Patterico's Pontifications


So Long, Jerry

Filed under: General — JVW @ 1:56 pm

[guest post by JVW]

Yesterday marked the start of the final week of the governorship of Edmund G. Brown, Jr., known to one and all as Jerry (or, from prior days “Moonbeam”). He is now the longest-serving governor of the Golden State, having been first elected as the successor to Ronald Reagan back in 1974 (Gerald Ford was President and “Angie Baby” by Helen Reddy was Billboard’s Number One Single when he was first inaugurated) and then making a return to office after the ignoble close of the Arnold Schwarzenegger experiment.

Jerry Brown’s first term as governor, coming as it did during the mid-70s recession, was a rather mixed affair. Only 36 when he took office, he blended a general fiscal pragmatism with aggressive social liberalism, a mix that proved popular in California despite Brown also developing a reputation as a vacillating flake due to his penchant for self-promotion and his ability to flip-flop on key issues such as support for Proposition 13, an initiative to limit property taxes and require a higher hurdle to enact tax increases which Brown first opposed and then, after its passage, came to embrace. (People forget that Arthur Laffer of the Laffer Curve fame was behind Brown’s flat tax proposal when he ran for President in 1992.) Though Brown left Sacramento in 1982 to mixed reviews — and having suffered the double indignity of losing his Senate race to Pete Wilson and seeing one of his harshest critics, George Deukmejian, succeed him as governor — he had done well enough so as to not foreclose any chances for future office.

And, of course, that’s how we ended up with him again eight years ago, after the dismal end to the Schwarzenegger years. Brown came into office facing a potential $27 billion deficit to what was then a $87 billion general fund budget and immediately imposed spending restraints on the Democrat leadership in the state legislature while also convincing the people of California to raise sales and income taxes with a 2012 ballot initiative (thereby keeping a promise that taxpayers would have to approve tax increases) and bring more revenue into the state. Brown and the state benefited greatly from the boom in tech companies during the aughts, which helped fill state coffers, kept the budget in balance despite a rather reckless increase in spending, and even set aside $14 billion in a “rainy day fund,” an idea promoted by Brown to help mitigate the effects on the budget of a future recession.

But contrary to Brown’s valedictory lap on his way out the door, he leaves behind some only barely-hidden problems that are sure to rear their heads probably sooner rather than later. He has done very little to prepare the state for the coming pension reckoning, other than supporting efforts to have the courts agree that pension promises can be scaled back to reflect economic reality. The fact that a Democrat governor with an overwhelmingly Democrat legislature was unable to cut a pension deal with public employee unions isn’t exactly a profile in courage, though it is certainly preferable to his successor who has vowed to protect the ridiculous promises even if the court rules that pensions can be cut. After keeping his party’s predilection for extravagant spending in line during the first four years of his second go-around in Sacramento, Brown largely capitulated to the big spenders and under his watch the budget’s general fund (i.e., expenses not paid for by issuing bonds) increased from $87 billion in 2011-12 to nearly $139 billion for 2018-19, with the total budget including bond revenue and expenditures now topping $200 billion. The growth in the general fund represents an increase of 60% at a time when the combined inflation rate and population growth over that same period came in at about 18%. Even accounting for exiting from a recession, that’s an irresponsible rate of growth. Ironically enough, Brown seems to understand that it is not sustainable, but he lacked the courage to end his second attempt at governing with the same budget sensibility with which he began it.

Along with his surrender to the big spenders, Brown’s weird obsession with the grossly mis-managed high-speed rail project and his refusal to ditch or even scale-back the project is likely to hurt his legacy, as will his inability to promote meaningful water storage legislation and wilderness fire abatement legislation, both of them hampered by his slavish devotion to the hardcore environmental movement. And, as even the NPR article acknowledges, California under Brown accelerated the rate at which middle class families were priced out of home ownership, and California under Brown’s watch remained the state with the highest percentage of residents in poverty when adjusted for cost of living, even as overall wealth in the state rapidly grew.

Oddly enough, though, we’re going to miss him. Despite the warnings from Brown and the ominous storm clouds gathering, Gavin Newsom seems determined to pursue progressive trophies such as single-payer health care, expanded public housing options for the indigent and mentally ill, rent control, government-mandated high wages, and business regulation that even Brown thought was unwise (more on Newsom later). With Democrat control essentially strangling the state, we can expect economic opportunity to retract while government primacy expands in every corner from Crescent City to Chula Vista, and from Tahoe to Tiburon. If it’s true that the measure of a successful politician is whether or not his or her successors continue with the same agenda, I fear that Jerry Brown will go down as a rank failure.


Happy New Year!

Filed under: General — Dana @ 10:06 am

[guest post by Dana]

Well, it looks like 2020 is going to be quite the ride:


We know him. We’ve seen him like this before. Nothing new, but I’m buckling up just in case.

Thank you to all Patterico readers, commenters and lurkers for another year of debate, argument, and insight. Thanks to our host for opening up his place for us to meet. As considerate guests, let’s try not to spill on the carpet or on those sitting next to us. Put a coaster under your glass and don’t be sloppy. Let’s keep this place looking as nice as it was when we first arrived by making an effort to not interrupt the flow of conversation with a big, messy spill that needs to be cleaned up. Here’s to another year of hanging out in the best living room around.

(Cross-posted at The Jury Talks Back.)


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