Jerry Brown’s resumption of the governorship after a 28-year hiatus is saturated with irony, beginning with the fact that he was one of California’s youngest governors when first elected in 1974 and soon will be its oldest ever.
Brown 1.0 was brash, sometimes rude, unscripted and maddeningly inconsistent. Brown 2.0 is mellower and friendlier, but still unscripted and still often inconsistent.
Brown 1.0 said he represented the “shape of things to come.” Brown 2.0 says he represents experience that will help California correct the errors of its past.
The biggest irony, however, is that after a long absence from the Capitol’s corner office, Brown faces many issues that bedeviled his first governorship and have festered ever since — the state budget mess being, of course, the most prominent example.
Indeed, the history of the state’s chronic fiscal woes begins with the passage of Proposition 13 and, more pointedly, Brown’s decision to embrace it after its passage, shovel billions of dollars in state funds to local governments and schools to replace lost property taxes, then immediately slash state taxes.
Brown’s 1978 response to Prop. 13, reflecting his fear of losing his re-election bid that year and near-panic in the Legislature, created an immediate income-outgo gap in state finances that has persisted, to one degree or another, ever since.
Brown now says he wants to permanently close the gap, which is twice as large as the entire state budget three decades ago. Even more ironically, he wants to return to local government many of the programs that the state assumed in Prop. 13’s aftermath and raise taxes to finance them.
Call it a mulligan. Brown is much older, and he says much wiser, and therefore wants to reverse what he did 32 years ago — without admitting any error, of course.
But the budget is by no means the only still-simmering, unresolved issue facing the old/new governor of California.
The state’s perennial water war is still unresolved, and as he reassumes the governorship, the highly controversial plan to divert water around the environmentally damaged Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta is back on the front burner. Brown backed diversion three decades ago, only to see voters defeat it, and says he still wants it.
Brown 1.0 virtually halted the state’s once-expansive highway construction plan three decades ago, and with the state’s population now 50 percent bigger, it has the nation’s worst traffic congestion and second-worst pavement conditions.
The public education system was just beginning to feel the pains of restricted spending, enrollment growth and cultural diffusion 30 years ago — and it has since become a civic embarrassment.
So there it is. Same state, old problems, and an old governor who now says he can fix things. Good luck, Jerry. You will need it.
Dan Walters’ Sacramento Bee columns are syndicated by the Scripps Howard News Service.