The result was not necessarily the record deficits we have seen, as those came more naturally from a collapsed economy. The political stalemate, however, meant there was never a real or workable solution.
For his part, in his first news conference Jerry Brown seemed like a man who knew the tasks that lay ahead for him.
“Going forward, I’d say it’s daunting,” Governor-elect Jerry Brown said on Wednesday at his press conference. “I approach the job with enthusiasm, with optimism and with all the energy and creativity I can bring to a very broken process.”
“I’m going to try to pare down as much as I possibly can,” said the Governor-elect. “I will engage in a process that will be exhausting, and it will be exhaustive – and it will be inclusive.”
Governor-elect Brown delivered some sobering words for Democrats who bolstered their control in the Assembly and maintained it in the Senate.
“My message is: Get ready for hard surfaces and benches as you sit in the kind of austere environment of a very-carefully-put-together state government and budget,” he said.
One message that the Governor-elect saw on election day was voters turning down a new vehicle registration fee to save state parks, and supporting proposition 26 which might limit the power of government to pass fees.
“I would say the electorate is in no mood to add to their burdens,” he said.
On Wednesday, the Vanguard spoke to some legislators in both houses. Close to home, Assemblymember Mariko Yamada from Davis was re-elected easily over Republican Michelle Connor, a political consultant who lives in Vacaville.
She outpolled her opponent 61.5 percent to 38.5 percent.
“Thank you to the voters and all the constituents of the 8th Assembly District for the opportunity to serve my second term in Sacramento,” said Assemblymember Yamada.
The Assemblymember looks forward to a chance to work with the new governor, one with experience and expertise.
“More important than having a Democratic Governor is that the Governor-elect is Jerry Brown,” said Assemblymember Yamada. “He has the wisdom, experience and eye for frugality that California needs now. I look forward to working with him and his administration.”
In addition to the new Governor, Proposition 25 figures to be a game-changer for the legislature.
For Assemblymember Yamada, that means three things will happen as the result of a simple majority threshold to pass a budget.
“First,” she said, it will “provide incentive for the budget process to proceed earlier and with greater transparency than in the past.”
She said it will also, “diffuse the ‘Big Five’ process, providing broader participation for all legislators in the budget development process.”
Finally, Assemblymember Yamada said it will, “spare innocent Californians from the perennial and harmful budget ‘hostage-taking’ stalemates that have hurt the state for so long.”
The Vanguard also spoke with Democratic Senator Mark Leno from the Bay Area, who expressed similar thoughts about the new Governor.
“I look very much forward to not only working with a Democratic Governor,” the Senator responded, “but a Governor who [has] experience, some expertise and who will be much more engaged in the challenges, the fiscal challenges specifically regarding our ongoing budget crisis.”
Senator Leno was critical of Governor Schwarzenegger’s inconsistent approach.
“Hopefully there will be more consistency in approach,” the Senator said, continuing, “the outgoing Governor would one day say we have to starve the Government and the next day would embrace tax increases. And the following day return to his previous position.”
“That doesn’t help in a crisis,” the Senator said pointedly. “We need leadership and very focused direction in addressing a crisis.”
Senator Leno sees Proposition 25 as a huge change, bringing, as he said, democracy to Sacramento.
“It’s a novel concept,” he said, “but it will bring democracy to Sacramento. It’s worked in other places with majority rule instead of the minority.”
While Proposition 25 retains the two-thirds vote for raising taxes, Senator Leno was quick to point out that Governor-elect Brown has already said he would not support tax increases either, without the approval of the voters.
“We ostensibly have an inability to raise any revenue with the legislature, regardless of whether there is a majority or supermajority threshold,” said Senator Mark Leno.
“Prop 26 will make things more difficult,” the Senator pointed out, “Though it was painted as a taxpayer protection act, it will in fact shift the burden of corporate damage repair to taxpayers.”
Moving back to Proposition 25, Senator Leno said, “The most important aspect of Prop 25 is that it will stop the extortion – which means the minority party will no longer have the opportunity or ability to demand further deficit damaging corporate tax cuts.”
Senator Leno was frank about where the budget cuts might come from.
“Fifty percent of the budget is education, so education is always at risk without new revenue,” he said. “Californians, I hope, will begin to focus on that fact.”
He wants to see, with the new Governor and the passage of Prop 25, an honest conversation about what we want government to provide and how we will fund it.
“Do we want a sufficiently funded K-12 system? Do we want to restore the glory of our higher educational system?” he asked rhetorically. “That education was the foundation stone for California growing to the 8th largest economy in the world.”
The Senator added, “There is no thriving private sector without a strong public sector. And there is no sustainable public sector without a thriving private sector. They are interdependent and we need to clarify that better in the months to come.”
In addition to education, the social safety net remains at risk for future cuts.
Where Senator Leno would like to see cuts appears to be the criminal justice system, which has sapped up more and more resources by attempting to incarcerate larger amounts of inmates, many for minor crimes. Senator Leno said, “Until recently [it was] the uncontrollable, ever-growing department of corrections – we need criminal justice reform as well.”
If one listens to the words of Governor-elect Jerry Brown or Senator Mark Leno, it becomes very clear that this does not appear to be a Democratic government about to go off the deep end with new spending and tax proposals. They appear very sanguine about their chances and the extent to which they have any public mandate.
Those believing that Governor Brown cut some sort of backroom deal with labor are missing the point – why would he need to do that? Labor could not back Meg Whitman, who was proposing cutting 40,000 state jobs. They had no where else to go.
For the first time, there is at least a very real possibility that California can be governable, and that the legislature and Governor can set up some realistic spending priorities and enact the kind of pension and prison reform that we have desperately been needing.
—David M. Greenwald reporting