Jerry Brown

Jerry Brown's Legacy Depends on Focus He Doesn't Have Yet

Will he emphasize fiscal control or far-reaching environmental agenda?


As he entered the Assembly chambers to give his final inaugural address on Monday, Gov. Jerry Brown — elected to an unprecedented fourth term in November — was greeted by boisterous applause from legislators and audience members. There's little question Brown heads into his final term with a storehouse of goodwill and political capital.

Pundits who have debated how Brown will spend that capital had their questions answered. He will take two approaches — one somewhat conservative and the other more radical. The governor says he will keep the lid on government spending and long-term fiscal liabilities, while pursuing an ambitious climate-change agenda designed to slash the state's "carbon pollution" footprint and prod the rest of the world into following suit.

Given the strong Democratic tilt of the state's politics, the more conservative fiscal ideas were not as heartily received inside the chambers as the progressive part of his agenda. "My plan has been to take them on one at a time," he said, referring to California's unfunded pension and other liabilities. "For the next effort, I intend to ask our state employees to help start pre-funding our retiree health obligations, which are rising rapidly."

Climate change, fiscal future top Brown's agenda

Brown didn't ask for more state funds, but instead called on state employees to pitch in to fill the void, which evoked tepid applause. That's a potentially significant statement. "He's pressing the boundaries of what Democrats can do," said Dan Pellessier, president of California Pension Reform. "I'm hopeful the governor will now be liberated to address the unsustainable costs of retirement promises."

Pellessier touches on the big questions: Will a lame-duck Brown finally take on public-sector unions and propose deep and difficult reforms to deal with those unsustainable promises? Or will he place his real time and energy into expanding the state's environmental regulations? The answers will determine his legacy.

"I believe I know Jerry well and that he worries about and works toward a legacy more than almost any other politician," said Art Laffer, the Reagan-administration economist and father of supply side economics. "Like the sly old crocodile on the banks of the Zambesi River, he's waiting for his chance to move." Laffer expects a fiscal "game changer."

Brown certainly is pushing a game changer on the environmental front. Referring to the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, he proposed these objectives for the next 15 years: increasing the proportion of the state's renewable energy use to 50 percent from round 30 percent, slashing car and truck petroleum use in half, and doubling the efficiency of the state's buildings. This is "a very tall order," Brown admitted.

It's an expensive one, too. The governor will be in Fresno on Tuesday to break ground for the $68-billion high-speed-rail line designed to help combat climate change. The only thing that will break, said Assemblyman Jim Patterson R-Fresno, is the bank. Brown may be holding the line on general-fund spending, but his conservative critics say his rail and Delta plans will ratchet up long-term debt spending.

It's not clear how Brown will square that circle, although contradiction is nothing new for him.

In 1978 voters had approved Proposition 13, which put a cap on property taxes. The governor was a foe of the initiative, but so earnestly implemented it that he eventually won the praise of the proposition's co-author, Howard Jarvis. In his second inaugural in January 1979, Brown praised the tax revolt as a legitimate reaction by an angry citizenry, and warned against "false prophets" who "advocate more and more government spending as the cure."

So it's not surprising that Brown has focused part of his agenda on reining in government's long-term debts, just as it's not surprising that Brown still sees environmental peril — "the growing assault on the very systems of nature on which human beings and other forms of life depend," as he put it in his Monday speech — as a core part of his mission. He has long been comfortable advancing both themes.

During his speech, Brown said the issues his father Pat Brown raised during his inaugural 56 years ago "bear eerie resemblance to those we still grapple with today." The general themes of politics — taxes, the size of government, crime and infrastructure — share similarities going back to ancient times. But this is a different California today than it was during Brown's first term.

Whereas voters in the 1970s voted to slash their taxes, voters in 2012 raised them. In Brown's early terms, crime (and the fear of it) was soaring and his anti-death-penalty Supreme Court appointees ultimately became touchstones in an angry recall campaign centered on the crime issue.

With violent crime at near-historic lows these days, Brown touted "less expensive, more compassionate and more effective ways to deal with crime" — an issue that has increasingly gained traction across the political spectrum.

"He has held the line against more ambitious spending from the Democrats in the Legislature, which allows him to balance a rightward lean on budget matters with a more liberal approach to environmental and public safety issues," said Dan Schnur, a University of Southern California professor and former Republican political consultant.

This is classic Jerry Brown and his overly discussed "Canoe Theory of Politics" (paddle a little to the left, and then a little to the right). Brown is a man who wants to "forge a bold new future grounded in the past" but who won't drive the state "off a cliff," added his wife, Anne Gust Brown, while introducing him to the Assembly.

That's no doubt true. But if he puts the aggressive environmental goals above the more-conservative fiscal ones, he could drive the state a little too close to the precipice.\

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  1. “Sustainable development” is a buzzword; “sustainable government” isn’t.

