Jerry Brown is Governor Once Again; Let's Get to Work!

On January 3, 2011, Jerry Brown, the 34th Governor of California, was sworn in as our 39th Governor, and in his inaugural remarks, he was strikingly blunt and honest about the enormity of our state’s problems, and the incredibly difficult challenges that lie before us.

Former governor Schwarzenegger has handed off to Brown an 18-month deficit of $28 billion, a staggering number even in the context of government budgets. That’s one-third of the entire general fund, and an amount greater than the entire annual budget during Brown’s first tenure as Governor!

Furthermore, it results from a structural deficit that, left unattended, will keep mushrooming to greater deficits in the future. It’s also the result of a confusing and contradictory array of voter-approved mandates that leave only a small percentage of the budget open to discretionary changes by our elected officials.

It is a problem so enormous that nobody can escape it without real pain and suffering. Governor Brown, unlike typical sloganeering politicians who promise easy ways out by resorting to clichés about waste and abuse, gave us some sobering straight talk about what lies in store.

“The year ahead will demand courage and sacrifice,” he said.

“When dealing with a budget gap in the tens of billions, I must point out that it is far more than waste and inefficiency that we have to cut.” Our government spends money on things people want and value, he noted, such as education, health, public safety, environmental protection and firefighting.  Those things, he leveled with us, are now at risk. “Choices have to be made and difficult decisions taken. At this stage of my life, I have not come here to embrace delay or denial.”

Reflecting that, he said, the budget he will soon offer will be “painful, but honest.”

His message is clear; that every single Californian has more sacrifice and pain ahead if we are to get our budget balanced and return to times of prosperity and building. It’s a hard, risky message that most politicians are too chicken to ever deliver. But Jerry Brown just did.

We won’t be happy with all of what Brown proposes. And if and when we believe the Building Trades’ share of the burden is too great, we will stand and be heard. But now, we will have a governor who will listen. In the past, all of the burden was expected to be borne by working people, with the greatest priority being to protect the wealth of the super-rich.

Jerry Brown, however, understands that mortgaging our children’s and grandchildren’s future to serve the wealthy is not the answer.  He will ask everyone to pay a price to restore California.

Brown takes office with the unique perspective of an older man who did this job once before as a younger man, and who before that watched his father tackle it.  He has reflected on both the successes and shortcomings of his prior tenure.

An important difference is that as a young man, as is natural, Jerry Brown was striving to forge his own identity, and escape the enormous shadow of his father, Governor Pat Brown, the greatest builder our state has ever known.

Now, as an older man, Jerry acknowledges a new perspective and a deeper appreciation for just how great his dad was for this state, and how Pat Brown’s legacy must be expanded, not diminished.

He spoke of his father’s frequent mentions of California philosopher Josiah Royce, and his concept of loyalty to the good of the community, and something greater than one’s individual needs.

 “Long ago my father spoke to me about his philosophy of loyalty,” Jerry Brown said. “I didn’t really grasp its importance, but as I look back now, I understand how this loyalty to California was my father’s philosophy as well. It drove him to build our freeways, our universities, our public schools and our state water plan.”

And like his father, and unlike Schwarzenegger and Republicans in the Legislature recently, Jerry Brown understands that tax revenues must necessarily be part of the solution.

He made three fundamental promises in his inaugural address: First, speak the truth. No more smoke and mirrors on the budget. No empty promises. Second, the people must vote for new taxes. Third, return, as much as possible, decisions and authority to cities, counties and schools, closer to the people.

So even as we are asked to accept painful cuts in important programs, we should expect to be asked to help pass ballot measures this year that will enable the state to maintain the revenues we will need if we ever expect to escape this mess of red ink and invest in building our future again. It’s a tall order.  Californians don’t trust their government anymore, Brown acknowledged.  Asking them to vote for taxes will be a daunting, but necessary, challenge.

Think of our broken state as a broken leg. Setting and casting the broken bones is painful, but necessary. And once healed, you can move forward again.

After his inauguration, at a reception with labor supporters, Jerry Brown joked about how his conservative critics, who don’t want to support public works investments now, continue to criticize him for not doing enough of it when he was governor before.

 “Well, whatever we didn’t get accomplished before, let’s do it now. We need to get people working. That’s what we’re here for. Let’s get the banks and corporations to spend some money,” he said.

 “Let’s start building some things.”

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