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State coming back, but threatened by drought

  • Gov. Jerry Brown displays a playing card with a chart showing how high deficits follow balanced budgets, will giving his annual State of the State speech before a joint session of the Legislature at the Capitol in Sacramento, Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2014. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

SACRAMENTO — Gov. Jerry Brown on Wednesday delivered a dual message in his annual address to the Legislature — that a California resurgence is well underway but is threatened by economic and environmental uncertainties.

Chief among those uncertainties is the severe drought that is gripping the nation's most populous state and already forcing water cutbacks among farms and cities, and it could exact a financial toll on the state's improving finances.

In the State of the State address, Brown said it was not clear what role heat-trapping gases have played in creating three years of dry weather, but he said the excessively dry conditions throughout California should serve "as a stark warning of things to come."

"This means more droughts and more extreme weather events, and, in California, more forest fires and less snow pack," he said, a week after declaring an official drought.

Brown has delivered more State of the State addresses than any other governor in California history. His latest version was workmanlike and without surprises.

It touched on the state's turnaround from years of budget deficits to projections of surpluses, and noted his continued efforts to reduce the state's prison population and equalize public school funding.

He noted that a million new jobs have been created since 2010 and that the state faces budget surpluses in the billions of dollars for the foreseeable future, thanks to a surging economy and tax increases approved by voters in 2012.

"What a comeback it is," he said as he opened his address.

Yet he also said California continues to face financial challenges that could imperil its future, including $100 billion in pension liabilities for state workers, teachers and judges, tens of billions more to cover retiree health care and $65 billion for upkeep of roads and other public works.

Brown, 75, only briefly mentioned the $68 billion high-speed rail project that is a priority of his but has lost much of its public support and is under scrutiny.

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