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Bling versus black ink: The governor’s misguided legacy

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Posted: Saturday, July 28, 2012 12:00 am

Jerry Brown, then just the Mayor of Oakland, told a Stockton audience, "Consensus is overrated."

His point was that it's hard to reach consensus on difficult issues like water rights and taxes. To get past the inevitable stalemates, he said, "Sometimes you just have to roll over the SOBs."

Now that's a witty, if somewhat off-color, observation — unless Governor Jerry Brown decides you're the SOB.

Lately it seems we are candidates for Gov. Brown's political bulldozer, because we hold the apparently illegitimate opinion that a careful stewardship of the state treasury is more important than Jerry Brown's legacy.

Just look at what's ahead for the poor taxpayers of California:

  • Brown is backing new "water conveyance tunnels" that would replace the old and much-maligned Peripheral Canal. They will cost $12- to $14-billion to build and, according to a University of Pacific study, would return about half that much benefit to farmers and Southern California cities.
  • He's pushing the high-speed rail line from San Francisco to L.A. at a cost of $96 billion. Last November, Bill Withuhn, an expert in transportation costs, made it clear what a folly it is to expect the high-speed train to pay for itself. It will be a drag on the state budget for decades.
  • He's asking California taxpayers to support Proposition 30, which would raise the sales tax for all and income taxes on the affluent.

We're trying to figure out where the mercurial governor is coming from these days.

He seems to alternate between window shopping at Tiffany's for the governmental version of three-carat diamonds, then slipping to the sidewalk and banging a tin cup.

Are we in a financial crisis, Mr. Governor, or not?

If so, how can we go sauntering down the Rodeo Drive of public works salivating over new bling?

And how can we be expected to raise taxes on Californians when so many are still just scraping by? (Not to mention that recent discovery of $54 million in the parks and rec budget, apparently hoarded away while parks were being closed because of too few dollars.)

OK, truth be told: Maybe voters might be swayed to consider new taxes if there were some sign, some distant inkling, that structural budget reform was happening.

There is none.

The governor is a smart guy, a funny guy, and he has an adorable corgi named Sutter.

But he is chasing the wrong legacy. It's the legacy of big stuff, expensive stuff, the kind of stuff his dad built when he was governor and the good times were, in fact, rolling.

That was then. This is now. We wonder what happened to the governor who preferred, in his first term, an apartment to a mansion. Who chose a powder-blue Plymouth to a limo. Whose mantra was "less is more."

You were right the first time around, governor. Less is more. Your legacy should be austerity now, enduring fiscal reform now, and a fighting chance for a balanced budget sometime this decade.

That legacy may not be as majestic as a bullet train and one of the biggest plumbing jobs on the planet.

It is, though, what California needs now.

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