California’s economy is on the mend, but most voters still don’t believe it. That’s happy news for Gov. Jerry Brown.

Brown released his 2014-15 budget Thursday and he was his usual downbeat self. Things may look good, he said at his Sacramento news conference, but they really aren’t all that rosy.

The budget “represents prudence … and prudence is never easy,” he said. “When the money’s in, people want to go for it.”

He talked about how some people, aka Democratic legislators, will see the budget’s black ink and “say we should go on a spending binge,” Brown said, but reminded listeners that it didn’t work for former governors Gray Davis and Arnold Schwarzenegger.

There was little doubt Brown’s sermon on fiscal responsibility was aimed directly at his fellow Democrats and the many interest groups anxious to use the anticipated budget surplus to restore the deep program and safety net cuts made during the recession.

The story of the coming year, the governor said, “will be how we’re able to work with the Legislature, work with advocate groups, to maintain our long-term path of reducing liabilities but investing in basic services.”

Luckily for Brown, California voters are every bit as nervous as he is about the state’s financial future.

A Public Policy Institute of California poll last month found that 50 percent of the state’s registered voters believe that bad economic times are ahead for the state, compared to 40 percent anticipating a brighter future.

For pessimists who have watched the state – and their own friends and families – battered by the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, Brown’s plan to spend $11 billion to repay debts and put $1.6 billion into a rainy day savings fund for the next inevitable recession seems like a proper use of state money. Wise and prudent, as the governor kept saying Thursday.

As Brown admitted, holding the line isn’t going to be easy. In reference to the governor’s plan for a rainy day fund, Joshua Pechthalt, president of the California Federation of Teacher said bluntly, “Today is a rainy day.”

Democrat Darrell Steinberg, the state Senate leader, already plans to push a bill requiring school districts to offer universal preschool for 4-year-olds, a program that could cost the state as much as $1 billion a year once it’s fully implemented.

“I appreciate the Governor’s aggressive approach to more than double the reserve and pay down debt even more quickly than we had hoped,” Steinberg said in a statement. “At the same time, we must invest in the people of California, especially those living on the economic margins.”

State Sen. Mark Leno, chair of the Senate Budget and Fiscal Review Committee, called for bumping up spending on the safety net, arguing that “for too many years we have made devastating cuts to vital services that support students, working families and elderly and disabled Californians.”

Those are strong arguments and Brown knows his proposed budget isn’t going to escape unscathed. But starting a new, $1 billion, never-going-to-go-away program like universal preschool when there’s no guarantee that cash will be there to pay for it in the future is the antithesis of the governor’s pay-the-bills-first budget approach.

Brown’s budget does boost spending for schools, colleges and universities and public safety and even provides a 5 percent raise in welfare payments and increases in Medi-Cal services.  But the $815 million he has earmarked to spend on deferred maintenance for state parks, highways, schools and other facilities is a far better indication of his plan to spend one-time surpluses on one-time expenses.

It’s a choice he’s convinced will resonate with California’s fiscally shell-shocked voters, many of whom are taking a more conservative financial path in their own lives.

And those same nervous voters won’t be happy if they see their local legislators singing that happy days are here again.

John Wildermuth is a longtime writer on California politics.