(AP) — Gov. Jerry Brown celebrated California’s economic and environmental progress during his final State of the State address Thursday while also warning that the nation faces stark threats from climate change and nuclear war.
“We too will persist against storms and turmoil, obstacles great and small,” Brown said. “The spirit of democracy never dies.”
Brown’s remarks came during his 16th such address as governor of the nation’s most populous state, a position he has held for two terms starting in 1975 and again since 2011. He’s term-limited from running again.
Brown has frequently used his annual address to the Legislature to highlight California as the nation’s beacon of opportunity and hope while recalling past economic problems and warning of financial pitfalls that may loom ahead.
He largely stayed away from financial doom and gloom Thursday but warned that California and the world “are at immediate and genuine risk” from threats such as climate change and war. He called for a greater focus on managing the state’s wildfire risk after massive blazes destroyed thousands of homes up and down the state last fall.
Brown also defended two much-scrutinized infrastructure projects: A bullet train from Los Angeles to San Francisco and his plan to re-route water from Northern to Southern California through one or two massive tunnels. Both projects have faced criticism, and the cost of the train recently jumped by nearly $3 billion.
“I make no bones about it. I like trains and I like high-speed trains even better,” Brown said. “Difficulties challenge us but they can’t discourage us or stop us.”
Republican Assemblyman Matthew Harper of Huntington Beach said Brown should have “put the brakes on high-speed rail” and instead spent precious transportation funds on deteriorating roads. Other Republicans said California’s leaders need to remember working class residents and small businesses.
“California is not just made of tech billionaires,” Assembly Republican Leader Brian Dahle of Bieber said in a statement. Assemblyman Vince Fong of Bakersfield criticized the billions of dollars in higher taxes imposed while Brown has been in office.
On wildfires, Brown called for a task force of scientists and forest management experts to find ways to reduce the threat to California.
Brown reflected on improvements to California’s economy since he entered office in 2011, when the state faced a $27 billion budget deficit and an unemployment rate of 12 percent. Things have turned around, with Brown projecting a $6 billion surplus in this budget.
He’s consistently warned that California ought to save for future uncertainty rather than spend.
“What’s out there is darkness, uncertainty, decline and recession, so good luck, baby,” he declared at his budget press conference in early January.
Brown largely avoided talk of President Donald Trump and Washington during his more than 30-minute address Thursday, although he highlighted the president’s decision to withdraw the United States from international climate commitments. In 2017, Brown emerged as a de-facto U.S. leader on climate policy, traveling to China and Germany and leading a coalition of states to uphold the nation’s carbon reduction goals.
As he looked ahead to his final year in office, Brown told the Legislature “there is much more to do.”