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Jerry Brown's Legacy: Climate, California Budget And More

California Gov. Jerry Brown talks during an interview in Sacramento, Calif., Tuesday, Dec. 18, 2018.
Associated Press
California Gov. Jerry Brown talks during an interview in Sacramento, Calif., Tuesday, Dec. 18, 2018.
Jerry Brown's Legacy: Climate, California Budget And More
GUESTS: Scott Shafer, senior editor politics and government dest, KQED Governor Jerry Brown Subscribe to the Midday Edition podcast on iTunes, Google Play or your favorite podcatcher.

California Gov. Jerry Brown leaves office Jan. 7 after a record four terms as the state's chief executive. After serving from 1975 to 1983, he was re-elected by voters in 2010.

Here's a look at his record:



Brown began his second stint as governor with a $27 billion deficit — an enormous hole in the state's finances that he and lawmakers filled with service cuts, fee increases and temporary income and sales tax increases.

Public universities lost more than $1 billion, state parks closed and further cuts were made to education, in-home supportive services, welfare and health care for the poor.

Brown persuaded voters in 2012 to increase taxes on the wealthy. The cuts and new taxes, combined with a rebounding economy, helped turn around the state's finances.

Brown created then filled the "rainy day" fund, leaving $14.5 billion to help in another recession that he warns is coming. On top of that, the Legislative Analyst's Office predicts a roughly $15 billion surplus heading into the next budget.

Brown's fiscal restraint won him praise from legislative Republicans and occasionally irked fellow Democrats who wanted to invest more in education and programs for the poor.



After leading California through one of its worst droughts, Brown this year signed a law requiring local governments to adopt year-round water conservation standards that critics deem government overreach.

He championed a 2014 ballot measure authorizing billions for water storage and other projects, and signed groundwater management laws.

But his ambitious plan to spend $17 billion on two giant tunnels to modernize how California transports water from the north to south won't be completed before Brown leaves office, or possibly ever. It would be an extension of the State Water Project that his father, former Gov. Pat Brown, began during the 1950s and 60s.

Environmentalists and Northern California farmers generally oppose it, while water districts in the south are supportive. The state recently withdrew a permit application that was likely to be blocked by a little-known state agency, and Newsom wants to see a scaled-back version of the project.

Brown says it's a necessary update to the state's water distribution and downplays concerns the south would take too much water.


At Brown's urging, the Legislature in 2017 passed a fuel tax increase to raise $50 billion over 10 years for road and bridge repairs. Brown successfully beat back a repeal effort on the November 2018 ballot.

Brown has also championed the plan to build a high-speed train between Los Angeles and San Francisco, even as costs balloon. Approved by voters in 2008, the project has nearly doubled in cost and won't be completed until at least 2033, a significant delay from early estimates. Repeated audits have faulted the project's management.

Brown remains steadfast in his defense of the project, saying it will bring California into the modern age of transportation.

He disputed the state auditor's findings during a recent interview with The Associated Press. His successor, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, wants to scale back the project.


Brown emerged as a global force in the fight against climate change during his second two terms.

He championed an extension to California's cap-and-trade program that aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It was first passed under former Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Amid tense negotiations, Brown's team made a deal that won support from both environment- and business-friendly lawmakers.

Brown also accelerated California's clean energy goals and signed a law setting a target of generating 100 percent of California's electricity from carbon-free sources by 2045.

The transportation sector remains California's largest emitter of greenhouse gases, and Brown pledged to put millions of electric vehicles on the roads.

He also created a global partnership of states and cities pledging to limit carbon emissions. As President Donald Trump pulled the United States away from international deals, Brown traveled to China and Russia and worked with the United Nations on climate goals.


California dramatically revamped its criminal justice system under Brown's second stint in office, partly due to a federally mandated reduction in its prison population.

During Brown's first two terms, he pushed strict sentencing laws that he later said he regretted.

The second time around, Brown campaigned for a 2016 ballot measure that allows offenders to seek earlier parole hearings and reduces some criminal penalties. Voters also eased sentences for certain crimes including drug use and petty theft, although Brown didn't campaign for that measure.

He also issued more commutations and pardons than any governor since at least the 1940s.