Jerry Brown visits the Capitol to begin budget talks

Jerry Brown returned to Sacramento on Thursday as California’s next governor, forging relationships and crunching numbers as he anticipates his first budget, which will set the tone for a new administration that he says will be characterized by his trademark frugality.

The former two-term governor has little time. He must present a spending plan within days of taking office in January, when the state will probably be grappling with a new deficit as well as with the new restrictions that voters placed on how revenue can be raised and used. Throughout his campaign, Brown offered few specifics on how he would balance the state’s books, focusing instead on an “exhaustive” collaborative process that he says will include all stakeholders, including labor unions and business.

The spending plan is typically sent to the printer in late December, meaning Brown won’t even be governor by the time his initial draft must be finished. Brown said his transition team is working with the staff at the state Department of Finance.

On Thursday, Brown met with the state budget director, Ana Matosantos. Addressing reporters, Brown described the meeting as “very sobering” and vowed to start working full-time on a budget after he returns from a weeklong vacation.

“I think the problems we face are as bad as anyone could imagine, and it’s going to take a lot of very tough decisions,” Brown said. “It’s very daunting. It’s certainly as bad as it’s ever been, and it’s going to take people in both the Democratic Party and the Republican Party” to produce a viable budget.


He added: “The people of California, they’ll have a chance to see in great depth what it is we’re doing and what kind of money we have to do it and what the gap is. And it’s certainly considerable.”

By next Tuesday, Brown’s transition team will probably be sitting in on a key meeting that takes place at this time every year, when leading state economists come to Sacramento to offer revenue projections. The governor’s office uses those projections to come up with its own forecasting model, on which the proposed budget is based. One of the economists, Stephen Levy, director of the Center for the Continuing Study of the California Economy in Palo Alto, said all the early signs suggest no major improvements.

“The budget will include some very difficult revenue numbers,” he said. “We’ll be back in the soup.”

Legislative leaders have estimated that the state will face a deficit of at least $12 billion.

Brown flew with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to Sacramento on Thursday from San Diego, where the two attended the funeral of a police officer. Later, Brown worked the halls of the Capitol, meeting with Matosantos, Assembly Speaker John Pérez (D- Los Angeles) and Senate leader Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento). He had started placing calls to legislative leaders Wednesday morning, hours after defeating his Republican rival, Meg Whitman.

Brown said he and Steinberg briefly discussed the possibility of restoring some of the funding that Schwarzenegger cut. Steinberg said he was “very enthused by his energy and his desire to get right on in there.”

Democrats now control 52 seats in the 80-member Assembly. The last time Brown’s party had that many members in the Assembly was 1974, the same year he was first elected governor. Assembly Republicans, meanwhile, replaced their leader Thursday after losing a seat to a Democrat in Tuesday’s election. The new leader is Connie Conway of Tulare, the first woman to hold the post in nearly three decades. She was included in Brown’s meeting with Pérez.

Brown’s outreach will continue Friday when he is set to meet with Senate minority leader Bob Dutton (R-Rancho Cucamonga). The GOP leader said he would press the new governor to work with him to address the state’s unemployment problem.

“My message to Gov.-elect Brown will be the same one I’ve had for years — private-sector jobs, jobs, jobs,” Dutton said.

As for the budget, Brown said a ballot measure that voters approved Tuesday allowing lawmakers to pass spending plans with a simple majority would help speed the process along but does not guarantee that they’ll meet constitutional deadlines.

“The big problem is not getting the majority to vote for a budget, it’s dealing with all the cuts that have to be taken into account, and there’s a very painful process that has to be gone through,” he said.

Indeed, Brown felt the pressure as he walked around the halls of the Capitol, where he was greeted by cheering activists seeking to restore funds vetoed by Schwarzenegger for child care for people who take jobs to get off welfare. Mary Ignatius, statewide director of the group Parent Voices, approached Brown in the hallway outside the Department of Finance and presented him with 5,000 signatures from parents asking for the money to be restored.

Brown asked her if she wanted to give them to Schwarzenegger instead.

“No,” she told him, “because you are the person who can do something about it.”

Later, when he was asked how it felt to return to the Capitol, Brown joked, “It almost feels no different than when I left.”