Jerry Brown takes office today, faces $28 billion budget gap

California Governor-elect Jerry Brown speaks during a press conference at his campaign headquarters on November 3, 2010 in Oakland, California.
California Governor-elect Jerry Brown speaks during a press conference at his campaign headquarters on November 3, 2010 in Oakland, California.
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Later this morning, Jerry Brown becomes governor of California – again. Brown faces a $28 billion budget problem. John Myers of KPCC's sister station KQED in San Francisco provides his insight on what Brown's governorship holds.

Brown approaches the job of governor differently than outgoing Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, according to Myers, and differently than Brown himself approached it when he was governor in the '70s and '80s. Myers says a lot of that is "due to his time as a mayor, where he saw government up close, he saw what people need, how they depend on the services. I think that had an influence on him."

Myers says that Brown's walking into "easily the worst budget problem the state has had. And that sounds tough to beat, because we've been talking about bad budgets all these years, but easily the worst problem the state has had budget-wise – a $28 billion problem over the next year and a half. He's got his work cut out for him."

When asked how Republicans will view Brown's approach to the economy, Myers said, "I think Republicans are skeptical of all Democratic approaches to the economy. Here in Sacramento, this is one of the most politically polarized places you can find. Very little that Republicans agree on with Democrats and vice versa."

Myers says that Republicans will probably approve of the deep spending cuts Brown is likely to propose, though they're less likely to go along with Brown proposing new revenue. Democrats are a different story. "I think actually Brown's biggest problem is gonna be with Democrats in the Legislature, who aren't gonna want to go along with some of the cuts that he might have to do, again, to solve a $28 billion problem."

Democrats may take issue with Brown proposing cuts to social programs. "When you start looking at the places that you have to cut in this budget, you have to go back to social programs and education," says Myers. Social programs and education make up 70-80 percent of the state budget. "So it's unavoidable to touch those as well. Democrats are going to want probably even more revenues than Brown is willing to talk about or willing to put in front of the voters, and that's going to be the real focus of the next few weeks."

"Jerry Brown often ran his campaign for governor with this message, trust me, I've been there before, I know how to operate this," says Myers. "Well Jerry Brown left the governorship in 1983. The state budget is almost an entirely different operation then. We have many more voter-approved measures, we have a lot more restraints that have been put on by other ways, and I think Brown is going to find this to be really, really tough."

Myers says he doesn't know whether Brown will be labeled a centrist. "I think the real question here is what patience level do the voters have for someone to solve the problems." According to Myers, polling after the last election showed that people were cautious. "Some people could say they were somewhat cynical as to how much success Jerry Brown would have at solving the budget problem in California."

As for what voters will see under Brown's governorship, "I think they may see a little more common sense," says Myers. "And I think what Brown wants them to see is the reality of the budget problem. I think way too often, and I think a lot of people would agree with this, there've been way too many smoke and mirrors, way too many gimmicks to solve the budget problem. And I think Brown, if he does anything, he needs to get voters to see exactly what they spend, and what it costs, and what they take in, and let them make some decisions, if they really want to make them, about the services and programs they want."

Brown has spent a lifetime in public service and politics, following his father Pat Brown, who was also governor of California. "There are a lot of people who've written some very fascinating things about Jerry Brown's childhood, his teen years, his relationship with his father," says Myers. "The younger Jerry Brown didn't seem to want to be in politics for a while, [then] was drawn to it."

Brown sees himself "as someone who is most fulfilled when he is doing something involved with the people, involved with public service," says Myers. "I think it's the way Brown has always seen himself, and this seems to be really the fitting capping to his time in public service, to go back to the governor's office, at 72 years old, I think perhaps thinking that he is the person, if anyone, who can fix what's wrong in California."