Steven Greenhut's post on Jerry Brown's 2012 "state of the state" address Wednesday morning nicely summarizes the difference between the Democratic governor's political philosophy and that of a spartan band of Californians who maintain that in the present crisis, government is the problem rather than the solution. I couldn't agree more with Greenhut's observation that "a state thrives because of its private sector" and "until California's Democrats understand that, the state will continue to decline."
Brown argued for his proposed "temporary" tax extension plan to fund public education--in fact, an extension of a previous "temporary" tax hike--and reiterated his 2010 campaign talking points that California's economic revival will come in the form of new "green" jobs. The text of Brown's address is available here.
The governor made several other claims in his 20-minute address that require a bit of parsing and elaboration. Here are just a few of the most provocative.
- "I have set a goal of 20,000 megawatts of renewable energy by 2020. You have laid the foundation by adopting the requirement that one third of our electricity come from renewable sources by that date. This morning I can tell you we are on track to meet that goal and substantially exceed it. In the last two years alone, California has permitted over 16,000 megawatts of solar, wind and geothermal energy projects."
Suffice to say, "permitted" is nowhere near the neighborhood of "built," let alone "under way." Conservationist and environmentalist groups are opposing several of these projects, especially in the Mojave desert, where land is plentiful but also home to several endangered species, such as the desert tortoise. Many of these permitted projects are being litigated.
If achieving California's short-term mandate of cutting carbon emissions to 1990 levels by 2020 is tough enough, imagine the hurdles along the way toward cutting emissions another 80 percent by 2050, as state law requires. Actually, you don't have to imagine it. A 2009 report by Energy and Environmental Economics Inc. on behalf of Hydrogen Energy International concluded: "the electricity sector must be effectively decarbonized by 2050. Almost all of the state's fleet of fossil-fuel based power plants must be replaced by some combination of renewable energy, nuclear power and generation with carbon"--such as "clean coal" plants in Utah.
Under most scenarios that study modeled, the state would need to construct roughly 70 new power plants the size of the 2,000-megawatt San Onofre nuclear facility--assuming that all of the existing nuclear, hydro-electric power, and renewable- capacity remains fully operational through 2050. Those findings were reinforced last fall by UC Berkeley biogeochemist Margaret Torn, whose models found the Golden State merely needs to build 1.5 nuclear plants every year for the next 38 years.
As Pete Peterson, the executive director of Pepperdine University's Davenport Institute, observed recently at City Journal Calfornia, the planning to apply for the permits to begin the preliminary environmental impact studies for all of those nuke plants can begin just as soon as the state legislature repeals the 30-year-old law outlawing their construction. "Given the makeup of California's legislature," Peterson writes, "that would require an act of divine intervention."
- "Just as bold is our plan to build a high-speed rail system, connecting the Northern and Southern parts of our state. This is not a new idea. As governor the last time, I signed legislation to study the concept. Now thirty years later, we are within weeks of a revised business plan that will enable us to begin initial construction before the year is out."
The "revised business plan" to which the governor refers is in fact a revision of a revision of a revision. What's more, the California High-Speed Rail Peer Review Group--a state-mandated independent review board--urged state officials to delay issuing more than $2 billion in voter-approved bonds to fund the first phase of construction of the rail route in the state's Central Valley. The panel concluded that the High Speed Rail Authority's latest revised, revised plan, published around Thanksgiving, "is not feasible," represented "an immense financial risk," and required substantial revision.
The November business plan, incidentally, doubled the construction cost estimates to $98.5 billion and pushed back the project completion date 13 years.
High-Speed Rail Authority officials immediately blasted the Peer Review Group's findings as unsound. Nine days later, the HSRA CEO and chairman of the board both announced their resignations.
One man's "bold" plan is a taxpayer's boondoggle.
- "Given the cutbacks to education in recent years, it is imperative that California devote more tax dollars to this most basic of public services. If we are successful in passing the temporary taxes I have proposed and the economy continues to expand, schools will be in a much stronger position."
Is there anything more oxymoronic in politics than a "temporary tax"? More importantly, it's worth remembering that the same time Brown last year signed the 2011-12 budget deal, he also signed AB 114, which required school districts to assume the same level of funding as the previous year and barred local officials from making mid-year cuts. But it was obvious within weeks of the new budget taking effect that mid-year cuts would be inevitable yet again.
Shortly after Brown took office last year, when he was just beginning budget negotiations with the legislature, a reporter asked what might happen if his plan for a tax extension failed to reach the ballot or if voters ultimately rejected the tax proposal. His coy reply: "Some people might say I am putting a gun to their head."
Voters should have no doubt which direction Brown's gun is pointed now.