Mixed Reviews On How to Solve Some Of The States Most Persistent Problems
By Simeon Gant, California Black Media
For the first time in the state’s history California elected one person to the Governor’s office four times. The Honorable Edmund “Jerry” Brown was sworn in today in front of both houses of the legislature, California’s judges and a bevy of state officials. Brown combined the State of the State address with his inaugural speech to include his previous accomplishments and a wish list of upcoming issues addressing California.
Brown quickly spoke to the usual concerns of most Californians – education, crime and public safety, health, human services and overall fiscal stability. The most unique aspect of his speech however, was how little has changed.
Brown recalled his first time in the Assembly Chambers. It was1959 during his father, Governor Pat Brown’s inauguration, “That was 56 years ago, yet the issues that my father raised bear eerie resemblance to those we still grapple with today: discrimination, the quality of education and the challenge of recruiting and training teachers, the menace of air pollution, and its danger to our health; a realistic water program; economic development; consumer protection and overcrowded prisons.”
Members of the Legislative Black Caucus responded to the Governor’s speech with hope and optimism for concerns of education equity and a reduction in health disparities throughout the state.
“The Governor is a visionary and very committed to California,” said Assembly Member Shirley Weber, Ph.D., chair of the Assembly Budget Committee. Focusing on how education equity may play out this year, the San Diego representative lawmaker said, “Local Control Funding Formula is still a work in progress. What they do with the resources they get for those special populations is going to be a challenge because we have already run into some roadblocks in terms of accountability and transparency. I want to see outcomes.”
Governor Brown touted the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) as “a much fairer system of school funding.” He informed the audience LCFF’s shift toward giving local school districts more control, giving the state less power and delivering more money to schools “based on the number of students from foster care, low-income families and non-English –speaking parents.”
Freshman Assembly Member Tony Thurmond, a Democrat from Richmond was also pleased to hear the Governor include an increase in health insurance coverage under the Medi-Cal Program.
As chair of the budget subcommittee on health and human services, Assembly Member Thurmond relates to the relatively silent healthcare crises of hospital and clinic closures, “In my district we have a hospital that could close because of the low reimbursement rate in Medi-cal.” He continued, “We know that people of color and low income people are disproportionally impacted around healthcare disparities and we are going to need to make some expansions around Medi-Cal.”
Governor Brown’s speech covered many of the state’s social and economic bases, confidently including the passage of water projects, environmental protection, a $2.8 billion Rainy Day Fund, driver’s licenses for undocumented citizens, $59 billion investment in roads, highways and bridges, the elderly, pensions and criminal justice.
Referring back to his father’s 1959 inaugural speech Brown reiterated, “He talked about identifying “’those prisoners who should never be released to prey again on an innocent public,’” but he also said, “’we should also determine whether some prisoners are now kept confined after punishment has served its purpose.’”
Newly minted Assemblyman Jim Cooper served most of his career working in law enforcement in Sacramento. He feels realignment—sending many low-level offenders from state prisons to the local jail systems — “is a good start.” However he proclaims the key is to reduce the number of people hooked on drugs and coming out of prison without a plan to get unhooked. “One of the big issues is substance abuse,” Cooper said.
Since the recent passage of Proposition 47which released from prison low-level drug offenders throughout the state, Cooper says drug courts now don’t have the same teeth in the law to “hold over their head.” He says prior to this new law the judges could “make them get clean” but no longer have that option.
Governor Brown doesn’t exactly agree with Cooper’s assessment about Proposition 47. His primary concern is overcrowding of prisons. “In the 1970’s we had12 prisons holding fewer than 30,000 prisoners…our system then grew to a peak of 34 prisons, with an inmate population of 173,000, eating up more than 10 percent of our budget dollars. He said the state dramatically lengthened sentences and added a host of new crimes and penalty enhancements to include more than 5,000 separate criminal provisions and over 400 penalty enhancements.
While it is common knowledge California’s prisons are disproportionally populated by men of color – a large number of African American and Latino heritage – the unemployment lines also see this struggling population as an ongoing challenge to California.
Governor Brown’s speech referred to a shrinking unemployment rate, currently sitting at approximately 7.2 percent in California, it’s still lower than the whopping 13.6 percent nationally for African Americans as reported by the US Department of Labor. None of these numbers include Blacks that have simply quit looking for jobs out of fatigue and futility. Governor Brown’s speech didn’t address a solution to the unemployment issue, but strategically included “California has seen more than 1.3 million new jobs created in just four years.”
Many of the new jobs on the horizon may very well come in what he deems three ambitious goals to be accomplished within the next 15 years.
He reminded the audience of the state’s efforts to reduce greenhouse gases and carbon pollution to 431 million tons by 2020. Looking forward to 2030 he said the state should, “Increase from one-third to 50 percent our electricity derived from renewable sources; Reduce today’s petroleum use in cars and trucks by up to 50 percent; and Double the efficiency of existing buildings and make heating fuels cleaner.”
These new efforts require a new and improved workforce, trained in the development of wind, water, solar and waste conversion into energy, specialist in alternative fuel vehicles and a renewed process of redeveloping California’s infrastructure.
The culmination of his speech addressed the potential for jobs by protecting our environment. He said, “We must build on rock, not sand, so that when the storms come, our house stands.”