Failing marks for Jerry Brown

  • (LISA BENSON / Washington Post Writers Group)

The mainstream media here in California and across the country have fallen in love (all over again) with Jerry Brown. According to the popular narrative, Brown has brought California back from the precipice of disaster, balanced its budget and jump-started the state's job-creating engine.

All of these feats would merit his re-election — if, in fact, they were true. Unfortunately, Brown's record as governor reflects more failure than actual accomplishment. He won election in 2010 by promising to be a no-nonsense problem-solver who was pragmatic, not ideological. But a closer look at Brown's record reveals a string of missed opportunities and broken promises that ought to disappoint conservatives and liberals alike.

The first problem Brown promised to tackle was the state's broken budget. He boldly claimed that he would cut discretionary spending, engage in much-needed pension reform and fix the budget process. All of these promises were on top of the claim that he would balance the budget free of the smoke and mirrors that have accompanied past efforts.

While Brown and his Democratic colleagues in the Legislature claim they've kept their promise to balance California's budget, the facts tell a different story. As usual, lawmakers have resorted to some questionable accounting, blissful ignorance and outright gimmickry to reach their conclusion.

To get to what Brown calls “balance,” California's 2013-2014 budget relies on almost $6 billion in revenues from voter-approved tax increases, which are intended to fund the state's education system. But those revenues are temporary and may not be extended. The budget also ignores unfunded pension and retiree health-care liabilities. These liabilities are substantial: The Department of Finance estimated there are more than $100 billion in unfunded state employee pension and retiree health-care obligations, while other analysts have produced estimates that are far higher.

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