Brown Uses Veto for a Do-Over on UC Spending Plan

John Wildermuth
Journalist and Political Commentator

It’s good to be the king – or the governor – especially when it gives you a chance to get something right the second time.

Gov. Jerry Brown decided that consistency matters Thursday and used his line item veto to make his actions match his rhetoric.

Call it a “never mind” moment for the governor.

Since his State of the State speech in January, Brown has been tossing around the Catholic principle of “subsidiarity,” which means that the problems should be solved and decisions made at the lowest level possible, with higher authorities only horning in when absolutely necessary.

Under that concept, “higher or more remote levels of government, like the state, should render assistance to local school districts, but always respect their primary jurisdiction,” Brown said in the speech. “Subsidiarity is offended when distant authorities prescribe in minute detail what is taught, how it is taught and how it is to be measured.”

The governor followed through, fighting Democratic legislators to eliminate many of the categorical grants the state – with the help of legislators and lobbyists — traditionally has made for specific educational programs, instead sending the money to school districts and letting them decide how it could best be spent.

Small problem, though. Brown, like most politicians, is convinced that he knows what’s best in just about every circumstance. So his January budget earmarked $10 million each for the University of California and California State University systems to use to expand their on-line education program, even though the chancellors of the cash-strapped institutions might have had other ideas about where that money could best be spent.

Ah, subsidiarity anyone?

Brown apparently realized that he was contradicting himself in the new budget and that plenty of people were likely to be reminding him of that once the spending plan was signed. So the governor essentially vetoed his own proposal and made like that inconsistency had never happened.

You certainly couldn’t tell it from his veto message, which was essentially the same for both the UC and state university systems.

“For support of University of California, I revise this item by deleting Provisions 6, 8, 10, 11, 13, 14, 15 and 16.”

Good luck finding what any of those provisions are about and the governor’s included explanation didn’t help much either.

“The requirements included in these provisions that the University of California expend funds for various purposes create cost pressures and unnecessary restrictions,” Brown said. “Eliminating these earmarks will give the University greater flexibility to manage its resources.”

Not a word mentioning that it was the governor himself who added some of those “unnecessary restrictions,” but all’s well that ends well.

It also gave Brown some wiggle room to extend his subsidiarity argument elsewhere in the budget. For example, he vetoed a requirement that the state Judicial Council spend money to adopt access rules for watchdog groups, saying it “would create cost pressures on trial courts,” although he urged the council to “continue efforts to provide greater public access,” although without having to spend any money for it.

The governor also vetoed an appropriation that required the Board of State and Community Corrections to dedicate a position to juvenile justice research, arguing that it “interferes with the Board’s ability to prioritize overall research needs.”

The vetoes, both in the budget and, coming soon, to the bill from the Legislature, often provide a better look at the governor’s thinking than many of the bills he signs.

In his relatively short list of budget vetoes, for example, Brown listed a number of items where he “sustains” the spending, making it very clear he’s not happy about it.

Despite his efforts to eliminate most school categorical funding, legislators forced the governor to continue some of them. He noted that he would go along with funding for things like “Agriculture Career Technical Education,” despite “my belief that local education agencies are in the best position to allocate their funding to meet local needs and priorities.”

On that and a number of other items, including an additional $3 million for the California Coastal Commission, Brown made it clear that the battle goes on.

“Given the Legislature’s support of this program, I will direct my Administration to examine whether this funding should continue … into the future.”

John Wildermuth is a longtime writer on California politics.

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