A year from now, someone other than Jerry Brown will be the governor of California. Having served as governor for 16 of the past 44 years, Brown and his wife, Anne Gust Brown, are finishing a house (solar, of course) on the family ranch in the foothills west of Williams in Colusa County.
If this sounds unconventional, well, surprise!
“This land and this place put me in touch with the way people lived before,” Brown told the Los Angeles Times.
It is forgotten now, but it wasn’t so many years ago that California was tens of billion of dollars past broke. Critics said the largest state in the union had become ungovernable, consumed by special interest politics and a lack of common sense when it came to managing its finances.
For most of a decade, state government operated on the failed assumption that revenue would just keep going up and up and up. Then, when real life didn’t cooperate, a variety of budget gimmicks was deployed to paper over the shortfalls. At last, the day came when there was nowhere to hide.
In his second time around as governor, beginning in 2011, Brown put an end to all that. As a Press Democrat editorial noted last week, Brown “is positioned to leave the state in better financial shape than he found it.”
When Brown introduced his 2018-2019 budget plan last week, he cautioned against overspending, warning that an economic recession is inevitable.
“California has faced 10 recessions since World War II, and we must prepare for the 11th. Yes, we have had some very good years and program spending has increased steadily,” he told reporters. “Let’s not blow it now.”
Observers said it was just the same ol’ frugal Jerry — which only proves that observers have short memories, too.
Critics say Brown should have done something by now about the state’s convoluted tax system. And there’s no doubt state and local governments rely too much on a regressive sales tax and on an income tax that can produce wild swings in revenue from one year to the next.
It’s also true that accidents of history have left California with a hodgepodge of state and local agencies — a system both costly and redundant. We’re trying to prosper in the 21st century with a government cobbled together over the two previous centuries. Sonoma County’s many school districts, for example, trace their beginnings to a time when students arrived at school by horse and buggy.
We need to do better.
Here’s the problem: We live in a time of distrust toward most public institutions, and state government is no exception. People are angry because government is broken, and government remains broken because people are angry.
At this point, Proposition 13 and other measures to constrain the discretion of government remain sacrosanct so far as the majority of voters is concerned, and if you doubt it, ask your favorite Democratic representative why he or she hasn’t done something about it.
People pay less attention to state government these days. Cynicism toward government has become endemic, and news organizations — scrambling to find a new business model amidst a rush of new technologies — have reduced their presence in the Capitol.