The most immediately tangible legacy of Gov. Jerry Brown’s last two terms isn’t cap-and-trade or water infrastructure, it’s the budget surplus. Nearly eight years ago, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger left Brown a $26-billion budget deficit aggravated by borrowing too much before the sucker punch of the Great Recession. This year Brown leaves the state with a $6-billion surplus. It’s like we’ve paid off our credit cards and opened up a savings account.
Conscientious voters must make several values-based calculations in determining whom to support as Brown’s successor, and fiscal responsibility should be high among them. Budgets are moral documents — not just in terms of how money is spent, but in that we aren’t depleting the next year’s (or next generation’s) ability to pay for schools and parks and social services.
The Argonaut believes California State Treasurer John Chiang has proven himself the most fiscally responsible among the six major candidates vying for the governorship this year. In his four years as treasurer and eight years as controller before that, Chiang has shown the discipline and know-how to manage a $190-billion state budget. Two years ago, he released a very detailed and forward-thinking report about how to do just that, focusing on management of infrastructure investment and increased accountability for borrowing. He also worked with Brown on plans to reduce California’s unfunded pension liabilities.
Chiang, a resident of Torrance, isn’t just a policy wonk. As controller he blocked Schwarznegger’s draconian, unsustainable and likely illegal plans for slashing state salaries to minimum wage. He also recognizes that skyrocketing housing costs are of existential concern to many Californians and the health of the state economy, and has campaigned hard on his efforts to cut red tape and work with the private sector to stimulate affordable housing construction.
Unfortunately, recent polls suggest that California voters are sleepwalking through the June 5 gubernatorial primary, and that’s allowing style and flash to distract from substance.
Don’t get us wrong. Frontrunner Gavin Newsom is easy to like. When it comes to social causes — like standing up for marriage equality before it was popular, and taking strong positions on criminal justice reform and expanded health care access — Newsom has the most impressive record. As mayor of San Francisco, he took bold policy stances that didn’t always work out, but seven years in the largely ceremonial lieutenant governor’s chair hasn’t exactly tested his fiscal discipline. Whether Newsom would budget like Brown or borrow like Schwarzenegger is anybody’s guess.
Former L.A. Mayor and Assembly Speaker Antonio Villaraigosa won the coveted L.A. Times endorsement based on his experience in the Legislature and willingness to make tough decisions at L.A. City Hall. We also believe past performance is the best predictor of future success, and Villaraigosa’s leadership of Los Angeles was also marked “more by flash than substance, with persona foibles and too much me-first ambition,” as the Los Angeles Downtown News stated in a recent editorial.
That leaves Republican hopefuls Travis Allen and John Cox running to the right in hopes of courting enough Trump voters to squeak out a second-place finish to qualify for the November runoff. But in doing so, they drift more out of step with a state where most voters are interested in their leaders resisting Trump.
That leaves the smart, fiery and boldly progressive former State Superintendent of Public Instruction Delaine Eastin (the only woman in the race) trailing
in sixth — not far behind generally fifth-polling Chiang.
Putting Newsom in a November runoff election against Chiang instead of Villaraigosa would create a more meaningful and productive dialogue than a nasty brawl between two flashy ex-mayors with outsized egos. Vote for John Chiang.