California’s Brown Seeks $59 Billion in Infrastructure FixesMichael B. Marois and Alison Vekshin
California Governor Jerry Brown proposed spending $59 billion to fix crumbling roads and raising the state’s renewable energy mandate to 50 percent, while projecting that California’s new rainy-day fund would reach $2.8 billion this year.
Sworn in today for an unprecedented fourth term, the 76-year-old Democrat said lawmakers must address hundreds of billions of dollars in liabilities stemming from pensions, retiree health care and the obligations of President Barack Obama’s health-insurance law. He said he would proceed with a $68 billion California high-speed-rail line, on which he is expected break ground tomorrow.
“The financial promises we have already made must be confronted honestly so that they are properly funded,” Brown said. “The health of our state depends on it.”
Brown has traded on his experience in two terms as governor from 1975 to 1983, while also serving as secretary of state, attorney general and mayor of Oakland, to tame some of the most vexing issues in a state of about 38 million, more than Illinois, Pennsylvania and Ohio combined.
He has steered the world’s eighth-largest economy clear of persistent deficits. Brown has made frugality a centerpiece of his administration and touts his success at bipartisanship while it failed in Washington.
California’s general fund is $108 billion for spending on all government programs. The state has accumulated $59 billion in needed upkeep and maintenance for its roads, highways and bridges, he said. Brown didn’t provide details or say whether the plan would require higher taxes or state bonds.
“Each year, we fall further and further behind, and we must do something about it,” he said. “So I am calling on Republicans and Democrats alike to come together and tackle this challenge.”
Brown tomorrow will head to Fresno, 150 miles (250 kilometers) south of Sacramento, to break ground on the high-speed-rail line, which is intended to shuttle passengers between San Francisco and Los Angeles at speeds up to 220 miles per hour. Republicans criticize the rail line as an expensive boondoggle. Land owners, farmers, and taxpayers groups have tried to block it through the courts.
“California has made bold commitments to sustain our environment, help the neediest and build for our future,” Brown said. “We are leaders in renewable energy and efficiency; we have extended health care to millions; we are transforming our educational and criminal justice systems; we are building the nation’s only high-speed rail system.”
Brown, in his state-of-the-state address in Sacramento, said he would ask California employees to pre-fund retiree- health obligations, “which are rising rapidly.”
While California has embraced Obama’s Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and enrolled 12.2 million people in the new budget year, the costs to the state are sizable, Brown said.
“Providing the security of health coverage to so many Californians who need it is the right thing to do, but it isn’t free,” he said. “Although the federal government will temporarily foot much of the bill, new state costs –- now and more so in the future –- will run into the billions.”
Brown outlined environmental goals aimed at reducing carbon pollution and curbing emissions of heat-trapping gases. He aims to see them fulfilled in the next 15 years, he said. They include increasing from one-third to 50 percent the electricity derived from renewable sources, reducing petroleum use in cars and trucks by as much as 50 percent and doubling the efficiency of existing buildings.
“Taking significant amounts of carbon out of our economy without harming its vibrancy is exactly the sort of challenge at which California excels,” Brown said. “This is exciting, it is bold and it is absolutely necessary if we are to have any chance of stopping potentially catastrophic changes to our climate system.”