Senator Wolk: Opposes Peripheral Canal in Delta Plan
“California is on the mend,” Governor Brown began his State of the State address, arguing that because of last year’s actions, “we shrunk state government, reduced our borrowing costs and transferred key functions to local government, closer to the people. The result is a problem one-fourth as large as the one we confronted last year.”
“California has problems but rumors of its demise are greatly exaggerated,” the governor said.
But smaller though it may be, the problem still remains and so his solution remains what it was last year: “Cuts and temporary taxes.” As he argued, “Neither is popular but both must be done. In a world still reeling from the near collapse of the financial system, it makes no sense to spend more than we have.”
“For my part, I am determined to press ahead both with substantial budget cuts and my tax initiative. The cuts are not ones I like but the situation demands them,” he said.
“As for the initiative, it is fair. It is temporary. It is half of what people were paying in 2010. And it will protect our schools and guarantee – in the constitution – funding for the public safety programs we transferred to local government,” he argued.
Polls show that the governor’s strongest pitch-point is schools. Voters, according to polls, have consistently agreed in fairly large numbers to accept higher taxes if the money goes to schools and preventing further cuts.
“Given the cutbacks to education in recent years, it is imperative that California devote more tax dollars to this most basic of public services,” the Governor argued. “If we are successful in passing the temporary taxes I have proposed and the economy continues to expand, schools will be in a much stronger position.”
However, Republicans were not buying it. One Republican, Beth Gaines from Roseville said: “”I was really looking forward to hearing some fresh ideas, some innovative ideas and some real leadership. Unfortunately, I didn’t hear that. … Raising taxes is not going to help our economy.”
But neither is continued cuts to government jobs and education.
As the governor would argue, schools “consume more tax dollars than any other government activity and rightly so as they have a profound effect on our future. Since everyone goes to school, everyone thinks they know something about education and in a sense they do.”
The governor’s top proposals include the need to: Stimulate jobs; build renewable energy; reduce pollution and greenhouse gasses; launch the nation’s only high-speed rail system; reach agreement on a plan to fix the delta; improve our schools; reform our pensions; and make sure that prison realignment is working – to protect public safety and reduce recidivism.
Half the fun in such addresses is the reaction, and this one was decidedly mixed.
As we mentioned, Republicans could not see past the tax initiative.
Democrats are leery of the possible budget cuts, but willing to work with the governor.
Speaker John Perez said on Wednesday, “The Governor presented a compelling argument for needed job creation measures to put Californians back to work, as well as new revenues to finishing up the hard work of putting California’s fiscal house in order.”
“He presented a comprehensive list of areas to move California forward, and my colleagues and I are looking forward to working with the Governor to achieve new progress for California,” the Speaker added.
Senate Leader Darrell Steinberg said, “The majority of Californians wants to see us reinvest and restore some of what’s been lost in our public schools, our universities and local communities over the past few years. The Governor laid out a positive vision for the state with a real pathway to make it happen.
“We should not abandon the great visions of a comprehensive water policy or a mass transportation system for the 21st century. Rather, we need to align those objectives with new approaches to provide an avenue to success,” he continued.
“All eyes are on California as we pursue the goal of putting more time, energy and focus on building achievements for our state than we do in just holding the line,” Senator Steinberg added. “We have great opportunities to fulfill our simultaneous obligations of balancing the budget and stimulating a more vibrant economy.”
Senator Leland Yee is a frequent critic, but on this day, he was supporting the governor’s vision, stating, “At last, our state is finally on the right track to recovery thanks to Governor Brown’s vision of a stronger California.”
The key for him is putting a revenue option on the table, rather than more cuts.
“Raising revenue is finally on the table, which is absolutely essential in order to provide quality public education,” he said. “I look forward to working with the Governor to expand our green tech industries, create jobs, and improve our economy so that California can again become an example of America at its best.”
Locally, Senator Lois Wolk and Assemblymember Mariko Yamada also had responses to the governor’s plan.
“The Governor’s overall approach is fiscally sound and should be supported by the legislature this session and the voters this November. It balances difficult cuts with temporary taxes to eliminate our deficit and get us back on sound fiscal footing. He also continued to emphasize shifting more authority locally and bringing government closer to the people,” Senator Wolk said in a prepared statement.
“I especially like the Governor’s proposal to give local school boards, teachers, and principals more discretion on how to spend their dollars to meet their specific needs,” she said.
One of the big issues that the governor hit on was the delta. The governor argued that we must tackle the water issue.
