Governor boosts California, warns of threats in address
SACRAMENTO — Gov. Jerry Brown celebrated California’s economic and environmental progress while issuing a dire warning about dangers from climate change and the threat of nuclear war during his final State of the State address Thursday after four terms leading the nation’s most populous state.
“Our world, our way of life, our system of governance — all are at immediate and genuine risk,” Brown told the Legislature, citing “endless new weapons systems, growing antagonism among nations, the poison of our politics, climate change.”
In addition, he noted that just hours before his speech began, the Atomic Bulletin of Scientists had moved the “Doomsday Clock” that measures existential threats to humanity 30 seconds closer to midnight.
But, he also offered, “We too will persist against storms and turmoil, obstacles great and small. The spirit of democracy never dies.”
It was Brown’s 16th and final such address after four terms in office, two starting in 1975 followed by a return to office in 2011, when the state faced a $27 billion budget hole and high unemployment.
California now has a roughly $6 billion budget surplus, and Brown touted efforts to boost K-12 spending, lessen prison overcrowding and advance a slate of policies to confront a warming climate.
“I’m glad that the state’s revenues are still healthy, but that will mean nothing if we don’t get our spending priorities straight and cut spending overall,” Senator Ted Gaines (R-El Dorado) wrote in a release. “Any bit of fiscal news that sounds promising for the state completely ignores the massive, looming catastrophe that is our public pension system. Our unfunded liability could be half a trillion dollars — trillion, not billion.
“That money we owe won’t get us anything new — not another road or dam or officer patrolling the streets. It’s for services we’ve already consumed. This debt won’t go away by ignoring it, and the Governor should develop a concrete plan to pay it down and rein in runaway pension benefits.
Brown avoided outlining new programs or initiatives for his final year as governor but forcefully defended two ongoing infrastructure projects that face public and legislative skepticism: The proposed bullet train from Los Angeles to San Francisco and a plan to re-route water from north to south through one or two massive tunnels. Costs of the train have skyrocketed, most recently by $3 billion for a segment in the Central Valley, and its proposed timeline of opening by 2029 could be delayed. It would be the nation’s first high-speed rail.
“I make no bones about it. I like trains and I like high-speed trains even better,” Brown said. “Difficulties challenge us but they can’t discourage us or stop us.”
Gaines addressed the train in his response as well.
“High Speed Rail is the first transportation system to run entirely on taxpayer money, a miracle fuel that Governor Brown imagines never runs out,” Gaines said in the release. “The ‘train to nowhere’ is such a colossal waste of cash that could be used to repair our crumbling roads or invest in our universities or any one of a thousand other, better uses.
Similarly, he said he’s convinced his effort to send water to Southern California can be done in a way that will save water and protect wildlife. His office has recently downsized the proposal from two tunnels to one in the face of opposition.
Brown has frequently used the State of the State to call California as the nation’s beacon of opportunity and hope. He did so again Thursday, pointing out the Legislature’s bipartisan passage of cap-and-trade policies as well as worker’s compensation and pension reform during his second tour in office.
Still there are challenges, Brown said. The most devastating wildfires in the state’s history ripped through California last fall, destroying thousands of homes. Brown pledged to convene a task force of scientists and forestry experts to assess how California can improve forest management in an attempt to reduce carbon pollution and combat future fires.
He directly blamed President Donald Trump for the nation’s retreat on international climate policies. Brown has emerged as a global leader on climate policy, traveling to China and the United Nations climate conference to represents U.S. states.
“The science of climate change is not in doubt,” Brown said. “All nations agree except one, and that is solely because of one man: our current president.”
Immigration, which Brown focused on in last year’s speech, was absent from this year’s remarks. So too was a promised outline of how he’ll spend money from the state’s cap-and-trade program that taxes polluters. Democrats gave him largely favorable reviews but said they hope to hear more on those fronts as well as efforts to confront California’s housing crisis.
Republicans, meanwhile, said California’s leaders need to remember working class residents and small businesses.
“California is not just made of tech billionaires,” Assembly Republican Leader Brian Dahle of Bieber said in a statement. Assemblyman Vince Fong of Bakersfield criticized the billions of dollars in higher taxes imposed while Brown has been in office.
Assemblyman Matthew Harper said Brown should have “put the brakes on” high-speed rail and instead focus on fixing deteriorating roads. Brown, in fact, spearheaded a gas tax hike last year to put more money toward roads and bridges, and he forcefully promised to defend it in the wake of Republican efforts to repeal it.
“Fighting a gas tax may appear to be good politics, but it isn’t,” he said.
Brown also promised more transparency in school funding, pledged to put five million zero-emission vehicles on the road and urged lawmakers not to reverse criminal justice reforms.
His parting message: “There is much more to do.”
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