Capitol Alert

What’s in a veto? Some themes emerge after five years of Brown’s denials

A word cloud shows the words used most often in Gov. Jerry Brown’s veto messages from 2011 to 2015.
A word cloud shows the words used most often in Gov. Jerry Brown’s veto messages from 2011 to 2015.

In the five years since he returned to the Capitol, Gov. Jerry Brown’s 617 vetoes regularly have hit on some of the same themes – and words.

Among the more than 60,000 words used in his messages, “already” shows up a lot – as in Brown feels the state already is doing whatever a bill’s author and its supporters think the state needs to do. The word has appeared 164 times in Brown’s veto messages.

“Rather than creating a new, costly state office, let's use the resources we already have,” Brown wrote in his 2012 veto of Senate Bill 878, which would have created the Office of the Transportation Inspector.

Brown often terms vetoed bills “unnecessary.” The word, or variations on it, appears 100 times in his vetoes.

“This bill is unnecessary as WCI, Inc already meets the open meeting, public records and auditing requirements of this bill,” Brown wrote in his 2013 veto of AB 527, which dealt with the Western Climate Initiative.

133: Number of Brown vetoes in 2015

The word “new” appears 207 times in Brown’s vetoes, in various contexts. Brown frequently complains that a bill would create a new program or mandate, and notes that it sometimes is not prudent (”prudent” or “imprudent” show up 19 times) amid the state’s ongoing fiscal challenges (variations on “challenge” appear 25 times.)

“With California's severe fiscal challenges, restraint must be exercised with regard to any new state mandates,” Brown wrote in his September 2011 veto of SB 88, which dealt with translating candidate’s names in ballot pamphlets.

In his 2014 veto of SB 69, which offered fiscal relief to the state’s four newest cities, Brown wrote, “While it is true that the state's economy has improved markedly, and significant progress has been made in aligning revenues and expenditures, I do not believe that it would be prudent to authorize legislation that would result in long term costs to the general fund that this bill would occasion.”

Although the above words have appeared repeatedly in the governor’s vetoes, about 2,000 words have appeared just once. In some cases they seem to reflect an extra level of gubernatorial annoyance with a bill on Brown’s desk. “Weary” is among them.

“I'm weary at this time of adding significant new costs to the Medi-Cal program when already in the last two years Medi-Cal General Fund spending has grown almost $2.5 billion,” Brown wrote in his 2014 veto of AB 2325.

Other rarely used veto words, meanwhile, may have had readers reaching for their dictionaries.

“Unceasing pedagogical change and experimentation” Brown wrote in his veto of SB 547 in 2011, a measure dealing with the Academic Performance Index. The veto also featured a never-seen-before-or-since complaint about “turgid mandates.”