Dan Walters

Dan Walters

Dan Walters: Jerry Brown's views on deficits a mixed bag

Published: Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 3A
Last Modified: Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2013 - 8:16 pm

Jerry Brown is forever cautioning California residents and politicians about the need to balance the state budget and pay down debt.

But the other day, in talking about the costs of extending medical insurance coverage to millions of Californians, he thanked the federal government for going more deeply into debt to pay for it.

Nor is Brown confining his support for expanding federal deficits to health care for the poor.

He's also counting on tens of billions of federal dollars – borrowed dollars – to underwrite large portions of the state budget and to finance the statewide bullet train system he so ardently embraces.

Recently, in fact, Brown told reporters that he's worried about the political stalemate in Washington that could lead to automatic cuts in federal spending that could have a major impact on the state budget – although he refused to take a position on the "sequestration" of federal money.

So, one might ask, is Brown being a hypocrite for preaching balanced budgets and austerity in California while, in effect, praising the federal government for running up even more debt?

It sure sounds like it – especially since during his past political incarnations, Brown has been very critical of federal deficits.

When California voters passed Proposition 13, the landmark property tax limit, in 1978, they did so against Brown's advice.

He denounced the measure before the election, saying it was "a rip-off … a legal morass and … a long-term tax increase," among other epithets, but quickly embraced it afterward, labeling himself a "born-again tax cutter."

That reversal won him re-election to a second term in 1978, and Brown continued to chant the mantra by running for president in 1980 as an apostle of a constitutional amendment to require the federal budget to be balanced.

His first step was to sponsor a resolution in the state Legislature endorsing such an amendment, which generated some splashy legislative hearings in which Brown personally jousted with his fellow Democrats over the issue.

Brown's 1980 campaign for the White House – his second – didn't go very far, generating just one delegate to the Democratic National Convention that renominated Jimmy Carter for a second term. But his Proposition 13-spawned railing against federal deficits did have legs, becoming one of Ronald Reagan's rhetorical points in his successful campaign to oust Carter from the White House.

During Brown's third and final presidential campaign 12 years later, he paddled his political canoe on the left, rather than the right, but lost out to Bill Clinton.

Given that rather erratic history on the issue, perhaps there's nothing particularly strange about Brown's advocacy of balanced budgets in California and – indirectly – unbalanced budgets in Washington.

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

Read more articles by Dan Walters



Dan Walters, political columnist

Dan Walters

Dan Walters has been a journalist for more than a half-century, spending all but a few of those years working for California newspapers. At one point in his career, at age 22, he was the nation's youngest daily newspaper editor.

He joined The Sacramento Union's Capitol bureau in 1975, just as Jerry Brown began his first governorship, and later became the Union's Capitol bureau chief. In 1981, Walters began writing the state's only daily newspaper column devoted to California political, economic and social events and, in 1984, he and the column moved to The Sacramento Bee. He has written more than 7,500 columns about California and its politics and his column now appears in dozens of California newspapers.

Email: dwalters@sacbee.com
Phone: 916-321-1195
Twitter: @WaltersBee

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