Gov. Jerry Brown came to Los Angeles City Hall yesterday to push for budget cuts, infrastructure investments, pension reform and a temporary sales tax increase to help close an expected $9.2 billion state budget shortfall for the upcoming fiscal year.
In a 26 minute speech before Los Angeles elected officials and labor and business leaders, Brown painted a picture of a state forced to cut good programs that have grown too large while struggling to pay for basic public services like education. The state is also failing to make what he described as visionary investments in long term transportation and environmental infrastructure projects.
Brown faulted people he called “declinists,” who he said annually predict the demise of the state’s economy, culture and politics.
“California has big problems, but rumors of its demise are greatly exaggerated,’’ Brown told the audience of more than two hundred people packed into the Public Works board room.
Brown told the audience 2012 is a year of opportunity when state government can “stimulate jobs, build renewable energy, reduce pollution and greenhouse gases, launch the nation’s only high-speed rail system.”
He brushed aside critics of the proposed high-speed rail system, saying the nearly $100 billion rail project has his “strong support.”
He said a new business plan for the system would be out within weeks that would allay critics and, with legislative approval, allow construction on a first phase in the Central Valley to begin by the end of the year.
“If you agree that California will continue to grow, as I do, and that millions of … more people will be living in our state, then it’s a wise investment,” Brown said.
Building new airport runways and roads and highways is the only alternative to high-speed rail and would cost more, he told the audience.
Brown called for an overhaul of the education funding system he said would divide money more fairly among schools based on demographics like income levels and the percentage of students who speak English as a second language.
He called for more responsibility in public education to be given to school districts.
“What most needs to be avoided is concentrating more and more decision making at the state or federal level,” he said.
The governor issued a call for pension reform for newly hired government employees, based on what he described as a fundamentally unsustainable system.
“The way it looks to me is that a lot of people, increasingly the majority of them, are going to be living on their retirement longer than the years they worked, and there are fewer people entering the workforce to support that retirement,” Brown said.
Brown took questions from officials including City Councilmen Tom LaBonge, Bill Rosendahl and Paul Koretz.
Koretz asked the governor to consider delaying the Feb. 1 deadline for redevelopment agencies to dissolve themselves, saying it was causing unnecessary chaos and would lead to more lawsuits if not pushed back several months.
Brown shot the idea down. “I don’t think we can delay this funeral,” he said, adding later. “Don’t worry about lawsuits. We are sued every day.”
Councilman Eric Garcetti, a candidate for mayor, said Brown “absolutely’’ made the case for a tax increase, saying the proposal would be smaller than the taxes Californians were paying several years ago. “We can’t get good schools without investing in them. We can’t get good roads and water without investing. That was always the California way. We pay and it paid us back many times.”
“We can live cheaply in the short term, but it’s very expensive in the long term,” Garcetti added.
County Supervisor Mike Antonovich accused Brown of using “bully” tactics to gain support for tax increases.
“Threatening voters with draconian cuts in public safety and education if they don’t approve his tax increases is a typical scare tactic used by bully politicians who have failed to initiate reforms and improve government efficiency,” Antonovich said.
Instead, Antonovich said Brown should start by restructuring some parts of state government, including joining the departments that manage Medi-Cal, CalWorks and Food Stamps, which he said could save the state $1.2 billion over five years.