SACRAMENTO -- Gov. Jerry Brown took a swipe at California's critics during his State of the State address to the state Legislature on Wednesday, praising a "California comeback" he said delivered a million new jobs, a budget surplus and higher minimum wage.
However, Brown cautioned that the state faces serious challenges, including billions in pension liabilities and a drought that threatens California's future.
The 75-year-old Democratic governor said he wants to set California on stable fiscal footing for the long-term and has touted the need for a rainy-day fund to smooth out annual state tax revenue, which fluctuates by billions of dollars every year based largely on the performance of the stock market.
"Yes, California is a leader in so many ways. But the dangers and difficulties we face can never be taken lightly. We still have too many struggling families, too much debt and too many unknowns when it comes to our climate,'' Brown told the Legislature and other state leaders during the address. "Overcoming these challenges will test our vision, it'll test our discipline and it'll test out ability to persevere. But overcome them we will and as we do, we will build for the future, not steal from it.''
Later this year, Brown is widely expected to seek an unprecedented fourth and final term as governor. Assembly Speaker John A. Perez (D-Los Angeles), during his introduction, noted that Brown has delivered more State of the State speeches than any other California governor.
During the 17-minute, early morning address, Brown also warned Californians that discipline was needed to address the state’s water woes, which is expected to become a volatile political issue this year.
Last week, the governor declared the state was officially in a drought and urged residents to cut water usage by 20%. Brown wants to build two massive new tunnels that would move millions of gallons of water from the northern half of the state to the south, and must decide what to do about a proposed bond to pay for more reservoirs and other water projects.
"Among all our uncertainties, weather is one of the most basic,'' Brown said. "We can't control it. We can only live with it, and now we have to live with a very serious drought of uncertain duration.''
Until recently, the State of the State address was seen as a major event. Traditionally coming during the first week of the calendar year, previous governors have used the speech to lay out their agenda for the year as television and radio stations carried it live during the key 5 p.m. drive-time news hour.
Under Brown the speech has been reduced to a mostly perfunctory affair. Brown has given all four of his speeches in the morning, and all have come after the release of his state budget. As the budget has become the dominant story in state politics, Brown has used his State of the State speeches to reinforce themes of his spending plans instead of using it, as past governors have, to introduce bold new proposals.
That change reflects Brown’s basic approach to the governorship since retaking the office in 2011. He has been lower profile than his immediate predecessors, focusing more on the details of governing than on media events and public pronouncements.
The speech also illustrated the duality of Brown’s governorship: Calling for fiscal austerity while at the same time urging that billions be invested in public works, including the controversial high-speed rail system.
Brown’s address served as another reminder about the diminished role of California Republicans.
In 2011, Brown used his speech to plead for bipartisan cooperation to put a tax measure before voters. Since failing to get Republican support, Brown has largely jettisoned GOP lawmakers, working with new Democratic super majorities in both houses to push his agenda.
The speech, which aides say the governor wrote himself, was peppered with what has become a Brown trademarks: references to the Bible and long-dead philosophers.
The governor referred to the Book of Genesis when warning the Legislature to avoid the temptation of spending California's budget surplus.
"Boom and bust is our lot, and we must follow the ancient advice, recounted in the Book of Genesis, that Joseph gave to 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,'' Brown said.
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