Jerry Brown's Empty Legacy
by Deacon Blues
As California Governor Jerry Brown heads into his historic fourth term in 2015, his record since returning to Sacramento has things to admire. But as some in the media and elsewhere have noted, what exactly will his legacy be at the end of this next term? Yes, he has turned around the state’s finances and long-term bond rating from the mess he inherited from the outgoing Schwarzenegger administration. But what will be the lasting imprint Brown leaves upon the state?
To put it bluntly, not much. Brown’s signature “think big” initiatives are the ill-advised bullet train and the Delta water tunnel projects, both of which require billions in bond indebtedness for questionable value to the whole state. In fact, the Delta water tunnel project would make Northern California and vulnerable water districts pay the bill for its water to be shipped to Southern California. As for the bullet train, the funding for this limited-utility boondoggle could have been better directed to existing deficits in our transit systems.
Brown has already done the hard work of imposing his frugality upon the California legislature, especially his Democratic allies, to the degree that the electorate may support an extension of the tax increases he pushed through several years ago, if the electorate saw a good use for that money. Instead, Brown’s fourth-term policy cupboard is bare except for the ill-advised train and SoCal water grab. And it happens at a time when the cost of borrowed money may be at an all-time low. So with that in mind, let me suggest some alternatives, all of which would have a positive economic impact.
Brown has pushed through Proposition 2, the multi-billion dollar water initiative to create more storage capacity. But instead of the Delta water tunnel project, why isn’t the state using its bond authority to embark on a major push for water desalination plants up and down the state, powered by alternate energy? Local water districts are limited in their ability to take on costly plants by themselves, but with an endless supply of water just off our shores, why can’t the state commit itself to creating at least ten percent of its needs by 2030 through sea water?
Although it’s too late to stop the bullet train and redirect that commitment elsewhere, Brown should have focused on a multi-billion dollar infrastructure bank and bond funding, in partnership with local governments.
Brown could have reversed the tragic harm Ronald Reagan did in the 1970’s and rebuilt the state's mental health system, which would greatly benefit cities, counties, our human capital, and business climate.
Brown can ensure that the Medi-Cal program can accommodate the Medicaid expansion enrollment growth by replacing the soon-to-be-expiring full federal funding of 2013-2014 primary care rate increases (under the Affordable Care Act) with permanent state general fund dollars, so that more primary care physicians participate in the Medi-Cal program and our state no longer hovers in the bottom five of state Medicaid rates. And to ensure that California has enough physicians, Brown could work with the federal Department of Health and Human Services on changes and expansion of the graduate medical education programs and federal health service programs to encourage the UC medical schools to churn out family/general practice and internal medicine medical residents who commit to serving their first three years in California primary care settings in exchange for medical school debt forgiveness.
At a time when the University of California wants years of five-percent tuition increases, and the state university system (CSU) cannot accommodate the enrollment that it has at an affordable cost for thousands of California students, Brown could have done something bold and developed a plan whereby any California high school student with at least a 3.75 GPA would be guaranteed admission at reduced or no tuition to the CSU campus of their choice, with another guarantee that they will be able to graduate in five years or less, without crushing student loan debt. Your first priority as a state should always be to your own students and their opportunity. Why have a taxpayer-supported higher education system that leaves your own residents behind?
These are just some of the things that Jerry Brown could have committed himself to in a second term, and he would have been a very consequential governor if he had done only 1 or 2 of them. What’s worse is that his dad, who gave California its roads, universities, and water system in the 1960's would have done these things without a second thought, with the legislature his son has right now.