Gov. Jerry Brown and his advisors have made clear that they are focused on the budget. Which makes sense, given the state's drastic budget problems. But why doesn't their focus include more of a focus on how to rebuild the economy?
The question is raised by reports last week that show the state's unemployment rate remaining stubbornly steady at 12.4 percent. And the answer to the question? Experts of all stripes, as well as the last two governors (among them Brown advisor Gray Davis), don't believe there's very much a governor can do about the economy. National and international economic trends are more important than what California does.
If you believe that, it's dumb politics to emphasize the economy. You end up getting blamed for that.
Fine, but, Brown would be wise to talk more about the connection between budget cuts -- particularly those in education -- and the performance of the economy, both short and long term. Cuts to schools and universities -- which themselves are economic engines -- can do small amounts of damage to California's economy long-term. But they potentially do even more damage long-term, by reducing the state's ability to provide highly-skilled workers and thus making the state less competitive globally.
Brown didn't make the connection during his two-hour-plus education and budget summit at UCLA last week. And Brown is keeping quiet for the most part, a smart strategic move which has allowed him to lower expectations (Gov. Schwarzenegger's various valedictories are filling the media vacuum). But as soon as he takes office, he needs to make the connection for Californians between their budget and their own economic prospects.
Brown needs to do more than get the public to understand the facts of the budget (his stated goal of his two budget summits so far). He needs them to understand the connection between the health of the budget, education (the number one budget item) and the economy (the number one concern). If that connection can be explained to the public in an attention-grabbing, memorable way, it opens the door to the systemic reform the state needs.