Saying California was “back” and “on the move,” a chipper Gov. Jerry Brown urged lawmakers in his annual State of the State speech to streamline funding for schools, focus on implementing federal health care reform and keep a tight rein on spending so the budget stays balanced.
The Democratic governor said Thursday that he had “never been more excited” about California’s prospects, praising the Golden State’s promise and improved fiscal condition while largely reiterating the same policy agenda contained in the budget he unveiled January 10.
“Two years ago, they were writing our obituary. Well it didn’t happen. California is back, its budget is balanced, and we are on the move,” Brown told a joint session of the Legislature.
“We have wrought in just two years a solid and enduring budget. And. By God, we will persevere and keep it that way for years to come.”
Lawmakers of both parties praised the 74-year-old governor for his calls for fiscal restraint.
"I'm pleased to see he's channeling his inner Republican," said Assembly GOP leader Connie Conway of Bakersfield.
Senate Republican Leader Bob Huff of Diamond Bar was more muted: "I would have liked to have heard a lot more about jobs. We're still the third highest unemployment rate in the country."
Democrats hold two-thirds majorities in both houses of the Legislature.
As he did in his budget, Brown called for revamping the way the state divvies up the more than $53.5 billion sent to public schools this year.
The Democratic governor’s plan affects 35 percent of those funds – more than $18 billion – changing its distribution so school districts with higher proportions of lower-income students or English learners receive more.
“Equal treatment for children in unequal situations is not justice,” Brown said, winning applause from legislators.
Lawmakers also clapped after Brown quoted Irish poet William Butler Yeats who said: “Education is not the filling of a pail but the lighting of a fire.”
Brown also pledged to keep a lid on tuition increases at the state’s universities and community colleges.
“I will not let the students become the default financiers of our colleges and universities,” he said.
Brown called for a special session of the Legislature to focus lawmakers on implementation of the federal Affordable Care Act, which significantly expands eligibility for Medi-Cal, the state’s health care system for the poor -- and creates a host of other “incredibly complex” challenges, Brown said.
“Given the costs involved, great prudence should guide every step of the way,” Brown cautioned, noting that total costs of implementing the act were still unknown.
California’s 29-year-old Enterprise Zone program should be overhauled, Brown said. He called for the program’s elimination during his first year in office but failed to win legislative support for the idea.
“We need to rethink and streamline our regulatory procedures, particularly the California Environmental Quality Act,” he said. “Our approach needs to be based more on consistent standards that provide greater certainty and cut needless delays.”
Brown has made similar remarks previously.
He also said he would lead a trade mission to China in April to open the state’strade office in Shanghai and, again, asked for legislative support of his plan to route water around the fragile Sacramento - San Joaquin Delta.
“My proposed plan is two tunnels 30 miles long and 40 feet wide, designed to improve the ecology of the Delta, with almost 100 square miles of habitat restoration.
“Yes, that’s big but so is the problem. The London Olympics lasted a short while and cost $14 billion, about the same cost as this project. But this project will serve California for hundreds of years,” Brown said.
“Let’s go out and get it done,” he exhorted before leaving the Assembly rostrum.
Ed's Note: This story also appeared on Greg Lucas' blog, California's Capitol