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Brown's Attempted Balancing Act Earns Bipartisan Praise, Criticism

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(Sacramento, CA)
Thursday, January 24, 2013
He quoted Franklin Roosevelt and William Butler Yeats.  And he told the stories of Pharaoh and Joseph and the "Little Engine that Could."  Governor Jerry Brown turned to every trick in his book Thursday to push an ambitious agenda in his State of the State address - all while urging fiscal discipline from the Democratic-controlled legislature.
The Speech
The governor packed his speech with references from the biblical …
Brown: "Recall the story of Genesis and Pharaoh's dream of seven cows…"
…to the historical: 
Brown: "Remember how California began.  In 1769, under King Charles III…"
The former Jesuit seminarian didn't quote any Latin this time, as he often does.  But he did take credit for the apparent end to years of budget deficits: 
Brown: "Against those who take pleasure, singing of our demise, California did the impossible."
And the governor tried to strike a balance between two seemingly-competing goals.  First, his desire for the state to "live within its means." 
Brown: "Fiscal discipline is not the enemy of our good intentions but the basis for realizing them."
And second, an agenda full of proposals - some of them costly, and all with significant opposition.  He's calling for far-reaching changes to California's education funding system; rewriting the landmark environmental law governing development projects; and building two tunnels beneath the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta that would carry water to Central and Southern California.  Finally, there's the ambitious but costly high-speed rail project, which he compared to the story of "The Little Engine that Could." 
Brown: "The engine pulled in front of the long line of freight cars, and started puffing away - I think I can, I think I can, I think I can.  I think I can.  And over the mountain, the little engine went!  We're gonna get over that mountain.  Have no doubt about that."
It's a metaphor Brown might want Californians to apply to the state as a whole, now that its budget crisis is mostly history.
Lawmaker Reaction
In his speech, Governor Brown linked his policy goals to the biblical story of the Pharaoh taking the advice of Joseph: Store up reserves during years of plenty.  That certainly struck a chord with Republican lawmakers.  Senate Minority Leader Bob Huff says some of Brown's speech endorsed Republican principles.   
Huff: "He talked about a rainy day fund, he talked about fiscal conservatives, fewer bills, smaller government, he talked about tuition freeze, he talked about CEQA reform, those are all ideas we've put out there in the past."
But Huff and other Republican legislators question whether the Governor's focus on "living within our means" will change in seven years when the revenue from Proposition 30 ends.  And while Brown called for fiscal discipline, he also wants huge investments in water projects and high speed rail.  Republican Senator Ted Gaines: 
Gaines: "Well I don't like the high speed rail, I'm just very worried that we're going to spend hundreds of billions of dollars on that project and it's not going to pencil out."
But Democratic lawmakers were generally pleased with the Governor's message.  One area where they disagree is Brown's plan to build two underground tunnels to pump water from the San Joaquin Delta to the Central Valley and Southern California.  Some Democrats are on board, but Assembly member Roger Dickinson is among those who are not. 
Dickinson: "We've got to restore the Delta, preserve the ecology and we've got to make sure that Californians have water that they need, I think there's a balance, whether or not it's exactly the project that's under discussion now or not is still up for debate."
Democratic leaders say they'll work to strike the right balance between investing, paying down debt and building a reserve.
Republican and Democratic lawmakers may have had different views of the State of the State Address.  But for the first time in a long time the Governor did not have to speak about huge budget deficits - and that pleased everyone.
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