What a difference seven years make in California. Unprecedented, you might say.
Gone are the days of reporters from faraway places following the governor’s every move in perfectly staged settings.
Back in November 2003, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger commandeered the Memorial Auditorium for the first news conference of his tenure. He needed the hall to accommodate the unprecedented 150 media types who showed up, including a television crew from Austria.
Schwarzenegger bantered with reporters, commenting on their handsome beards and spectacles. The backdrop was picture-perfect, the act all on cue — not a sprayed, orange-tinted hair out of place — for all of 28 minutes.
Newly elected Gov. Jerry Brown is hardly picture-perfect.
This week, Brown took the very same stage at the Memorial Auditorium. The audience was heavy on legislators and local officials.
There were a few dozen reporters. Brown and the state’s top budget experts offered a two-hour tutorial about California’s dire financial straits. Brown called the situation “unprecedented” multiple times in different ways.
“What we’re looking at today is much worse than it has ever been before,” said the governor-elect — whose hair is never out of place, but only because he no longer has much, especially since he started trimming his eyebrows.
Throughout the presentation, Brown flashed charts on a large screen above the stage.
There were pie charts, bar charts, charts with squiggling lines and lots of numbers. Every one of them was out of focus.
No matter, Brown’s people handed out the same charts in packages, only they didn’t have quite enough and had to scramble to find extras. The event was austere if not cheap. The substance was stark.
Last month, the California’s Legislative Analyst’s Office pegged the budget deficit at $25.4 billion over the next two years.
Brown noted that the tax deal struck this week by President Barack Obama and Republican congressional leaders could take another $3 billion bite from California’s coffers, meaning the hole could exceed $28 billion.
In the course of two hours, Brown started the process of making a public case for the coming drastic overhaul of the state budget. It probably will include proposals to raise taxes, which would go to a public vote.
Brown’s charts show California ranks 15th of the 50 states in taxes and fees, fourth-lowest in per capita state employees, 49th worst in student-teacher ratio, and last in school librarians.
Dan Morain is a columnist with The Sacramento Bee.