BY JULIET WILLIAMS AND JUDY LIN The Associated Press
SACRAMENTO -- Cheering a California rebound, Gov. Jerry Brown delivered a State of the State address Thursday that laid out the legacy-building ideas he will work on during the second part of his term, including K-12 education reform, high-speed rail and the largest upgrade to the state's water-delivery system in decades.
The Democratic governor delivered his address just months after voters approved his Proposition 30, which raised sales and income taxes temporarily and is expected to generate $6 billion a year in additional revenue.
Brown mostly used his speech to congratulate voters and lawmakers for having an optimistic vision of California. The state, he said, "has once again confounded our critics." He promised an end to the deep budget deficits that have plagued lawmakers and governors for most of the decade.
"Against those who take pleasure, singing of our demise, California did the impossible," he said.
Brown's speech was filled with the rhetorical gems and historical references that are hallmarks of his addresses, from the biblical story of Pharaoh's dream about fat and lean cows emerging from the river to the Spanish adventurers who forged north into modern-day California. But it did not break new ground.
The main topics Brown included have been addressed previously, including in his budget proposal earlier this month. Those include reform of K-12 education funding, the need for the higher education systems to hold down costs, promotion of the $68 billion high-speed rail system, the continued need to combat climate change and building massive twin water tunnels under the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta at a cost of $14 billion.
His speech mainly seemed intended to mark the lasting achievements he hopes to leave after his latest run in the governor's office is over. Brown served from 1975-83, in the era before term limits, before being elected to his latest term in 2010.
Despite the big ticket projects Brown sees as a priority, he urged the Legislature to practice fiscal restraint with the additional tax money approved by voters.
"We have promises to keep," he told a joint session of the Legislature in the Assembly chamber. "And the most important is the one we made to the voters if Proposition 30 passed: that we would guard jealously the money temporarily made available."
Republicans reacted favorably to the governor's live-within-our-means message to the Legislature, where Democrats won supermajorities in both houses last November. That would allow them to pass tax increases without Republican support, if they choose.
"We have a governor who is speaking Republican language, embracing long-held Republican principles," said Sen. Jim Nielsen, R-Gerber. "He is admonishing his colleagues here that notwithstanding their supermajority status and the unnecessary taxes ... he is saying, 'Don't spend all the money.'"
Not all Republican lawmakers were so positive. Assemblywoman Shannon Grove, R-Bakersfield, issued a statement blasting Brown for "touting his 'balanced' budget" when it was done by raising taxes during a time of high unemployment.
"I trust that the voters won't continue to fall for the Democrats' convoluted logic that if California has one of the highest unemployment rates in the country, the answer lies in taking more money from working people and giving it to the bureaucrats in Sacramento to spend on themselves," she said.
Left relatively powerless, Republicans have generally taken a somewhat conciliatory approach in the first month of the new legislative session, looking for areas where they agree with the governor.
One of those is on Brown's call to alter the California Environmental Quality Act, a law that was intended to protect animals and habitat but has been co-opted by NIMBY-ism. Community activists, environmentalists and even rival developers use the law to block developments they don't like, even in already highly developed areas.
The governor proposed changes to the environmental law as part of a broader initiative to restore the 1.3 million jobs California lost during the recession. That also would include hiring credits for businesses and changes to the enterprise zone program.
Brown and other proponents of high-speed rail say that project also will be a major job-producer, but it has been losing favor with the public as its projected costs have soared. In his address, the governor said completing the system is crucial for the future of transportation in a state approaching 40 million people and is just the type of cutting-edge initiative for which the state is famous.
"Yes, it is bold," he said, "but so is everything else about California."