Skelton: Jerry Brown sends mixed signals as he begins his fourth term

As he begins historic fourth term, Gov. Brown offers a bold vision of clean energy for California's future

Gov. Jerry Brown offered a bold vision of clean energy for California’s future. That was the highlight as he launched his historic fourth term. But he also sent mixed signals.

“Neither California nor indeed the world itself can ignore the growing assault on the very systems of nature on which human beings and other forms of life depend,” the governor declared Monday in urging a stronger state attack on global warming.

He proposed: increasing from one-third to half the electricity we generate from renewable sources, reducing the gasoline and diesel burned in cars and trucks by up to half and doubling the efficiency of existing buildings. Brown didn’t specify how it would be done, but that’s OK -- for the moment. “It will require enormous innovation, research and investment,” he said.

New investment? That didn’t jibe with some of his other comments in the combo inaugural/state of the state speech he delivered in the packed Assembly chamber, drawing frequent but mild applause.

“The financial promises we have already made must be confronted honestly so that they are properly funded,” he asserted. “We have to face honestly the enormous and ever-growing burden of [our] many commitments.”

He concluded: “The challenge is to build for the future, not steal from it, to live within our means.”

Live within our means?

Brown boasted about California starting to build the nation’s only high-speed rail system. That’s a $68-billion price tag — by far the largest state public works project ever. It’s still not clear who’s going to pay for it.

In practically the same breath, the governor said California faced a $59-billion backlog of deferred maintenance on highways, roads and bridges. “Each year we fall further and further behind and we must do something about it,” he said.

There was nothing mentioned about raising more revenue or tax reform.

As for the “growing assault on nature” the governor lamented, he is pushing a humongous $25-billion twin-tunnel project that would rip up a substantial portion of the bucolic Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, the largest estuary on the West Coast, and siphon fresh water from salmon and local farms for southern nut orchards and urban growth.

Responding to the University of California’s threat to again raise tuition, Brown vowed that he “will not make the students of California the default financiers of our colleges and universities.” But he didn’t offer more money from Sacramento. Presumably he’ll address that question Friday when he proposes a new state budget.

Brown was correct that he was “handed a [financial] mess” in 2011 and he and the Legislature have cleaned it up. “We have much to be proud of.”

“Over the next four years — and beyond — we must dedicate ourselves to making what we have done work,” he said.

Does that preclude investing in new projects? Hardly. But they must be projects that Brown covets: the bullet train, water tunnels, alternative energy.

As for anything else, the state must live within its means.

Twitter: @LATimesSkelton 

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