SACRAMENTO — So the state of the state's governor is static — at least until he is safely reelected.
Until the election year blows over, Gov. Jerry Brown is stationary — in a crouch, protecting himself politically, satisfied with the status quo.
In his 30th year in elective office — 12th as governor, after failing in three bids for the presidency and one for the U.S. Senate, and growing up watching his politician father — Brown is instinctively cautious when running the campaign trail. Even if this time it seems a no-sweat jaunt. There'll be no tripping over potholes.
That was the take-away from Wednesday's State of the State address to the Legislature, an annual feel-good pageant that includes all statewide elected officials and the California Supreme Court.
Traditionally, governors have promoted bold new proposals in a State of the State speech. But this governor, at this moment, wasn't seeking kudos for courage. Brown's address was as predictable and unexciting as his prospective reelection in November to a record fourth term.
Everyone knew what was coming: the warning. Citing scripture, he quoted Joseph advising the Pharaoh: "'Put away your surplus during the years of great plenty so you will be ready for the lean years which are sure to follow.'"
"Fiscal discipline is not the enemy of our democracy but its fundamental predicate," Brown continued. "To avoid the mistakes of the past, we must spend with great prudence."
And who can argue with that? Not his natural political enemy, certainly.
"He sounds more Republican each day," read a headline on a GOP press release.
Brown boasted about a "California comeback" during his reign, "and what a comeback it is: A million new jobs since 2010, a budgetary surplus in the billions...."
Yes, the state — particularly its government — is in much better shape than when Brown reoccupied the office three years ago as the nation was struggling out of a devastating recession. But it's still in worse shape than it could be.
Sacramento's "wall of debt" — as Brown calls it — has been reduced from about $35 billion to $25 billion, and the governor intends to eliminate it completely by mid-2018. But that involves only internal borrowing and payment deferrals.
Greatly overshadowing that is a great wall of unfunded future liabilities for state employees', teachers', University of California and judges' pensions, plus state employees' and UC retirees' healthcare. It totals $218 billion. The most troubling is a $80-billion liability for the teachers' pension system, which — at the current rate — could go broke in 30 years. It needs an extra $4.5 billion annually.
"Our long-term liabilities are enormous and ever growing," the governor acknowledged, adding to the unfunded list $65 billion for highway and other infrastructure repairs. Plus, he admitted, there are "uncertain costs" for Obamacare.
But if Brown had any solutions for these fiscal time bombs, he wasn't saying.
Yes, California's unemployment rate is down from 12.3% in 2010 to 8.5% at latest check, but that's still fifth worst in the nation.
We've got the least friendly business climate in America — based on what business organizations say — and a big reason is a regulatory quagmire.
Last year, Brown drew praise from business groups for calling in his State of the State address for regulatory streamlining, especially of the frequently abused California Environmental Quality Act. Too often, the act isn't used for environmental protection at all. It's the tool of business rivals trying to block competition or labor groups attempting to force unionization.
But pushing reform means bucking labor, the cash cow of Democratic election campaigns. Brown didn't do that last year, and he certainly isn't about to while running for reelection. The issue wasn't even mentioned in his speech Wednesday.
Brown deserves credit — by holding down spending and increasing taxes — for transforming a $27-billion budget deficit when he took office into a projected $3.3-billion surplus by July 1.