Beating the Deficit: Jerry Brown Gets California Working Again

By Juliet Carnoy '13Staff Writer

Jerry Brown took a double take as I reached over the podium to shake his hand. It was his last public appearance before election-day and I had managed to finagle myself into the VIP section of the campaign rally. However, with a father who had gone to extremes of forging a journalist pass to walk the floor of the 1972 Democratic National Convention, some might consider my move to be rather uninspired. As different California government officials took the floor, the crowd became increasingly animating as they prepared for the arrival of their candidate.

Like most Californians, I knew Jerry Brown as our state’s 34th governor, who had served two terms from 1975 to 1983 closely proceeding his father, Pat Brown, the 32nd governor of California. However, as Jerry Brown arrived into the crowded restaurant that evening I also had the opportunity to learn more about the pragmatic policies he proposed to renew the affluence and efficiency of our state.

Firstly, much like Obama in his State of the Union Address, Brown championed the importance of a strong state education system. He started with a single statistic; Informing the crowd that in 1972, California was in the top 20 for per pupil spending; by 2009, we had dropped to the bottom 10.  Brown mentioned the potential of online learning and how these new expansions could significantly increase educational productivity and provide access to higher leaning at a reduced cost. In the classroom, Brown suggests that instead of focusing on rewarding “good” teachers or sifting through public school districts for “bad” teachers, we need to radically improve the quality of the “average teacher.” He plans on doing so by working with teacher training institutions and state agencies to enlist more teachers from the top third of our high school graduates, along with improving high school graduation rates in general.

Secondly, Brown advocated for the green sector and stimulating clean energy jobs for the future. He supports the Green Chemistry Initiative to reduce chemical hazards in consumer products and would like to maximize job creation in areas such as transportation, construction of education facilities, water infrastructure and clean energy. Environmentally, Brown’s goal is that by 2020, California should produce 20,000 new megawatts (MW) of renewable electricity, and also accelerate the development of energy storage capacity. Additionally, he asked that by 2015, California should have a cumulative 250,000 full or partial plug-in electric vehicles.

In terms of California’s large and growing deficit, Brown ensures that he will veto any legislation that proposes new spending programs without adequate revenue sources. Furthermore, he would eventually like to bring that to the national level by proposing a constitutional amendment that will require any ballot initiative to provide an adequate revenue source for any new spending mandated by the law. Brown also supports the idea of a “Rainy day fund,” in order to have additional funding available for the chance of an economic downturn.

Already Brown has collected half of the approximately 96,000 state-issued cell phones used by public employees, claiming that this will save California at least $20 million a year; as well as reducing the number of vehicles maintained by the state, as he has required each vehicle’s purpose and necessity to be re-justified. Brown also plans on reducing California’s deficit by improving timeliness and reducing overlapping responsibilities within the state government.

It is clear that Californians should prepare for a year of dramatic decreases in funding as Brown attempts to control California’s unruly state deficit. In his State of the State address released Jan. 30, he supported reducing state spending by $12.5 billion. Although dramatic, the Governor’s budget cuts begin what will be an ongoing effort to render California’s state government more effective and efficient in its recovery from the recession.