Gov. Jerry Brown hasn’t yet said whether he’ll run for a new term as governor, his fourth overall. Aides like to chortle that, “Well, he has until the March 7 filing deadline to decide.”
But as he travels the state, giving short and punchy speeches generally without benefit of either notes or teleprompter, Brown lately has dropped strong hints that he will indeed seek another four years in the Capitol and has given some hints of how his next term might look.
To no one’s surprise, another four years of Brown would probably resemble the past four, but without draconian budget cuts for everything from universities to state parks and care for the indigent and frail elderly that he made while getting rid of the $26 billion budget deficit he inherited from Arnold Schwarzenegger.
But even with the budget situation much improved, don’t expect any push for big spending. In fact, expect pushback from Brown if liberal Democrats in the Legislature attempt to spend all or most of the surplus the bipartisan state legislative analyst predicts.
Brown doesn’t do many PowerPoint presentations, but he does like to show one slide, looking like a jagged chart of the ups and downs of a single stock. This one shows the extreme peaks and valleys of California’s take from capital gains taxes over the past 20 years.
“A lot of our budget cycles are due to the volatility of capital gains,” Brown said late last fall. “We are at a peak now, not quite as high as the all-time high. The question is when do we get to the next valley. It will come. So we will have a rainy day fund. We will spend where appropriate, but we’ll be tough and keep things pretty even. Money today doesn’t necessarily mean money tomorrow.”
Anyone who hopes the state’s impending windfall will mean a repeat of the almost $2 billion in “prosperity dividend” checks handed out in 2000 by then-Gov. Gray Davis to all California taxpayers will be sorely disappointed. Davis also cut some taxes when he had a surplus, notably the vehicle registration fee, which backfired on him. Brown won’t.
Also expect Brown to keep granting more authority to local governments and school boards. Always one to enjoy obscure historical references, he cited the Renaissance scholar Michel de Montaigne, who once said “laws should be rare and be abstract when we have them.” By which Brown meant he will try to give city councils, county boards and schools a looser leash than he already has in, for example, erasing some formulas for how state education money must be spent at the local level.
Californians can also expect Brown to continue making occasional forays to places like China and Europe, where he’s proven a more effective salesman for the state than the flashier Schwarzenegger.
“I have a lot of optimism for this state,” he said. “Over 50 percent of the venture capital in America comes to California; California gets four to five times more patents every year than any other state.
“But we don’t know exactly what we’ll invent next. Like (Gaspar de) Portola and (Junipero) Serra, we don’t know what we’re going to get. They had no idea a gold rush was coming. Who (back then) knew anything about technology and biotech?
“We don’t have a gold rush now where we take things out of the ground,” he said. “We take riches from the human brain now, and we do more of it in California than anywhere else.”
Not that Brown glosses over problems. He’s trying to deal with prison overcrowding, one bane of his current term. “We also have problems, big problems, with pensions, roads and climate change. Sure we have issues, but we have enlightened, dedicated people . . ., which is why living in California is a great gift and why this state is still a model.”
None of that sounds much like a fellow getting ready to retire. In fact, it sounds a lot like the rhetoric that preceded Brown’s 2010 campaign, which is why four more years of impatient waiting are likely ahead for all those politicians who would love him to retire so they can try to get ahead.
Thomas Elias is a California author. Reach him at [email protected]