California lawmakers react to Brown's State of the State

California Governor Jerry Brown delivers the State of the State address at the California State Capitol on January 31, 2011 in Sacramento, California.
California Governor Jerry Brown delivers the State of the State address at the California State Capitol on January 31, 2011 in Sacramento, California. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Governor Brown delivered his state of the state address Monday night to a joint session of the California Legislature. He focused as promised on his proposal to close next year’s $25 billion deficit. KPCC’s state capital reporter Julie Small was in the Assembly chambers for Brown’s address.

The speech served as a pitch for Brown's tax proposal. Brown's budget includes $12 billion in taxes. He wants to extend some temporary taxes that were passed to income, sales and vehicle licensing fees.

He wants to put that tax extension before the voters in a special election in June. Throughout his speech, Brown called out Republicans in the Legislature for saying they're going to block putting such a measure on the ballot.

In the most pointed moment of his speech, Brown said it would be "unconscionable" to deny voters this fundamental right, particularly given what's going on in Egypt. "When democratic ideals and calls for the right to vote are stirring the imagination of young people in Egypt and Tunisia and other parts of the world, we in California can’t say now is the time to block a vote of the people," said Brown.

Brown says he wants the Legislature to pass his budget in 30 days so that he can get that tax package to voters in June.

Republicans felt they were being put on the hot seat and said that his speech was a lot of high rhetoric. Republican State Senator Bob Huff, vice chair of the Budget Committee called Brown's tax proposal a "knee-jerk response" to "fund an unsupportable level of government."

Huff made no apologies for not supporting the idea of putting another tax proposal to the voters. "It seems like the main focus of the speech was more ‘Republicans, you gotta do the right thing and let people have a say in this thing.’ My argument is people having been saying, we don’t like the answer, so you keep asking it like a kid until you get the answer you want."

Huff predicted that, if such a measure does go before the voters, it will fail. He said the Legislature should be scaling back government instead and cutting regulations that stifle business.

Brown did say he wanted to take a look at reforming regulations that don't serve a legitimate purpose and to modify pensions in a way that's fair to both workers and employers, but he didn't offer many details.

Brown is also asking Democrats to support $12 billion in cuts. These are programs Democrats have protected and championed.

Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg said it was a quintessential Jerry Brown speech and he found it refreshing. Steinberg said, given the size of the deficit and the weakness of the economy in California, Brown's budget proposal is a tradeoff, and he thinks it's a realistic one. "If you look at his first four weeks and why people are responding positively, it's because he's leveling with the people – and they expect the Legislature to level with the people, and leveling with them means we have to make deep cuts. Cuts that I wouldn’t make in any other circumstance."

We're talking cuts to K-12 education, mental health programs, in-home support services, libraries and parks. During his speech, Brown talked about all the groups that have been lining up in the capital in recent weeks to say, "don't cut my program, cut somewhere else." He had a tough message for them, too – he said not one group has presented a viable alternative to the cuts he's proposed, and neither has anyone presented a viable alternative to the taxes.

He challenged them to bring those ideas forward. "This is a chamber of debate, this is a chamber of democracy. Let the different ideas come forth – but let them measure up to the challenge before us."

In another pointed measure in the speech, Brown rejected arguments that city mayors made, who came to Sacramento last week to oppose a plan to dissolve redevelopment agencies. They argued that these agencies have created jobs and rejuvenated blighted neighborhoods.

Brown says he knows that's true as a former mayor of Oakland, but that these agencies also divert money that would otherwise go to core government services like education and firefighting. He said it's a tough choice and a tough economy, but core services take priority over redevelopment agencies in tough times.

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