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Governor Brown will face new challenges in 2014

Some state residents still feel sting of recession, poll shows

Posted: January 7, 2014 6:00 a.m.
Updated: January 7, 2014 6:00 a.m.
 

SACRAMENTO (AP) — Gov. Jerry Brown is sprinting into the final year of his third term as governor with a series of policy successes and powerful financial backers boosting his all-but-certain run for another term.

His voter-approved tax increases and relative restraint on state budgeting helped end years of deficits and have even led to projections of future surpluses.

He has given every indication that he will seek re-election and already has racked up more than $15 million in contributions for a potential campaign, far eclipsing the fundraising of any of his would-be Republican rivals.

“I’ve been down, and I’ve been up. And I’d much prefer to be up,” the 75-year-old Democrat said during a recent Atlantic magazine conference, referring to the approval of his job performance among registered voters (58 percent in one poll and 47 percent in another, both released in early December).

Yet he also faces a multitude of policy challenges that could potentially come to a head in 2014. They include his support for the $68 billion high-speed rail project, which is fast losing public favor and faces an uncertain future after a state judge ruled that current plans do not comply with the initiative approved by voters in 2008.

A $24 billion proposal to build two massive tunnels for shipping water from Northern California to Southern California has drawn opposition from the delta region and conservationists. And his landmark sentencing overhaul to address a federal court order on prison reduction is giving fodder to Republicans who raise the specter of a rising crime rate.

None of those concerns is likely to be enough to derail his path to re-election, though.

Brown has proven to be politically adept, persuading voters in 2012 to approve Proposition 30, which temporarily raises the state sales tax and income taxes on the wealthy. The infusion of an extra $6 billion a year helped the balance the state budget and allowed him to score points with the public by giving more money to schools.

The governor’s rosy rhetoric about the state’s ascendency also might be out of step with the experience of many Californians. A survey by the Public Policy Institute of California released in December found that two-thirds of Californians believe the state remains in a recession and is divided between the haves and have-nots.

The state also continues to face a “wall of debt” that Brown has talked about, which includes at least $300 billion in unfunded pension liabilities and retiree health care, and about $10 billion the state owes the federal government for unemployment insurance claims.

Paying it down will be a challenge, however. With the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office predicting budget surpluses for the first time in years, Brown will face mounting pressure from Democratic constituencies to increase spending.

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