Both those attending and watching witnessed the end of a special era in California history for this iconic four-term Governor.
The bipartisan standing ovation he received from all attendees — both upon the introduction and conclusion of his remarks — affirmed the collective perspective on the quality of the Governor’s leadership over the past seven years. He helped lead the state out of recession, imposed rigorous fiscal discipline to repair the state’s finances, and launched bold initiatives to improve the quality of the state’s infrastructure, education system, address climate change, corrections reforms and other matters.
The Governor reminded attendees how far the state had come, from accusations that the state was ungovernable, a 12.3 percent unemployment rate and $27 billion deficit to its current “prosperous” condition.
He also emphasized that many accomplishments with bipartisan support including pension and workers’ compensation reforms, the establishment of the Rainy Day Fund, the adoption of the water bond and Cap-and-Trade system. Gov. Brown remarked, “Their passage demonstrates that some American governments can actually get things done — even in the face of deepening partisan divisions.”
When it comes to issues of interest to local government, the Governor touched on the following:
Protecting SB 1 Transportation Funds
The Governor recounted the importance on investing in the repair of California’s roads and bridges. “The funds in SB 1 are absolutely necessary if we are going to maintain our roads and transit systems in good repair,” said the Governor. “Fighting a gas tax may appear to be good politics, but I will do everything in my power to defeat any repeal effort that may make it to the ballot.”
Following the State of the State, the Fix Our Roads Coalition issued a press release
praising Governor Brown’s remarks that included a statement from League Executive Director Carolyn Coleman.
“Every community is already benefiting from funding to promote safer, smoother roads,” said Coleman. “We have an obligation to every citizen and California driver to protect this law. We are honored to have a strong and powerful champion in Governor Brown as we fight to protect our communities.”
The Governor highlighted the Legislature’s work on pension reform, which took effect in 2013, as an example of bipartisan achievement, and while not listed in the text of his remarks, he added that the effort “may not be the final one.”
Governor Brown thanked firefighters, first responders, and volunteers for their work on the recent wildfires and mudslides, which generated a standing ovation, and then noted that the state has to learn how to get along with nature. Eight of state’s most destructive fires have occurred in the last five years and that the fire season has become nearly year around in some parts of the state. He announced that he would convene a task force of experts on forest management, reduction of fire risk, and resiliency.
The Governor dedicated several minutes of his speech to a discussion of state action on climate change and natural resources issues. He pointed to some of the state’s key actions to reduce climate change impacts including a 50 percent renewable energy standard, the low carbon fuel standard, incentives for low-emission vehicles, the short-lived climate pollutant strategy including methane reduction, and Cap-and-Trade.
He reaffirmed the importance of the Legislature passing an extended Cap-and-Trade program with bipartisan support (AB 398, E. Garcia, 2017). With the system expected to garner billions of dollars in auction revenues, the Governor announced he would release proposed Cap-and-Trade expenditures shortly that will invest in urban and agricultural areas to reduce GHG emissions.
The Governor also announced that the state would need to have 5 million zero-emission vehicles on the road by 2030 to meet the state’s climate change goals. Today, there are 350,000 on the road.
Other environmental issues the Governor highlighted included the new air quality program that passed with the Cap and Trade extension plan and will focus on neighborhoods that are particularly disadvantaged (AB 617, C. Garcia, 2017), water conservation, Proposition 1 water storage grant funding, rainwater capture for efficient water use, the California Water Fix, and high-speed rail.
The Governor noted that 5 million residents receive health care Medi-Cal under the federal Affordable Care Act, and expressed his thanks to those in Washington who had halted the effort to repeal it.
The Governor devoted several minutes to speaking on public safety issues. While not mentioned, some of his remarks seemed in reaction to a potential ballot measure drafted by the California Grocers Association and California Police Chiefs Association that would alter aspects of recent changes in corrections laws.
Public safety, he noted, is important so people could enjoy lives safe and secure from crime. He also urged legislators to consider the issue in a larger context, including the percentage of individuals in prison had grown from 125 to 331 per 100,000 population since 1970, and the Penal Code had grown from 234,000 to 1.2 million words, yet last year there were fewer reported felonies than 1970.
In addition to touching on the recent Court-ordered reduction of state prisons due to overcrowding, the need for more mental heal and rehabilitation programs, and the benefits of offering individuals “hope,” he called on legislators to consider the system and its purpose. “I urge you that instead of enacting new laws because of horrible crimes and lurid headlines, you consider the overall system and what it might need and what truly protects public safety.”
The Governor ended by stressing that he believes this is an exciting time full of possibilities and danger that called for courage, imagination and generous dialogue. “All of us — whatever our party or our philosophy — have a role to play in defending and advancing our democracy … Let this be a great year for California, our nation and our future.”