Brown’s State of the State: It’s Morning in California

Brown’s State of the State: It’s Morning in California

JerryBrownSchwPresident Ronald Reagan’s 1984 re-election campaign theme boasted: “It’s Morning in America.” He won 49 states, losing only rival Walter Mondale’s native Minnesota.

Gov. Jerry Brown’s State of the State address this morning kicked off a similar theme in what effectively was his re-election pitch. He didn’t imitate Reagan and say, exactly, “It’s Morning in California.” But the meaning still was there. The governor enthused:

“What a comeback it is. A million new jobs since 2010, a budgetary surplus in the billions and a minimum wage rising to $10 an hour! 

“This year, Californians have a lot to be proud of. For a decade, budget instability was the order of the day. A lethal combination of national recessions, improvident tax cuts and too much spending created a financial sink hole that defied every effort to climb out. But three years later, here we are – with state spending and revenues solidly balanced, and more to come.”

Of course things are better than when he took office three years ago to clean up the wreckage of the disastrous Schwarzenegger administration. But unemployment in California remains stubbornly high, at 8.5 percent, sixth worst in the country; and well above such rivals as Texas at 6.1 percent and Florida at 6.4 percent. Both those states lack a state income tax, compared to the hefty top California rate of 13.3 percent because of Brown’s Proposition 30 tax increase.

The increase in the minimum wage Brown touted also likely will kill jobs, making unemployment worse.

And a November study by the U.S. Census Bureau found that, when California’s sky-high cost of living was figured into calculations, the state suffered the country’s worst poverty rate.

Threats

Of course, if a politician simply says, “Life is wonderful,” then there’s no need to re-elect him. Anybody else could do the job.

So the politician has to bring up future threats that only he can vanquish. Brown:

“But we are not out of the woods and we certainly are not out of the drought. Life is uncertainty, the climate is changing – not for the better – and the business cycle and the stock market are historically volatile, with good years followed by bad, with painful regularity.”

“Better” on climate depends on where you live. California’s weather in recent weeks has been at its balmy best. But the Northeast of the country has been plunged into a new global cooling, probably due to the lack of sunspots.

Brown no doubt believes that “global warming”/climate change is occurring, bringing with it the continued need for imposing AB 32, the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006.

But it’s also good politics. Brown knows that election victories ride on the backs of coalitions. An essential element of his coalition is environmentalists. He has offended some of them already by advancing fracking and loosening the California Environmental Quality Act to fight the drought. So continuing to advance the global-warming hypothesis and the policies to fight it keeps the enviros on his side.

Budget

Brown also knows his reputation for frugality sells with voters, including many Republicans. So even though he actually has increased spending more than 20 percent in three years, he maintained:

“And while we know our revenues will fluctuate up and down, our long-term liabilities are enormous and ever growing. Let me list some of them: Over $100 billion for pensions owed to state workers, teachers and judges; tens of billions needed to cover retiree health care; and $65 billion needed to maintain and keep our roads, buildings and other infrastructure in sound repair. We also must account for future risks that could negatively affect our budgets like congressional decisions, natural disasters and the uncertain costs of the Affordable Care Act.

“So we can’t go back to ‘business as usual.’ Boom and bust is our lot and we must follow the ancient advice, recounted in the Book of Genesis, that Joseph gave to the Pharaoh: Put away your surplus during the years of great plenty so you will be ready for the lean years which are sure to follow.”

You never know. And Brown, as an astute politician, will take nothing for granted. But the economy probably will remain strong enough in 2014 to keep him in the governor’s chair.

The problem comes when, as he warned, bad times return. There isn’t enough wiggle room in his proposed budget for fiscal 2014-15, which begins on July 1, to avoid massive new deficits during a recession. And the pension problems he warned about are not going away.

In short, the State of the State probably is good enough for Brown to stay in office, but the long-term problems still are not being dealt with adequately.


Tags assigned to this article:
State of the StateJerry BrownJohn Seilerpoverty

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