California will face billions of dollars in spending to cope with the consequences of rising sea levels if low-lying communities along the coast are ultimately submerged, as scientists predict, Gov. Jerry Brown said Tuesday.
Brown's remarks came a day after the release of two studies finding that a slow-motion and irreversible collapse of a massive cluster of glaciers in Antarctica has begun and could cause sea levels to rise worldwide by four feet within 200 years.
"If that happens, the Los Angeles airport's going to be underwater," Brown told reporters at a presentation of his revised state budget proposal in Los Angeles. "So is the San Francisco airport."
Also underwater, he added, would be the San Onofre nuclear power plant.
"You're going to have to move all that," Brown said. "That's billions, if not tens of billions. Luckily, we can take a few years." He joked: "Maybe my next year's budget will handle that."
As Brown reviewed highlights of his revised $156.2-billion spending proposal for the fiscal year starting July 1, he stressed plans to pay down state debt, expand healthcare coverage and shore up the teachers' retirement system to prevent it from running out of money.
In budget talks with state lawmakers, Brown, who is running for a fourth term, faces pressure from fellow Democrats to restore more of the social-service spending that was cut during the economic downturn.
And some legislators are resisting his call for using money from the state's greenhouse gas reduction program to help fund his prized high-speed rail project.
Brown said he knew the project had skeptics but compared them to opponents of President Abraham Lincoln's plan to build the intercontinental railroad during the Civil War.
"People would say, 'How the hell are you going to do that?' Well, they did it," said Brown, who also mentioned those who fought construction of the Golden Gate Bridge, the Bay Area Rapid Transit system and the Panama and Suez canals.
Brown also dismissed the criticism of his Republican challengers, Assemblyman Tim Donnelly of Twin Peaks and former banker Neel Kashkari of Laguna Beach, both of whom suggested his budget was fiscally unsound. Brown, 76, pointed to the state's surplus and said, "It's good to know one's way around."
"If it were easy, we wouldn't have had 11 deficits in the last 15 years," he said. "So I think I know my way around, and I think a fourth term would be a very unique experience, one of knowledge, one of fortitude, and -- what's the other one -- perseverance."
The governor also took a shot at two of his predecessors, Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger and Democrat Gray Davis, although not by name, as he defended his cautious spending on home healthcare for the elderly and disabled. Cuts in the program drew several dozen union protesters to the sidewalk outside his Los Angeles office Tuesday.
"Two governors left town with those big red lines down there," he said, jabbing his finger at a cardboard chart showing years of state deficits. "I have to tell you, I'm going to be very compassionate, but I'm going to do my best to leave town in the black, not the red, and that then forces a number of tough decisions."