Dan Walters: Jerry Brown 2.0 gets his way on state budget

06/11/2013 12:00 AM

07/10/2013 10:33 PM

Jerry Brown spent most of his first governorship running for office – twice for president, once for re-election and once for the U.S. Senate – rather than running the state.

The Legislature, although controlled by his fellow Democrats, didn't take the then-young governor seriously because he didn't take governing seriously and was often openly hostile. So while Brown, for instance, once signed the Legislature's budget without changing a single item, legislators often overrode the vetoes he deigned to issue.

Brown 2.0 is a different kettle of fish. Older and presumably wiser, he's fully engaged and has not hesitated to confront the Legislature, still controlled by his fellow Democrats. He usually gets his way, as the 2013-14 budget deal that emerged Monday indicates.

This is an important budget, the first since voters voted to temporarily raise sales and income taxes and one that sets the fiscal tone for the remainder of Brown's second stint, assuming that he wins another term next year.

Brown wants to put the state's chronic budget problems behind him, at least for the rest of his time in the Capitol, and get on with other matters on which he intends to leave his mark, such as the bullet train project, completing his father's water system and changing the way schools are financed.

Brown wanted to devote nearly all of the new tax revenue to schools, some of it to repay shortages in legally mandated levels of aid from past years and some to shift more money to districts with large numbers of poor and/or English-learner students.

It is, he contends, a moral imperative to help those disadvantaged students – Latino and black kids, mostly – catch up in academic achievement. But school districts that didn't qualify for the extra funds objected and began leaning on their legislators to make changes.

The school plan that emerged Monday does change Brown's plan somewhat, providing $3 billion more in "base grants" and less in the "supplemental grants" and "concentration grants" to targeted districts.

However, it retains the core of what Brown wanted, avoids the fatal delay that some critics sought and thus provides the wherewithal to prove – or disprove – his theory that such a shift will, indeed, generate a marked improvement in achievement.

Brown also persuaded – or compelled – the Legislature to accept his relatively conservative estimate of revenue and turned back efforts by liberals to sharply expand health and welfare spending, both aimed at avoiding another budget crisis down the road.

So the governor gets his way, and that's a considerable political achievement.

It also means he now owns it, and if matters go awry – such as the extra school money not producing noticeable classroom results – he'll have that on his record as well.

Call The Bee's Dan Walters, (916) 321-1195. Back columns, www.sacbee.com/ walters. Follow him on Twitter @WaltersBee.

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