Jerry’s Senior-itis

Joe Mathews
Connecting California Columnist and Editor, Zócalo Public Square, Fellow at the Center for Social Cohesion at Arizona State University and co-author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It (UC Press, 2010)

In the last year of high school, students often develop a case of senioritis. They neglect their schoolwork, see their grades drop, and spend more time having fun.

Signs are that Jerry Brown has a case of gubernatorial senioritis. He’s increasingly taken to the road to talk climate, and doing very little to address growing crises in the state.

Jerry’s final year should be focused on California and its thorniest statewide problems. He should be finding ways to fund hundreds of billions of dollars in new infrastructure investment – not merely replacing the old but building new infrastructure for a new era of automation.

California badly needs a massive scaling up of its university systems – with the goal of doubling the number of graduates within the next decade. But Brown has worked only around the edges of the problem.

The housing crisis requires more and accelerated action, including CEQA reform. Brown has called fixing CEQA the Lord’s work – and left the work mostly to God.

That’s not all—pension and retirement costs need to be addressed, but in a broader way. The state’s schools and local governments are facing cuts, even in a time of economic expansion, as employee retirement costs eat away at their budgets. What happens when the economy turns downward? The state can’t afford to wait for its next governor to address these issues.

Other problems loom. The state’s court system is an underfunding mess that no longer produces timely justice. And the tax system is an unholy mess; Brown acknowledges it needs fixing, but he won’t do it, citing the difficulties of getting a two-thirds vote on taxes.

That’s a good point—but that logic argues for broader constitutional reform. Which Brown won’t pursue—because it‘s too hard.

Instead of hard work, Californians are about to get a victory lap from their governor. Look for him to overstate the impact of small-bore changes he’s pursued in office. Also look for him to spend at least a month this year out of state.

If he’s going to indulge his senioritis, Brown should graduate early and turn the governorship over to Gavin Newsom, who – whatever you think of him and his policies – seems chomping at the bit to tackle many of the state’s systemic problems.

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