Scott Wilk | A Saugus Farewell to Jerry Brown

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The first time I could vote was in 1978 and on the ballot, running for re-election for governor of California, was Jerry Brown.

After being elected to the state Assembly in November 2012, it was a surreal experience 34 years later meeting Gov. Jerry Brown for the first time at a legislative reception the evening before the swearing-in ceremony.

When we were introduced I told Brown my Assembly District number, and he said, “Is that Saugus? What kind of a name is Saugus, anyway?”

Through the years, he has consistently referred to my district as Saugus. I always think of the millions of dollars that Newhall Land spent on marketing Valencia, but to Brown it’s not Santa Clarita Valley or Valencia, but always Saugus. (As a resident of Saugus I have never corrected him.) 

On Jan. 7, 2019, Brown will be leaving the governorship after serving 16 years. He’s the longest-serving California governor, and unless the voters change the term-limits law, no one will ever exceed his tenure.

I always felt like he was chasing the ghost of his father, former California Gov. Pat Brown. “Brown the First” created the Higher Education Master Plan and built out our university system, he built the State Water Project that provides life-saving water to Southern California, and he partnered with the federal government to build the Interstate Highway System.

Jerry Brown will have no such legacy as it relates to infrastructure. His two major projects are the Delta tunnels (which I support) and the so-called bullet train (which I oppose). I believe Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom will greatly reduce the bullet train from a statewide system to a regional one operating in the Bay Area and Central Valley. I hope that Newsom will press forward on the Delta Tunnels, as the project is needed to protect the Delta’s ecosystem and ensure water continues to flow south.

When Brown came into office, California was facing a $28 billion budget deficit. As I write today, we have a $16 billion budget reserve (I was co-author of the legislation that created Proposition 1, the “Rainy Day” Fund) and the non-partisan Legislative Analyst Office projects a $15 billion surplus for Fiscal Year 2018-19.

Many people credit Brown for being a fiscal conservative, while others believe he is the luckiest governor in our lifetime because, despite the policies coming out of Sacramento, California’s economy grew.

Both sides have a valid argument. 

Brown raised overall spending by 50 percent in seven years. According to investor David Crane, California has added more than $200 billion in debt during the last decade. Most of that debt is in “unfunded liabilities” for promises of pensions and retirement health care made to state and local government employees. On the horizon is a brewing crisis for our local schools in meeting their pension obligations.

On the other side, Brown always used the more conservative revenue projections produced by the Department of Finance and the Legislative Analyst Office. By adopting the lower revenue projection and dissuading the biggest of the big spenders in his party to spend even more, we’ve been able to build up the budget reserve.

Brown is frugal with his own money as well. Every year I have gone to the governor’s mansion for dinner with Brown and the First Lady, Anne Gust Brown. My first year I entered the foyer greeted by wait staff serving glasses of wine from silver trays. I grabbed a red and mingled with the other guests. When the servers came by to refresh everyone’s glass I noticed the wine was from the BevMo 5-cent sale! The meal, served family-style, was topped off by a selection of Costco cookies.

There are plenty of policies Brown got wrong over the last eight years, but there’s quite a few that he’s gotten right. Personally, I’m going to miss him. A couple times I’ve been called down to the First Floor to have a one-on-one with him regarding an impending vote. The experience was always terrifying and exhilarating. It’s tough to tell the most powerful person in government “No,” and it was always intellectually challenging to debate him on the issue at hand.

I believe Brown’s legacy will be correcting the fiscal course of the state’s finances. And, he’s always welcome to our Saugus home, where we have plenty of BevMo 5-cent sale wine and Costco cookies.

Scott Wilk represents the 21st Senate District which encompasses the Antelope, Santa Clarita and Victor valleys. “Right Here, Right Now” appears Saturdays and rotates among several local Republicans.

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