ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER. JANUARY 24. 2013. In a State of the State address befitting a Republican, Gov. Jerry Brown on Thursday laid out a largely conservative vision for California, calling for fiscal restraint, streamlined regulations and local control of schools. At one point he even asked the Legislature to stop passing so many bills.
"I like to hear it," Orange County Assemblyman Don Wagner, R-Irvine, said afterwards. "He is welcome to our playbook and we are pledged to support him if he is working from our playbook," he said.
Of course, the governor also touched on several Democratic themes, including climate change and health care reform, and even took time out to praise labor unions. But in sharp contrast to the president's inaugural speech this week, which was heavy on progressive ideals and sweeping rhetoric, the majority of the governor's 24-minute address was a plainspoken, if slightly eccentric, call for debt reduction and "living within our means."
"The people have given us seven years of extra taxes," Brown said, referring to the November vote approving Proposition 30. "Let us follow the wisdom of Joseph, pay down our debts and store up reserves against the leaner times."
Speaking before both houses of the Legislature, the governor gave the full Jerry Brown treatment, making reference not only to the Bible story of Joseph and the Pharaoh's dreams, but also to a 16th Century French philosopher and a 20th Century Irish poet. He was at times foreboding, warning of "great risks and uncertainties" lying ahead, but more frequently exulting, boasting that the budget is balanced and that the state, finally, is on track.
"California has once again confounded our critics," he said to open the speech. "We have wrought in just two years a solid and enduring budget. And, by God, we're going to persevere and keep it that way for years to come.
"Against those who take pleasure singing our demise, California did the impossible."
In addition to reiterating his long-standing refrain that the Legislature must resist spending increases while the economy recovers, Brown said the state needs to "rethink and streamline our regulatory procedures, particularly the California Environmental Quality Act," which businesspeople often complain stifles development. To Republican applause, Brown said, "Our approach needs to be based more on consistent standards that provide greater certainty and cut needless delays."
"I think he's on the right track. The key will be the implementation of these ideas," said Orange County Assemblyman Travis Allen, R-Huntington Beach, in a typical GOP reaction.
Brown also reiterated his recently introduced budget proposal to end most "categorical" earmarks, which restrict schools to using specific pots of money for specific needs, like home to school transportation or English as a Second Language classes. In their place, Brown wants to implement a weighted formula that will provide additional funding to school districts that have a large number of poor students or non-English speakers. At the same time, he also wants to empower local school boards to make more decisions.
"Higher or more remote levels of government, like the state, should render assistance to local school districts, but always respect their primary jurisdiction and the dignity and freedom of teachers and students," the governor said. "I would prefer to trust our teachers who are in the classroom each day, doing the real work," he said.
Orange County Assemblywoman Sharon Quirk-Silva, D-Fullerton, said that as a former teacher she appreciates that the governor wants to stop micromanaging schools, but added that "there will be some fear and some consternation" about the impact of the proposed weighted formula.
"I think we really need to analyze that and understand really what that means," she said.
In between outlining his proposals, Brown challenged lawmakers to focus less on proposing laws and more on employing their "persuasive power" to "inspire and organize people."
"As legislators, it is your duty and privilege to pass laws. But what we need to do for our future will require more than producing hundreds of new laws each year," the governor said. "Constantly expanding the coercive power of government by adding each year so many minute prescriptions to our already detailed and turgid legal system overshadows other aspects of public service," he said.
As long expected, Brown on Thursday called for a special session of the Legislature to implement ObamaCare. He also asserted that the state is on track to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020 and said California could face an natural disaster if it doesn't address the state's water issues, particularly those involving the San Joaquin Delta.
The speech received generally high marks from members of both parties, although Republicans were dismayed that the governor slipped in praise for the California High Speed Rail, saying, "Electrified trains are part of the future."
But while lawmakers embraced the governor's words, looming over the speech was the persistent talk that some Democrats will push for more spending now that voters have approved the Prop. 30 tax increase.
"I already hear folks, some of my colleagues, saying that the election was a call to restore a lot of the cuts that have been made over the last two years," said Orange County Sen. Lou Correa, D-Santa Ana, who made clear that he disagrees and believes spending shouldn't increase until the economy improves.
"Those are the debates we will be having," he said. "It's not whether it remains to be seen. It will be a major debate. There's already debate amongst Democrats."