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Brown seeks big agenda

Governor also says he must focus on restraining Democrat Party

Posted: January 2, 2013 2:00 a.m.
Updated: January 2, 2013 2:00 a.m.
 

 

Gov. Jerry Brown has checked off most of the items from his 2012 to-do list: He persuaded a majority of voters to pass his tax initiative in November, pushed changes to the public pension system through the Legislature and put California on stronger financial footing.

Now the Democratic governor can turn his attention to the second half of a term that began two years ago and pursue the kind of legacy-building achievements governors seek.

At the top of his agenda is a massive water infrastructure project for the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta — an item that could spare Santa Clarita Valley sewer-system users threatened fines for chloride discharge into the Santa Clara River.

Another item on Brown’s list is a high-speed rail system largely opposed by residents in Canyon Country and Agua Dulce, through which the rail would travel.

“It’s going to be a very exciting year, but it has to be a year that we keep one foot on the brake and the other foot modestly on the accelerator,” Brown said in an interview with The Associated Press.

With Democrats also winning two-thirds majorities in both houses of the Legislature, the governor has said one of his responsibilities will be to keep his own party in check so it doesn’t lose the trust of the voters.

Brown is likely to present a robust agenda when he releases his budget proposal and gives his State of the State address in January. In addition to a tunnel to convey Sacramento River water around the delta, along with the high-speed rail, Brown has signaled that he will seek to overhaul California’s school-funding system, streamline state regulations and further strengthen the state’s environmental regulations.

Even Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, said in a column that Brown could be “the new voice of reason” in Sacramento, with Republicans marginalized and Democratic lawmakers free to enact anything they like — and even override gubernatorial vetoes.

Brown acknowledged a “momentum and thrust” among liberals to try to restore programs that have experienced deep spending cuts during the recession, but he has been reiterating his admonitions that the state must keep spending in check.

The state’s independent legislative analyst said California faces a much smaller budget deficit — about $1.9 billion — through the end of the next fiscal year and could even have surpluses after that. That compares with the $15.7 billion deficit lawmakers faced earlier this year.

Brown has a unique opportunity that few leaders get, Democratic political adviser Chris Lehane said. With all statewide offices held by Democrats and a supermajority in the Legislature, he said Californians will look to Brown to lay out a vision for restoring the state to greatness.

Brown laid out a fairly extensive list of priorities the day after the November election. He said he would give his full attention to the state’s long-standing water concerns, focus on the $68 billion high-speed rail project, revamp the state’s education financing system and work to “calibrate our regulations” to ensure they are reasonable but still protect the environment, health and workers.

Santa Clarita Valley leaders support the costly plan to route Northern California water around or under the San Joaquin Delta, rather than through it.

Because the Delta contains sea water as well as fresh, State Water Project water shipped to Southern California picks up chloride, a naturally occurring salt. When more chloride is added due to use, water discharged into the Santa Clara River sometimes tops allowable numbers.

The Santa Clarita Valley Sanitation District was fined $280,250 late last year for failing to move ahead with a costly chloride-removal system. Local leaders hope Brown’s Delta bypass plan would make such a system unnecessary.

Brown, 74, also faces medical treatments for early stage prostate cancer, his second cancer scare since re-taking the office he first held from 1975 to 1983. He is undergoing radiation treatments that are expected to end the week of Jan. 7.

In April 2011, he underwent surgery to remove a cancerous growth on the right side of his nose.

Looking ahead to a year of promise, Brown views his role as charting the middle ground.

“I see my job as someone who has to examine closely the various excesses that are presented and find a wise balance,” he said.

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