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’s longest-serving governor, Jerry Brown, will term out Monday. He spoke with CapRadio’s Capitol Bureau Chief Ben Adler at his family’s Colusa County ranch about his time in office and what comes next.
Read an excerpt of their conversation below, or listen to the audio above later this morning.
On why he chose not to tackle tax reform
I've had a very deep look at tax reform. That's why I think I have a very clear understanding … of why I don't believe the Legislature wants to tackle it. Or why I don't think the people want to tackle it. And if given the opportunity in subsequent years, I think what I've said will be proven out. There are problems that aren’t always amenable to simple solutions. There's no nice way to tax. I don't think there's a quick, major change. I think there's a little nibbling around the edges. You can do that. So based on that, I would say that's not a very fruitful area for gubernatorial leadership.
On why he chose not to attempt CEQA reform
When you say chose, you might say, do you choose to levitate off your chair? Well, that's not possible. So in the CEQA arena, you have two very powerful forces: building trades and environmentalists. And those two forces are going to block any particular change. And you might go to the initiative and spend many millions of dollars, but that would then interfere with other priorities, and would also engage in battles that would then block others. So the point I would make, you cannot do everything all the time. That's not life. I did try some changes. But they get — even the small changes were watered down before they got enacted. So I'd say, that's one of the conditions of contemporary government in California.
On whether he’s responsible for the deepening of California’s housing affordability crisis
Housing prices got more expensive. I bet your house got more — has a higher value now than when you bought it. So why don't we cut it in half and make it more affordable? Nobody wants to do that.
All right, here's what happened. We closed the deficit. And that $27 billion that is now not a deficit — is basically a surplus — that happened because of the capitalist growth machine, exemplified by Silicon Valley, by tourism, by agriculture, by the movie industry. All these things have generated actually almost a trillion dollars in new wealth. That drives willing buyers to push the price up, and the willing sellers are only too happy to sell. And that buying and selling in our free society functions exactly the way it did. It has an upside, but it also has a downside. And the downside is that housing in California for many people is not affordable. And we have all the issues that people have remarked on.
But I would still say, there is a lot of opportunity in this state, and that's why people come here. And that's one of the dilemmas. The good often comes with the bad. The day is followed by night. And the summer is followed by fall and winter. This is the ebb and the flow and the the rhythm of life. And I think that the coming recession will bring down the price of your house and other houses, and that will make things more affordable. But I don't know that it will make people more happy.
On what he would say to critics who might say he doesn’t deserve a reputation of fiscal prudence because of the increased state budget
Well I would say anybody who wants to talk about legacies and reputation, I would be only too happy to agree. 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. In fact, government helps cause some of that wealth. But more schooling, more roads, more health care, more child care, more investment in water projects — all of that is what government is.
And the idea that we could have a vastly increased wealth — with all the problems we have in terms of social problems, environmental problems — and not try to spend some of the money is almost unthinkable. And the only other way around it would be to return tax money then you would have a recession and you have to increase the taxes. Which is exactly what Reagan did. He gave money back and then he raised the taxes. So it becomes kind of a pingpong. So I've tried to put it on a steady keel.
And I think you can appreciate all that in the next couple of years, because I would venture to say the budgets will grow, and they'll grow particularly because there's so much money. And then after that, they will cut be cut because we'll be in a recession. And it’s that ebb and flow, that rhythm of life, that defines all of us as we try to make the best of it.
On his decision to move to his family’s ranch in Colusa County
Well, one day I was talking to my Uncle Harold, who was my father’s brother. And he was a lawyer. And he knew the family history better than anybody. And he always said, you know, I made a mistake — I should’ve been a farmer. And he liked this land, he knew the history, he knew his cousins had lived here. Which I didn’t really know. I know it now, but I didn’t know it then. So I thought, well, there’s something about that, going back to the land. And at some point, I came across that picture of my great grandfather, August Schuckman, with his white beard, feeding the sheep and chickens around. And I was, “Now that’s not a bad place to be when one was 80.” So I said, “That’s where I’m going.” So that’s what I did. And I wanted to build a house here. And that’s how, I asked my mother to give me my father’s share of the ranch. And then we got this little section, which is my personal — my wife and I own this 25 acres personally. The rest is owned by the family, and the family corporation.
On what he thinks of Governor-elect Gavin Newsom
Gavin comes from a politically interested family. His father was interested in politics. His grandfather was certainly very helpful to my father in the early years when he was running for the district attorney of San Francisco. And he himself has that interest. And given the fact that he was a supervisor, and a mayor, in a very contentious, diverse city, I think he’s got a good amount of experience in the kind of contention and issues that he’ll find in Sacramento. So I think that’s a very good preparation. In fact, I did not have that preparation. I was secretary of state, which is a quiet office compared to the mayor of San Francisco. So I think that, and the fact that he’s been lieutenant governor now, and on the Land commission. He’s had a good acquaintanceship.
But having said all that, he’ll have his hands full. Because the interest groups, both left and right, are very eager to test the new governor and to get as much money, as many laws and regulations as they possibly could. And the governor, in keeping with the notion of what a governor is, it’s to hold the rate of change to a certain level. That’s what governors do. A governor in an engine keeps the engine from running out of control. And that’s exactly what the governor has to do.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.