty consistently against new taxes in recent years.
Unfortunately, they have not been as allergic to increasing state spending. This (beyond the general sense that we send these schmucks to Sacramento so we don't have to keep voting on everything ourselves) is the source of my objection to another popular referendum. I don't trust the people of California with my wallet, certainly not when ballot initiatives allow so much room for pettifogging, spending increases nested into new bond issues, dummy initiatives designed to do the opposite of what their titles indicate, and so on.
Brown says anybody who doesn't want another referendum wants "to block a vote of the people." Is that true if the people actually don't feel like voting? KCRA TV asks whether the voters really want another ballot initiative:
Brown also took a detour through what seems to be the most controversial item in his proposed budget – the proposal to get rid of redevelopment agencies. I say "seems to be" because I believe giving RDAs the heave-ho will become completely uncontroversial as voters gain a better understanding of how lawless and destructive these agencies are. Here's Brown:
In recent days, a lot has been made of the proposed elimination of redevelopment agencies. Mayors from cities both large and small have come to the capitol and pressed their case that redevelopment is different from child care, university funding or grants to the aged, disabled and blind.
They base their case on the claim that redevelopment funds leverage other funds and create jobs. I certainly understand this because I saw redevelopment first hand as mayor of Oakland. But I also understand that redevelopment funds come directly from local property taxes that would otherwise pay for schools and core city and county services such as police and fire protection and care for the most vulnerable people in our society.
So it is a matter of hard choices and I come down on the side of those who believe that core functions of government must be funded first. But to be clear, my plan protects current redevelopment projects and supports all bonded indebtedness of the redevelopment agencies.
And if you think "extemporanea" is not a word, Ben Franklin has news for you: