Brown has actually kept his promises

By Thomas D. Elias January 30, 2013 04:35 pm

The decisive moment of Jerry Brown’s 2010 campaign for governor came that September, when he looked straight into a camera for the simplest of political commercials.

“No new taxes without a vote of the people,” he declared. Brown kept that promise. When Republicans in the Legislature stymied his attempt to put a tax-increase proposition before voters the easy way, without an initiative petition campaign, Brown raised well over $1 million and put his proposal on the ballot the hard way.

The decisive message of last fall’s campaign over his measure, by then called Proposition 30, again had Brown looking straight into a camera, this time pledging that much of the money from his initiative would go to public schools.

He wasn’t precisely calling commercials for the rival Proposition 38 lies when he did that, but one of their frequent claims has now been debunked. Some ads for 38 — which would have raised $10 billion a year, almost all earmarked for public schools — claimed none of the approximately $6 billion from Prop. 30 was assured for schools.

The budget Brown proposed early this month essentially gives about half the proceeds of Prop. 30 to elementary and high schools, providing them $2.7 billion more than last year’s austerity budget.

So Brown kept another campaign promise, a stark contrast with the way some of his predecessors treated campaign commitments. He also said he’d use some Prop. 30 money to restore other programs, observing that “other worthy things also have been cut.” Things like in-home care for frail seniors and the disabled, the CalWorks welfare to work program, child care and Medi-Cal all are now slated for budget increases or at least maintenance of last year’s levels. Again, a promise kept.

There’s a lesson here for almost everyone who deals with California government: Brown wasn’t kidding when he said “This is not a game. And I didn’t come here — I’ll be 75 in April — just to screw around.”

That’s another way of saying “Believe me when I say something. If I say I’ll do it, expect that I will.”

It means that when Brown says he plans to streamline the California Environmental Quality Act, known as CEQA, he means it. When he says he intends to wrest control of state prisons from federal judges who took over much of that system several years ago, he means to keep trying through as many court appeals as it takes.

The budget plan is full of other Brown promises kept, or at least already partially kept, besides his commitment to pass a lot of Prop. 30 proceeds along to schools. (Formally, it doesn’t happen quite so directly. The money goes to the state general fund, then gets dispensed. But the extra funding now proposed is mostly the result of Prop. 30.)

His budget stresses “flex” spending, giving local school boards and county education offices more options than previous fiscal plans. Local districts would decide whether to continue Gifted and Talented Education programs, school busing services and 37 other “categorical” items no longer mandated by Sacramento. If the plan passes the Legislature, they could use the same money for other things, state Department of Finance officials stress.

What’s remarkable in all this is that for the first time in many years, newspapers, blogs, radio and TV are beginning their stories about a governor with phrases like “true to his word.” When was the last previous time reporters could accurately use that phrase to describe a major politician?

Reach Thomas D. Elias, a long-time California political reporter: This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it