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PD Editorial: Brown drives 'little engine' to state's future

Gov. Jerry Brown delivers his State of the State address on Thursday.

RICH PEDRONCELLI / The Press Democrat
Published: Thursday, January 24, 2013 at 7:00 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 24, 2013 at 5:04 p.m.

Gov. Jerry Brown delivered a couple of messages Thursday in his State of the State address.

First came his triumphant declaration that the Golden State has risen from the fiscal ashes:

“California has once again confounded our critics. We have wrought in just two years a solid and enduring budget. And, by God, we will persevere and keep it that way for years to come.

“Against those who take pleasure, singing of our demise, California did the impossible.”

Brown drew on California's history and invoked the Bible and Irish poet William Butler Yeats to map out a vision of the state's future. But interwoven with his boasts that “California is back” were notes of caution. He never said the words “era of limits,” but that phrase from his 1976 address echoed in Thursday's speech.

Brown stressed fiscal discipline, urging lawmakers to resist the temptation to quickly restore programs cut during the recession. He warned that a spending spree, however popular with constituent groups, would only set the stage for renewed cuts if the economy hits a bump or when Proposition 30's temporary tax increases expire.

“That is not progress; it is not even progressive. It is illusion,” he said. “That stop and go, boom and bust, serves no one. We are not going back there.”

Brown also renewed his call on legislators to cut back on the scores of new laws they draft each year.

“Constantly expanding the coercive power of government by adding each year so many minute prescriptions to our already detailed and turgid legal system overshadows other aspects of public service,” he told a joint session of the Senate and Assembly.

But governors use state of the state addresses to set agendas, to push big ideas, and Brown's speech was no exception:

• Education. He called on lawmakers to free school districts from state mandates and to provide more money to schools with large concentrations of poor children and students learning English.

• Health care. He announced a special legislative session to implement President Barack Obama's health care reform law.

• Economy He wants to to eliminate ineffective programs, such as enterprise zones, and streamline the California Environmental Quality Act.

• Infrastructure. He vigorously defended high-speed rail and an ambitious plan to dig two tunnels through the Sacramento River Delta to deliver water to enhance water supplies, protect the environment and guard against storm damage.

“The London Olympics lasted a short while and cost $14 billion, about the same cost as this project,” he said. “But this project will serve California for hundreds of years.”

One thing Brown's proposals share is a long-term focus. That's practical — Proposition 30 was about budget stability, not new programs. It's also visionary — California needs institutions and infrastructure for a 21st century economy.

If Brown delivers, his legacy will be safe, but the path may recall another story from his speech, the little engine that could.

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