What’s Most Dispiriting About Brown’s Budget

Austin Foster
Peoria Journal Star

I mentioned in an earlier post a conversation I had last night with a senior advisor to Gov. Brown. He made a strong case during our talk that this budget is the best we can do given political realities. He said that I, by suggesting otherwise, am ignoring hard political facts.

He may be right. And that, in a nutshell, is what is so dispiriting about this budget and this new administration.

Think of it. A new governor has been in office less than two weeks. He won the office by 13 points, in a landslide that saw his party win the legislature and every statewide office. His party stands for making investments in education and essential public services, even if it requires more in taxes. And in his second week in office, the budget he proposes -- the best he thinks he can do -- is a budget that cuts every significant public service -- and keeps education spending flat. Political reality -- and the system under which he governs -- doesn't allow him to do any better, he explains. It doesn't matter that a majority of public, including the people who voted for him, want more.

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What better example is there of how broken democracy is in California?

One of the few Sacramento-based reporters to focus on this dynamic -- John Myers of the Northern California NPR station KQED -- pressed Brown repeatedly on this point during the governor's budget press conference Monday. Brown kept saying that this budget was the best he could do, with a combination of taxes and cuts that were the most Californians could accept. And Myers kept asking him if Brown himself thought that the budget should look differently. Brown dodged this direct question, answering in effect that his job as governor is to give the people what they could handle -- not what he himself thinks is best.

Insert your own scream of frustration here.

Californians just elected a governor who, by all accounts, is a smart man with a lifetime of knowledge and experience of how California government works. He comes from the most important California political family of the past century, and his love of California is unquestioned. He has real credibility.

And if this is the very best he thinks we can do -- at a moment when his political standing and capital is high -- then his message -- unintended though it may be -- amounts to this: we're doomed.

This budget, and these circumstances, should provide all the evidence needed that a California governor, no matter how smart and experienced, can't really fix what ails us.

We the people are going to have to do the job ourselves.

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