Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Jerry Brown's State of the State address, 2011

California Gov. Jerry Brown gave his own State of the State speech yesterday. The prepared text is here.

He emphasized the serious of the state's budget crisis, promoted his own plan to plug the $25 billion budget deficit for fiscal 2011-12 (starting in July), and pressed the Republicans to stop being simple obstructionists. He gave a hint of how seriously he views the state of national politics right now:

This is not a time for politics as usual. The stakes are too high. Our overall financial system, which came close to absolute breakdown, has not fully stabilized. Where we go from here—either more austerity or more stimulus—is hotly contested. Even the cause of the mortgage meltdown remains in dispute.

Voters are clearly telling us that our state and our nation are going in the wrong direction. Yet, our two main political parties both in Washington and in California are as far apart as I have ever seen them. Still, I know that politics is at the heart of democracy. It is the essence of our structure of freedom and the way in which we as a people make our collective decisions. We owe it to ourselves and to our forebears—and to our children--to rise to this occasion, do what is right and regain the public's trust. Kicking the can down the road, by not owning an honest budget, is simply out of the question. [my emphasis]
In this case, "kicking the can down the road" would essentially mean borrowing at high interest rates, which wouldn't adjust permanent spending to revenues and which would increase the already too-high level of interest payments as a portion of the annual state budget.

Jerry's budget plan for the $25 billion calls for using one-time funding for $5 billion of presumably temporary expenses, $$10 billion in programs cuts he has specified, and extension of some current taxes (enacted as temporary) for additional years. The latter will require a statewide vote, consistent with Jerry's campaign promise not to raise taxes without voter approval. California is a semi-plebisitary democracy, with initiatives and referenda put to a statewide vote setting major policies on taxes and spending.

The Republicans are so playing their usual wrecker role and trying to block the legislature from putting the revenue measures on the June ballot. Jerry addressed them:

The times call out for vision and for discipline. Discipline so that we live within the revenue which the state collects each year, and Vision so that we rise above mere party, act as Californians first, and put our trust in the people.

Under our form of government, it would be unconscionable to tell the electors of this state that they have no right to decide whether it is better to extend current tax statutes another five years or chop another $12 billion out of schools, public safety, our universities and our system of caring for the most vulnerable.

Let me read to you, Article 2, Section 1 of the California Constitution:
"All political power is inherent in the people. Government is instituted for their protection, security and benefit, and they have the right to alter or reform it when the public good may require."

When democratic ideals and calls for the right to vote are stirring the imagination of young people in Egypt and Tunisia and other parts of the world, we in California can't say now is the time to block a vote of the people. In the ordinary course of things, matters of state concern are properly handled in Sacramento. But when the elected representatives find themselves bogged down by deep differences which divide them, the only way forward is to go back to the people and seek their guidance. It is time for a legislative check-in with the people of California. [my emphasis]
Unlike our Democratic President, Brown understands the value of fighting for something he thinks is right and losing, because he can use even a defeat to reframe the public narrative in a more Democratic direction.

And he invited the Republicans to put up or shut up, for a change:

Do I like the choices we face? No. I don't. But after serious study of the options left us by a $25 billion deficit, the budget I have proposed is the best I can devise. If any of you have other suggestions that you think are better, please, share them with us. After all, we are in this together. ...

From the time I first proposed what I believe to be a balanced approach to our budget deficit – both cuts and a temporary extension of current taxes – dozens of groups affected by one or another of the proposed cuts have said we should cut somewhere else instead. Still others say we should not extend the current taxes but let them them go away. So far, however, these same people have failed to offer even one alternative solution.

As I have said before, I have not come here to embrace delay or denial, but to get the job done. If you have solutions that are truly viable, by all means present them. We need everyone's best thinking. [my emphasis]]
He ended with an upbeat vision of what a great place California is and what a promising future it has.

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