Conditions vs. Problems

Steven Greenhut: There’s no doubt that Gov.-elect Jerry Brown’s inaugural speech Monday hit the right notes, as the Bee’s Dan Walters put it. I was in the press gallery and found the talk to be funny and charming. He offered nothing specific, but every Californian should be glad to hear a governor offer an honest budget for a change. Nevertheless, Brown is setting the stage for massive tax increases — he’s very clear that he opposes such increases unless the voters approve them, with an emphasis on the latter words. That tax vote is coming soon. Unfortunately, Brown’s speech — despite the occasional humor and welcome reference to matters such as pension reform — was filled with troubling references that suggest that (no surprise) he doesn’t get the basic reason for the state’s problems.

Take this quotation from his speech:

“I have thought a lot about this and it strikes me that what we face together as Californians are not so much problems but rather conditions, life’s inherent difficulties. A problem can be solved or forgotten but a condition always remains. It remains to elicit the best from each of us and show us how we depend on one another and how we have to work together.”

It’s true that people will always fight over government budgets and spending priorities, but California’s situation — a $28 billion budget deficit, massive unfunded liabilities, crumbling infrastructure, high unemployment — are not just inherent difficulties. They are caused by bad public policy, by legislators who continuously expand government beyond our ability to pay for it. It is caused by politicians such as Brown who view government as the solution to problems, and who have given public sector unions too much power and money.

These aren’t conditions. Had California taken a more market-friendly path, the state would be dealing with far more manageable problems.

I was also struck by Brown’s emphasis on “loyalty.” I understand that he was trying to push Californians to embrace a cause bigger than their partisan loyalties, but in my experience this type of language is designed to reduce criticism of government policies. If, for instance, you are a harsh critic of your government then perhaps you are not loyal to your country or your state.

The coming weeks will be interesting as budget negotiations unfold. The biggest thing to watch: the impact of Prop. 25 on such negotiations.

California is entering uncharted territory. These really should be interesting times.

JAN. 4

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  1. StevefromSacto
    StevefromSacto 4 January, 2011, 12:29

    Gov. Brown is going to finally give the people of California a real choice:
    Which government services do you want and which are you willing to pay for?

    For the past seven years, we were told that we had no choice. That the only alternative was to cut government. Yet every survey shows over and over that the people of California DO want government services like education, transportation, care for the elderly and disabled, etc. The question is: Are the people willing to pay for them?

    Let’s find out.

    Reply this comment
  2. Steven Greenhut
    Steven Greenhut 4 January, 2011, 12:58

    I see … it’s a choice between more government services or fewer services. Too funny. We never get to choose between unionized, inefficient government workers with multi-million dollar pensions or services provided more efficiently with less exorbitantly compensated employees. In the public sector world, how those “services” are provided is never up for discussion.

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  3. ExPFCWintergreen
    ExPFCWintergreen 4 January, 2011, 16:04

    This is going to be a statewide Washington Monument strategy, in which the Governor and legislative leaders propose cuts to basic services like law enforcement fire protection and the like, and then say, unless you raise your taxes, you will get this. Which is of course not a choice at all. What should be the choice is, we are going to take the money we actually now have and make the choice as to who gets paid, or stays on payroll. And we will include the amount of money we spend on pensions etc in the budget computations.

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  4. Bruce
    Bruce 4 January, 2011, 16:38


    All due respect, your recent vein of implications about Brown — that the mere mention of the virtue of loyalty is a veiled attempt to quash dissent, that a hot-dog barbecue is a Maoist plot — shows a paranoid streak that ill-serves your arguments.

    Reply this comment
  5. Steven Greenhut
    Steven Greenhut 4 January, 2011, 17:28

    Oh come on, Bruce. A Maoist plot? My point on the People’s Governor stuff is that this shows a weird blind spot about using leftist language. I was very careful how I worded it — I have a good deal of respect for Sen. Correa and Nick Berardino, both of whom are friends from OC days. I described them as patriotic and moderate. Brown is no different than any number of conservatives who talk about loyalty or blast incivility, which usually means harsh criticism of their policies and behavior. Local officials are masters at doing this. In the small town where I was an editorial writer, critics were always depicted by the council as “negatives” who didn’t care about the higher good of their community. They wanted us to put loyalty to community (to them and their policies) above our critical thinking skills! There I go being paranoid again. 🙂

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  6. Bruce
    Bruce 4 January, 2011, 20:28

    Even though some Communist [email protected]#$%#@ back in the day hijacked the word “People,” it’s still as American a political and pop-culture trope as red, white and blue bunting — “We the People.” “The People vs. the Powerful.” “The People’s Court.” “The People’s Choice Awards.”

    And even though exploiters will take advantage of our virtues, virtues they remain.

    Reply this comment
  7. John Seiler
    John Seiler 5 January, 2011, 00:03

    Arnold was the “People’s Governor,” and looked what happened. Now, Jerry says he’s the “People’s Governor.”

    Actually, both are the government’s governors. They believe in government of the government, by the government, for the government.

    Reply this comment
  8. StevefromSacto
    StevefromSacto 5 January, 2011, 12:00

    Oh, yeah, Steve, all those “exorbitantly paid” workers, like the DMV clerks who earns under $20,000 a year, or the home care providers who earn barely more than minimum wage with no pensions or health care benefits.

    I get it, you hate public service and want pretty much everything privatized. But quit using unfair and inaccurate stereotypes, OK?

    Reply this comment
  9. Pat
    Pat 6 January, 2011, 10:53

    I’m not a Brown fan – I hope for Whitman (with reservations)- but I’m loving his interest in shutting down redevelopment agencies. I’m wondering if all will be ended, or how the ones that are “closed” are selected.

    I am very familiar with one redevelopment agency / city council that has abused the power and wasted funds on their own pet projects given to their “favorite” select developers.

    I used to think that redevelopment funds were supposed to be used to improve the “blighted” areas which helped the agencies qualify for funds.

    I’m anxious to see if the RDA’s complain and where this goes.

    Reply this comment
  10. Steven Greenhut
    Steven Greenhut 6 January, 2011, 14:53

    Pat — I agree entirely. RDAs are state agencies and should be shut down entirely. Not sure, either, what to do about existing debt service.

    Reply this comment

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