Jerry Brown, the adroit political juggler, was on full display during his Inaugural Address/State of the State Speech yesterday keeping in the air at the same time the notion of more spending while also tossing about the importance of fiscal responsibility.
Brown acknowledged the uncertainty and potential expenses the state faces with the some of the programs the legislature and governor set in place. “Along with education, health and human services constitute a major part of what state government does. And in the past few years we have made massive commitments in this area, which will require increasing levels of spending, the full extent of which is not yet known.”
Brown briefly touched on his favored bullet train project without discussing funding hurdles. He spent much time extolling ideas to better the environment without a nod to the costs and adverse effects on the economy such moves might bring, although he did advise “pragmatic caution” in moving his environmental agenda forward.
He spoke of the $59 billion needed for the upkeep and maintenance of roads, bridges and highways. Later, after listing cost concerns on debts and other obligations, the governor concluded, “These specific liabilities reach into the hundreds of billions of dollars.”
Yet, he also made a point – more than once –that the state must pay for what it has already committed to without adding to the state’s fiscal burden. “We must dedicate ourselves to making what we have done work … The financial promises we have already made must be confronted honestly so that they are properly funded. The health of our state depends on it,” said the governor.
Later in the speech, Brown said, “the challenge is to build for the future, not steal from it, to live within our means.”
Judging by the press releases that came from different interests praising a line from the speech here or a concept presented there, the governor probably accomplished his goal of keeping the state’s political players off balance and appeased – for now.
A few additional phrases in the speech worthy of note:
The budget is balanced “more precariously than I would like.” On a day the stock market had its biggest one-day loss in blue chip stocks since October, it reminds us how California relies so heavily on the upper income taxpayers. A long-range dip in the economy endangers the precariously balanced budget.
“I intend to ask our state employees to help start pre-funding our retiree health obligations which are rising rapidly.” While pension concerns are hardly out of danger, retiree health costs often have been ignored when discussing obligations to the public sector employees. Reforming these systems would free up money for the governor’s other spending priorities without beating down the taxpayers.
Speaking of which, the governor did congratulate “the people for voting for temporary taxes.” Brown is showing no sign that he is backing away from the significant adjective–temporary.
In speaking of teachers, Brown said, “They need our encouragement, not endless regulations and micro-management from afar.” That same sentiment should be applied to businesses in the state.
Now that the governor has the many balls in the air, let’s see if any fall.
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