Dan Walters: Does Jerry Brown truly want less red tape?
04/12/2013 12:00 AM
04/13/2013 7:44 PM
A couple of years into Jerry Brown's first governorship Dow Chemical Co. abandoned plans to build a $500 million petrochemical plant, citing regulatory red tape.
A half-billion dollars was serious money in those days, the equivalent of perhaps $5 billion today, and Brown's critics quickly laid the blame at his door.
"He (Brown) didn't pull the trigger, but he bought the pistol and bullets," the most vociferous critic thundered. "There are certain mad hatters in the Brown administration who will, if they have their own way, drive all significant industry out of California."
That critic was John Henning, the longtime head of the California Labor Federation.
Brown's first governorship coincided with the onset of a long – and still continuing – erosion of California's once-immense industrial economy.
It would be unfair to solely blame him and other politicians of the era for that decline (there were global factors also involved), but they did nothing to reverse it, and as Henning implied, contributed to it by creating a dense welter of rules and agencies to enforce them, overlaid by laws, such as the California Environmental Quality Act, or CEQA, that made the courts still another hurdle.
By the time Brown returned to the governorship more than three decades later, the state's economy was mired in the worst recession since the Great Depression, and there were even louder complaints about the state's supposed hostility to business.
Brown 2.0 has blown hot and cold on the issue during his two years in office.
As attorney general and governor, he embraced one of the state's most comprehensive regulatory schemes, aimed at reducing emissions of carbon to retard global warming.
Brown threatened to sue local governments that didn't meet his global warming standards, endorsed a shift in power generation to non-carbon sources that will raise utility costs and embraced cap-and-trade emission controls that will exact billions of dollars in fees from business.
But he's also criticized CEQA, signed by his predecessor, Ronald Reagan, as a "blob," called for streamlining its procedures and quipped, "I've never seen a CEQA exemption that I don't like."
This week, while on a trade mission to China, he continued to beat the drums for regulatory reform.
"We've got more damn laws than you can think of," Brown told one gathering, adding that there are "endless ideas" about adding more regulation and he sees his job as "to find a way to cut through that."
"To the extent you have any red tape, there's no one more anxious to reduce it," Brown told an appreciative group of business people.
So does Brown really want to lower regulatory hurdles or is it just a convenient and momentary posture? With Brown, one never knows.
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