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Video: Jerry Brown Looks Back On Some Of His Major Policy Decisions As Governor

Andrew Nixon / Capital Public Radio

Jerry Brown at his family's ranch in Colusa County.

Andrew Nixon / Capital Public Radio

This is part of our look at Jerry Brown's impact on the state of the California as he prepares to leave office. See more stories, interviews, videos and photos here.

California Gov. Jerry Brown likes to point to the $27 billion deficit that he closed, the efforts to fight climate change and raise the gas tax that he led, and the overhauls of the state’s school funding and criminal justice systems that he spearheaded.

But the political veteran chose not to invest his limited political capital in controversial battles to reform California’s broken tax system, streamline its time-consuming and costly environmental regulations, or take major actions to improve the state’s housing and poverty crises.

Instead, he chose hard — but winnable — battles that achieved lasting change but also left a state with an ever-widening gap between haves and have nots.

During his exit interview with CapRadio, Brown discussed some of the policy decisions he made as governor and what their impact on California will be.

On the California Environmental Quality Act

One thing that Brown wanted to tackle as governor was reforming the California Environmental Quality Act. But as he explained in his exit interview, you can’t always get what you want.

When asked why he chose not to reform the landmark housing legislation, Brown said that he didn’t see any way to make major changes.

“You might say, do you choose to levitate off your chair?” he asked. “Well, that's not possible.”

"So in the CEQA arena, you have two very powerful forces: building trades and environmentalists," Brown explained. "And those two forces are going to block any particular change."

On the housing crisis

During Brown’s second stint in office, California’s housing crisis continued to grow. When asked about this, Brown attributed it to the natural ebb and flow of the economy.

“We live in a free enterprise system,” he said. “It has an upside, but it also has a downside. And the downside is that housing in California for many people is not affordable.”

While he admits that housing affordability is an issue in California, he said that there’s a reason the population continues to grow.

“I would still say, there is a lot of opportunity in this state, and that's why people come here,” Brown said. “They don't come here because it's bad. They come here because it's good.”

On his reputation for fiscal prudence

When he departs Monday, Brown will leave behind what the Legislative Analyst’s Office projects will be a $23 billion surplus when the current fiscal year ends in June, after entering office in 2011 with a $27 billion deficit.

Because of this, Brown is often credited with being a fiscally prudent governor — even though the state budget grew by more than 50 percent during his final two terms, and despite large unfunded pension and retiree health care liabilities. He defended that reputation during his exit interview, citing the government’s role in improving the state’s financial situation.

“When you have a state that increases its wealth by $800 billion in eight years, you have to expect that government will be a part of that,” he said.

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