Brown transition: Part stealth, part budget woes

By definition, transition reflects change.

But as Gov.-elect Jerry Brown prepares to take office on Jan. 3, the most remarkable characteristic of his transition is not what’s happening – it’s what’s not happening.

Thus far, he has made no across-the-board board demands that ranking state officials submit their resignations then reapply for jobs in the new administration – a common practice of an incoming governor, as in the case of George Deukmejian’s governorship after Brown left office the first time, or Ronald Reagan’s administration following Pat Brown. 

Capitol sources say that weeks before the Nov. 2 election, Brown privately visited a number of ranking state and elected officials, in part to pick their brains, in part to ask that they remain in a Brown administration. Since the election, his staff has continued to deliver a similar message: There will be little bureaucratic change in the immediate future.

In a number of cases, the transition team has offered ranking officials four choices – stay in their current post, or pick three others in order of preference where they would like to serve. Three people who were offered those choices said it appeared that whatever their choice, it was likely they would stay in the administration.

Nothing has been announced, but it appears that Brown intends to retain three of the state’s highest-profile officials in their current jobs – Matthew Cate as head of the corrections system, Mary Nichols as chair of the Air Resources Board and Finance Director Ana Matosantos.

Unlike Brown’s first term, when he made dramatic changes from the outgoing administration of Reagan, this time around whatever change is likely to be more gradual.

The sharpest departure from the previous administration will be in the state budget. Indeed, the perception in the Capitol is that the reason there is so little transition upheaval is because Brown is focused almost exclusively on the state’s fiscal plight. That may be good spin – or it even may be true.

Facing harsh economic times when he first took office, Brown in his first inaugural address – it was about seven minutes long, the shortest of any governor in the state’s history — called for immediate cuts in state operations, including a 7 percent cut in his own office, and an end to tax breaks for oil companies, among other proposals. He ended with a terse,  “We have lots of work to do. Let’s get to it. Thank you very much.”

The state’s current budget is in worse shape than in 1975. The shortage projected over 18 months is more than $25 billion – nearly 2 ½ times the size of the entire state budget when Brown first took office.

Brown has called for a meeting Wednesday at Sacramento’s Memorial Auditorium in which ranking state officials, at his request, plan to lay out details of the state’s fiscal woes. In terms of government operations, Brown’s solutions may include cutting the bureaucracy, eliminating or combining agencies and changes in public pension benefits — issues that arose during the campaign.

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