SKELTON: Jerry Brown: The adult in the room

  • California Gov, Jerry Brown speaks during a news conference Friday May 17, 2013 at Humphreys Avenue Elementary School in Los Angeles. Brown's latest budget proposes a $17 billion infusion for California's K-12 schools over the next four years, a dramatic turn-around after years of teacher layoffs and program cuts that were common during the recession.(AP Photo/Nick Ut)

Dynamics have shifted dramatically in California's Capitol since Gov. Jerry Brown returned two years ago — both fiscal and political dynamics. The two are intertwined. And Brown is the beneficiary.

In short, because the state's fiscal health is being restored — in no small part because of Brown — he is in a much stronger position to deal with the Legislature. Essentially, the governor now needs the Legislature much less than it needs him.

Brown referred to this ground-shifting in a comment toward the end of his budget news conference Tuesday.

A reporter asked the governor whether he was concerned that fellow Democrats in the Legislature would ignore the fiscal discipline that he's preaching and plunge the state back into deficit spending.

"Everybody wants to see more spending," the governor replied. "That's what this place is. It's a big spending machine. You need something, come here and see if you can get it. Well, I'm the backstopper at the end, and I'm going to keep this budget balanced."

But, he was reminded, not only can budgets these days be passed on a simple majority legislative vote — because of a 2010 ballot initiative — Democrats currently hold a two-thirds majority, which would allow them to raise taxes without Republican support. That makes it easier to push for spending hikes.

"They can push," Brown said. "And I can push back. At the end of the day, they need a governor's signature. That's a little different" from two years ago.

Back then, he continued, "I said, 'Can you make the cuts? Can you vote (for) a tax?' Today, they are saying, 'Can you sign the bill?'

"Big difference."

Two years ago, Brown was begging Republicans to help place a tax increase on the ballot. They refused. So Brown did it himself, raising political money to collect voter signatures for the Proposition 30 tax hike and get it passed last November.

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