The January budget announcement was a dispiriting reminder: Gov. Jerry Brown is a fetishist, not a strategist.

His fetish is being cheap in budget terms. He was cheap at the beginning of his term when the California economy and budget were a mess. He was cheap a couple years in when things had improved. And he’s still cheap now that we’re flush.

He’s succeeding politically because, among so many of our elites and media, nothing is considered so great in California governance as the art of not spending money. They’ve convinced many Californians that the most important thing the state can do is balance the budget. Other deficits – in school funding, in skilled workers, in college graduates, in health care, in the courts, in infrastructure – are considered nearly as important as potential budget deficits.

In a normal state – a state that is not our own – now actually would be a pretty good to cut back on spending. With the economy going strong, the government should pare back without doing much damage. The time for California to spend big – and to borrow to do it – would have been in the recession, when we could have made bigger investments more cheaply (at no time in our lives was it cheaper to borrow), and helped some of California’s regional economies.

But when the spending should have happened, we were experiencing budget cuts and austerity courtesy of the cheapskate Governors Schwarzenegger and Brown.

As a result, we went through all the pain of recession – without the compensation we should have had in terms of much higher investments in water, infrastructure, and higher education. Brown locked us into a lower base. And now, with the money coming back, he’s been slow to restore programs – and thus is keeping us there.

Instead, he’s saving for a rainy day. But his misbegotten rainy day fund isn’t saving very much money – a tiny fraction of what we’d need in a recession. And he’s resisting taxation – and at a time of economic strength when we should be taxing – that could build up not only reserves but also funds we could use to make big investments in the next recession.

Of course, what I’ve outlined is a strategy, and Brown doesn’t do strategy. His answer is always austerity, no matter the circumstance. And that’s not prudent. It’s irresponsible.