SACRAMENTO -- Declaring in his State of the State address that California has "once again confounded" its critics, Gov. Jerry Brown on Thursday basked in the glow of a new optimism from a recovering economy and fresh political victories.
Brown evoked historical references, quoted poets and delivered oratorical flourishes, tying the biblical story of Pharoah's dream of preparing for seven years of famine to California's new seven-year temporary tax, lifting from 16th century philosophers and Irish poets, and linking the founding of California's missions, discovery of gold and the founding of Google to California's "special destiny" that "never ends."
Winning lengthy and frequent applause from legislators and invited guests who crowded the Assembly chamber, Brown blended his constant refrain of fiscal restraint with bold themes in laying out his agenda, which includes laying tracks for a new high speed rail system, building two giant tunnels to move water from Northern California to Southern, and reforming the state's environmental protection laws to free up business growth.
The 74-year old Brown, halfway through his third term and making his 11th such speech, spent the weekend writing it, and was fine-tuning it as late as Wednesday night.
"We have wrought in just two years a solid and enduring budget," Brown said. "And, by God, we will persevere and keep it that way for years to come. Against those who take pleasure singing our demise, California did the impossible."
Though Brown may soon be entangled with his own Democratic party over the thrust and direction of his plans, he was praised for the tone he is setting for 2013.
"This was my 13th state of the state speech, and it's the best I've ever heard," said Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento. "Because of the moment and the way the governor captured the moment. It was well crafted, lyrical at times, but also substantive. The whole atmosphere is so much more hopeful. His leadership and speech embodies that."
Though he credited legislators with making the tough cuts to get through the past two years of huge multi-billion dollar deficits, Brown also took aim at the proliferation of laws and regulations that he said put a stranglehold on Californians.
"As legislators, it is your duty and privilege to pass laws," he said. "But what we need to do our future will require more than producing hundreds of new laws each year."
He then quoted the 16th Century French writer Michel Eyquem de Montaigne, who wrote, "The most desirable laws are those that are the rarest, simplest and most general; and I think it would be better to have none at all than to have them in such numbers as we have."
Constantly expanding the "coercive power of government by adding each year so many minute prescriptions to our already detailed and turgid system overshadows other aspects of public service," Brown added.
He also reprised his message of fiscal restraint.
"Fiscal discipline is not the enemy of our good intentions but the basis for realizing them," he said. "It is cruel to lead people on by expanding good programs, only to cut them back when the funding disappears. That is not progress; it is not even progressive. It is an illusion."
Republicans, who have been essentially sidelined because they hold less than one-third of the seats in the Assembly and Senate, cheered the conservative tone of his message, though they were skeptical about how it might play out.
"Overall, he struck good themes -- in fact, he struck Republican themes," said Senate Republican Leader Bob Huff, R-Diamond Bar. "He talks fiscal conservatism but the reality is the budget increases 25 percent in the next three years."