  2. So Jerry wants to forget people that ideas like his are a huge reason why CA is the clusterfuck that it is? Or has he actually learned from his own mistakes?

    1. Brown is an idiot. Only in CA can a fool like him get elected. The entire state is a disaster waiting to happen.

  3. How is he going to reduce fuel usage 50% with out going to the horse and buggy? With out rail and trucks how will good get to market,huh? This idiot want to shut down LAX,?That will ‘save’ fuel. He sounds like the people that say we need to keep all oil,gas and coal in the ground now because,global warming. Solar and wind do not work in large scale and oil is needed for cars,trucks,planes and a host of other things. It’s fuel,not energy!!!

    1. “This idiot want to shut down LAX,?”

      No, actually his commitment was:

      ” slashing car and truck petroleum use in half”

      And my guess is, that will translate to consumer car and pick up trucks. So assuming an increase in the efficiency of electric cars then it’s not an impossible goal to cut their fuel use in half and still maintain a vibrant economy.

      It’s important to remember that battery technology has a long history of incremental improvements and there’s no reason to think that will somehow stop.

      It’s not inconceivable that the free market would achieve that goal without any governmental funds. Indeed, I would expect half the personal passenger cars on the road to be electric in another 30 years.

      1. But the power to recharge those efficient electric cars has to come from somewhere. And the more of them there are on the road, the more likely that power will have to come from fossil fuels because of the unreliability of solar and wind.

        1. Unicorn piss.

        2. It is also going to require people to buy and use electric cars with the horrible range and recharge times when gas is cheap and shows no signs of getting pricy again.
          Remember that Tesla is just now introducing mods to the roadster they no longer make which supposedly means you can get from SF to LA on one charge. Supposedly.

          1. …and exorbitant initial vehicle cost, short battery longevity (hence high battery replacement costs), Ni-Cd disposal impact…overall a GREAT DEAL for consumers.

            1. The greenies are grasping at straws now; I read a comment where the savings from cheap gas were easily lost in paying for routine maintenance on IC autos.
              Well, no. Most maintenance now is on chassis, brakes and drive line, not to mention various sensors and non-functioning circuits.
              And the commenter totally ignored battery replacement in the comparison.

              1. As the Google engineers who worked on the RE

      2. Dipshit, electric cars are not efficent and if you think battery technology is a panacea I’m guessing you have bought into Tesla. I will just lmfao off at this point.

      3. I have an electrical engineering background and I can assure you, that technology is a long way from where it needs to be.

        Electric cars are still a pipe dream. There are other options such as propane fueled cars and trucks that will help. The new cars get better gas milage, but not enough to cut usage by 50%.

    2. Yeah, there is a push to get people to purchase electric water heaters in order to get to hit the grenhouse gas reductions. Natural gas is already very clean compared to the alternatives, but something has to go in order to reach goals. So you could have a scenario where cap and trade dollars are used to subsidize these things on the basis of reducing greenhouse gases, but at the same time their are renewable energy goals, which with the increased demand is going to push prices way up. I want to replace my water heater before electrics become mandatory. I know some people say nobody would be that stupid, but this is California we are talking about.

      And let’s not forget that for all of his talk of fiscal responsibility, he is going to hang that high speed train boondoggle around our necks too. If reason wants a fundraiser, they should have a “guess how much the bullet train will be over budget raffle”. Winner who is closes without going over gets 50% of the take.

      1. Vegas is no longer taking the over on that.

    3. increasing the proportion of the state’s renewable energy use to 50 percent from round 30 percent, slashing car and truck petroleum

      After that he’ll start slashing car and truck tires.

    4. “How is he going to reduce fuel usage 50%”

      1) Mandate stop/start features on all automobiles parked on the urban freeways!

      2) Build more trains on rural freeway right of ways and eliminate all passenger cars from said freeways.


  4. The governor says he will keep the lid on government spending and long-term fiscal liabilities

    Well, he keeps saying that but he is obviously doing the opposite of what he is saying. But what people say doesn’t define their legacy; their legacy is what they actually leave behind, and in Brown’s case, that’s pretty rotten.

  5. Or a man and his beaver..

  6. “Gov. Jerry Brown ? elected to an unprecedented fourth term in November ? was greeted by boisterous applause from legislators and audience members.”

    Bah. Obviously a cherry-picked audience.

  7. Does the Governor or any one else in state government ever think of the average taxpayer? These environmental schemes must meet with Tom Steyer’s approval but what about those who will be paying higher gas prices and increased utility costs? I see the failure to address the pension and healthcare problems of our public workforce as leading to either bankruptcy or confiscatory taxation. Firefighters in my town( where there are no fires)average over $200,000 a year with supervisory personal making upwards of $300,000 and then retiring with 90% of their pay after 30 years. California’s long term situation is hopeless.

  8. Let’s go with 48 cents per kilowatt hour like the German citizens are eating given their push for renewables. Hey, I’m cool with a 300per cent increase in my power bill. You people are fucking idiots.

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