California Gov. Jerry Brown’s final State of the State speech highlighted strides made during his second go-around in the state’s highest office.
The state has traveled a fair distance from the years following the recession when the New York Times described it as the Coast of Dystopia, Brown said Thursday.
When he entered office in 2011, California faced a $27 billion budget deficit and a 12% unemployment rate. Today, Brown is projecting a $6 billion surplus in this budget and the unemployment rate was 4.3% in December.
“It is now hard to visualize – or even remember – the hardships, the bankruptcies and the home foreclosures so many experienced during the Great Recession. Unemployment was above 12% and 1.3 million Californians lost their jobs,” said Brown, who was California's governor from 1975 to 1983 before regaining the office in 2010.
In the last eight years, personal income has grown $845 billion to $2.4 trillion, he said.
Accomplishments he attributed to the hard work of both Democrats and Republicans in the state legislature were the passage of pension reform, worker’s compensation reform, the passage in 2014 of the $7.5 billion water bond, a new rainy day fund, and the cap-and-trade program for greenhouse gas emissions.
In coming weeks, he said he will release an expenditure plan for revenues from the cap-and-trade program.
He reiterated his support for two massive infrastructure projects he’s championed, the twin water tunnels and high-speed rail between Los Angeles to San Francisco, but both face mighty headwinds.
High speed rail officials said recently that the cost of the first leg in the Central Valley has jumped by nearly $3 billion. Brown's twin tunnels proposal is under pressure to be reduced to one tunnel transporting Northern California water around the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta on its way to Southern California.
Brown barely mentioned those projects earlier this month when he introduced his state budget proposal, but came out strongly in support of both projects Thursday, as well as the gas tax state lawmakers passed last year that opponents are trying to overturn through a ballot initiative.
“I will do anything in my power to defeat any repeal effort that gets on the ballot, you can depend on that,” Brown said.
Even the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has called for a national gas tax, because the federal trust fund is almost broke.
As for high speed rail, he said, “make no bones about it I like trains and I like high speed trains even better.”
“Other countries have built high speed rail, other countries are now taking it for granted, and voters approved bonds to support the project in 2008,” Brown said. “Now, we are actually building it but it takes time."
Like any great project, Brown said, there are obstacles.
“There were for BART, for the San Francisco Bay Bridge and the Panama Canal – and by the way, the Bay Bridge was $6 billion over budget and that was a $1 billion project,” he said.
Brown’s efforts at reaching across the aisle with credit for the state’s accomplishments did not stop Republicans from ticking off what they see as serious issues facing the state. State Sen. Republican Leader Patricia Bates, R-Laguna Niguel, said the governor’s narrative only tells one side of the story.
“While parts of California are prospering, the sad truth is that the state has the nation’s highest poverty rate when accounting for cost of living. Our state has become increasingly unaffordable for many Californians,” Bates said in a statement.
The governor is touting the high-speed rail project that continues to balloon in cost, but voter-approved initiatives on building new water storage and modernizing schools remain largely unfulfilled, she said.
She also asked why there isn’t a plan to deal with the state’s $234 billion in unfunded pension liabilities.
“The failure to significantly address the pension issue means the next governor will have to tackle it,” she said.