“Last week, Secretary of the Interior – Ken Salazar – met here in Sacramento with those in my administration who are working to complete the Bay Delta Conservation Plan. Together we agreed that by this summer we should have the basic elements of the project we need to build,” Governor Brown said.
He added, “His is an enormous project. It will ensure water for 25 million Californians and for millions of acres of farmland as well as a hundred thousand acres of new habitat for spawning fish and other wildlife. To get it done will require time, political will and countless permits from state and federal agencies. I invite your collaboration and constructive engagement.”
Senator Wolk is a protector of the delta and has been a frequent outspoken critic of the state’s policies – particularly with regard to the construction of a peripheral canal.
On Wednesday, she indicated approval to “accept the Governor’s invitation to engage constructively to find a solution to restore the Delta and improve water supply reliability for the state. However, I don’t think it will require what the Governor described as ‘an enormous project,’ a giant canal, and taking 100,000 acres of Delta farmland out of production. “
She added, “But it will require supporting everyone’s effort to reduce reliance on the Delta as their primary source of water and relying more on sustainable regional water supplies. I look forward to working with the Governor and others on developing an affordable and realistic solution that all Californians can support.”
Assemblymember Mariko Yamada simply said, “The Governor’s message today was bold and full of optimism. We have difficult choices ahead, but our state is on the mend. Let’s make progress, and not just pledges, so that we can reinvest in California’s future.”
As the Sacramento Bee’s editorial put it: “Gov. Jerry Brown delivered a classic Jerry Brown State of the State speech Wednesday.”
They described it as some of it being “off the cuff” – “gigging Republicans as clairvoyants and savants for responding to his speech Tuesday before he had even finished writing it.”
They called some of it “inspirational” – “touting the state’s high-tech ingenuity while attacking the doomsayers and ‘declinists’ who regularly hype the state’s demise.”
They said some of it showed humility – “We can, and should, devise more permanent tax reform but for now we should finish the job of bringing spending into balance with revenues.”
And they said some of it was cautionary – for instance when he remarked about public safety realignment: “It is one thing to pass a law and quite another to implement it and make it work.”
“All that said, Brown’s speech was oblique even for a governor who seems to relish being oblique at times,” the Bee wrote, noting his clear agenda as laid out above, but adding that “he needs to be more forthcoming on how he plans to make headway on the big items on his agenda.”
George Skelton noted somewhat dismissively that this marked a first for Governor Brown, “It’s the first time Brown has ever been governor during a presidential election year that he’s not darting off across the country on a quixotic race for the White House.”
In fact, in his first term, he ran for something in each election: “Twice for president, once for reelection and once for the U.S. Senate. He batted 1-for-4.”
Mr. Skelton argued that this will serve him well as he “will have the time and energy – along with the overriding interest – to devote to the job Californians hired him for: mainly fixing the state’s fiscal mess.”
If Mr. Skelton was hopeful, Dan Walters was critical, writing that “Jerry Brown puts his contradictions on display.”
“He could have been speaking of himself and his odd way – little changed from his first governorship three decades ago – of simultaneously embracing positions that would seem to be self-contradictory, at least to lesser beings than himself,” the columnist wrote.
“Early on, Brown the penny-pincher was on full display, praising legislators for cutting spending last year to close the budget deficit and urging more this year,” Dan Walters notes but then points out, “A few paragraphs later, the penny-pincher turned into big spender as he urged those same legislators to put the state more deeply into debt by authorizing billions of dollars to begin construction on a much-troubled north-south bullet train system.”
“The speech was, in other words, vintage Brown,” Mr. Walters writes, “He may be reflecting the contradictory state he attempts to govern. But he’s also seeking a better place in the state’s history books than he earned during his first governorship – a reign that was dominated by ceaseless campaigning for re-election, the presidency or the U.S. Senate, rather than governing.”
Interesting that this was foremost on two columnists’ minds.
Still, for all the contradictions of Governor Brown, even someone who has been around as long as Dan Walters is not sure what to make of it.
In the end he calls his big government initiatives like the bullet train and renewable energy “an immense gamble, not only for Brown, but for the state because, unlike the computer industry’s history, Brown wants California taxpayers, businesses and utility ratepayers to divert countless billions of dollars from more conventional private and public purposes into green development.”
He concludes, “If he pulls it off, he’ll go down as a visionary. If it fails, he’ll go down as a narcissistic daydreamer.”
That about sums up Governor Brown’s second go-round. I will add, if he fails, the state may fail with him.
—David M. Greenwald reporting