Beaming like reformed alcoholics who have not had a drink in five years, the California Democratic leaders produced, and Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown signed, an on-time, no-drama state budget. Since the California budget now only needs a majority vote instead of two-thirds, the budget is determined by the Democratic legislators and Brown, who plays the part of the adult in the room.
The budget has many successes: A $1.6 billion rainy-day fund; more revenue for Welfare-to-Work, Medi-Cal and children’s programs; and some progress on pension liabilities.
This improved budget is also the result of a stronger economy and Proposition 30, which increased the state sales-tax rate and increased income tax on wealthy Californians. Prop. 30, passed when the state was going bankrupt, was an attempt to stop California’s government house from going up in flames.
But we need to do more than put out fires. We need a new house. And recently, I read about a plan that could work.
In his book, California Rising: The Life and Times of Pat Brown, journalist Ethan Rarick describes such a plan: “California should ban racial discrimination in hiring, limit consumer credit charges, expand publicly funded medical care for the poor, establish a minimum wage, improve campaign finance reporting, speed up the tabulation of votes on election night, streamline the state bureaucracy, offer treatment to drug addicts convicted of crimes, implement new training programs for prison inmates, improve the public schools, research the dangers of smog, and even fund an ongoing plan to discourage alcoholism and promote temperance.”
This plan, which also included restructuring higher education and creating a water plan for the state, was not Edmund G. “Jerry” Brown Jr.’s, but his father’s. This quote came from Gov. Edmund G. “Pat” Brown’s 1959 inaugural speech.
Reading this speech, I was stunned at how little has changed in 55 years. Almost all the same issues that were critical then are still critical now. But back then, 14 years after the end of World War II, the government was perceived differently. After all, it was the government that led the effort to win the war and end the Depression.
And only a sufficiently funded government can restore our schools, fix our transportation system, preserve our environment, develop good housing and restore income opportunities for our poorer citizens. To accomplish these goals, there will be a cost, but the cost of inaction is much greater.
And while the budget can be passed with a simple majority, increased fees and taxes need the approval of two-thirds of the legislators. This will be a much more difficult task.
Once again, we need an adult in the governor’s seat. Someone to face up to our problems and propose real solutions, to make the sacrifices necessary to build a solid, secure foundation for future generations. It is time to work on completing the work laid out in Pat Brown’s 1959 plan.