Gov. Jerry Brown, in a terse State of the State address, made an impassioned plea for bipartisanship and speed in resolving California’s whopping budget shortage. His speech before a joint session of the Legislature was aimed at the larger public as much as at the lawmakers sitting in front of him, for in the end, it will be the voters who decide the budget at the ballot box.
The Democratic governor delivered a campaign-style address Monday night in a quest for support — the speech was only about 14 minutes long, three minutes shorter than his inaugural speech less than a month ago – in which he chided those who dislike his cuts-and-taxes plan to fill a $25.4 billion hole but who have failed to present their own plan.
“In all honesty,” the governor said in his eighth State of the State address, “we have a right to get an alternative.” His budget blueprint, he said, “is the best I can devise.”
But there have been alternatives and budget-related suggestions offered either in legislation or in closed-door negotiations, including Republican-backed proposals for public pension reform, changes in the eight-hour work day and an easing of California environmental standards. The governor did not mention any of them, although late in the address he said he would eliminate “unreasonable regulations” that hamper job development, echoing a familiar theme of business interests.
“Tonight, Gov. Brown glossed over pension reform – uttering only a few words on the topic and offering no substantive proposals. Until we have implemented reforms that get our unfunded pension liability under control, it is unconscionable for our Legislature to discuss raising taxes on hardworking Californians,” said Sen. Mimi Walters, R-Laguna Niguel, who has authored legislation to cut pension costs.
But Brown’s austere, no-frills address appeared to match the times of economic pain and high unemployment, and he demanded immediate action. “It is absolutely essential to act boldly and without delay.” And he said placing the budget question before voters was proper. At one point, he read from the constitution, noting that “all power resides in the people.”
His proposed cuts include $1.7 billion from health care programs serving the poor, $1 billion from the state’s universities and $1.5 billion from welfare programs. The budget present “tough calls and unpleasant choices,” Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom said in introducing Brown. “We all own this.”
Brown noted the controversy that erupted from his proposal to abolish California’s 425 redevelopment agencies He defended his plan, contending that the agencies strip away tax money that otherwise could be used for schools and essential services. “The core functions of government must be funded first,” he said.
Californians have repeatedly shown their opposition to taxes and fees in recent elections – even rejecting a monthly $1.50 surcharge to keep state parks open. A recent statewide survey by the Public Policy Institute of California, however, found that voters generally favored his cuts-and-taxes attempt to balance the books. But there were contradictions in the voters’ view: Although there was support for a mix of cuts and extending existing taxes, there was opposition to specific increases in sales, vehicle and income taxes.
And yet voters also said they would be willing to pay higher taxes to keep the state’s educational and social service systems intact.
About four in 10 voters approve of Brown’s performance during his first month in office, a fifth disapproved and a third were undecided. The Legislature’s approval rating has risen to 26 points, and nearly two-thirds of those surveyed believe Brown and lawmakers can work together.