We're back, but we're thirsty: Brown warns of lingering problems in State of the State address

SACRAMENTO -- Gov. Jerry Brown cheered California's comeback in the State of the State address he delivered to the Legislature on Wednesday, but he also warned of lingering economic and environmental problems that threaten California's future.

During a 17-minute speech devoid of surprises, Brown mixed praise for the state's huge budget surplus with concern for California's "enormous and ever-growing" pool of long-term liabilities and the current drought.

Lawmakers responded to that message with a combination of support and skepticism. An odd alignment of Democrats and Republicans applauded Brown's fiscal prudence, while some liberal legislators and a Republican candidate for governor hammered Brown for not addressing the state's high level of joblessness.

In his speech, Brown said the Golden State has much to be proud of, but he urged the Legislature to proceed with caution this year.

"We are not out of the woods, and we certainly are not out of the drought," Brown said.

"Life is uncertainty, the climate is changing -- not for the better -- and the business cycle and the stock market are historically volatile, with good years followed by bad, with painful regularity," he added.

Though it is not clear what role heat-trapping gases have played in the state's latest streak of dry weather, Brown said, the extreme conditions should serve as "a stark warning of things to come."

"This means more droughts and more extreme weather events, and, in California, more forest fires and less snow pack," he said.

Brown also used the speech to reaffirm his commitment to fiscal prudence ahead of his widely expected run for re-election, political analysts said.

Referencing Biblical advice to "put away your surplus during the years of great plenty," the governor again pledged to pay down the state's debt and put some of its extra cash in a rainy-day fund -- a theme that won praise from Democratic and Republican lawmakers alike.

Senate Republican Leader Bob Huff said Brown's plan to pay off some of the state's credit cards and build a rainy-day reserve make him "sound more Republican each day."

But Brown's address was immediately attacked by Republican gubernatorial candidate Neel Kashkari, a former U.S. Treasury Department official who formally entered the race on Tuesday.

"Gov. Brown may claim a California comeback, but the truth is that he has forgotten the millions of California families who are struggling," Kashkari said. "Twenty-four percent of our fellow Californians live in poverty. Yet how many times did the governor mention poverty in his 17-minute address? Not once. That is outrageous."

In his speech, Brown said one million new jobs have been created in California since 2010 and that the surging economy and tax increases approved by voters in 2012 signal budget surpluses for the next several years.

Assemblyman Wesley Chesbro, D-Arcata, said the state's brighter economic outlook is good news, but California still needs to "choose wisely" on spending as the state moves forward.

"This is my fourteenth and final state of the state address as a member of the Legislature, delivered by three different governors. I am thankful that in my final year at the Capitol, we have a budget that is good news for the state," Chesbro said in a release. "Governor Brown's speech this morning is the most optimistic address I've heard from a governor for California's future. I thank him for his leadership and appreciate the experience and skill he brings to the office. The most important thing for us right now is to understand that while California's future looks optimistic, we are not completely out of the woods."

Brown has delivered more State of the State addresses than any other California governor. This latest version serves as a marker for the achievements Brown will likely highlight on the campaign trail, said Bill Whalen, a former aide to Republican Gov. Pete Wilson who is now a fellow at Stanford's Hoover Institution.

"He wanted to use this speech to set a marker for progress and fiscal restraint," Whalen said. "He didn't want to crowd the speech and pollute it with unpopular problems like teacher pensions or high-speed rail."

Indeed, the governor only made a passing reference to a project he has championed -- the beleaguered $68 billion bullet train.

The governor has not yet declared whether he will seek re-election, but he has already collected nearly $17 million for a campaign. It would be his last term as governor after serving from 1975 to 1983, then returning to the office in 2011.

Brown also applauded the Legislature for passing a new school funding formula last year that sends more money to needy students -- and working together to try to solve the prison overcrowding problem.

Garry Eagles, Humboldt County's school superintendent, said he applauds Brown's consistent message of support for public education, additional local budget control and making education funding a priority.

"For about the last 40 years or so, the state has been taking on more responsibility for the decision making," he said. "With nearly 1,000 school districts in the state, when Sacramento decides how all schools should spend money, some schools are bound to miss the boat."

Despite the tough road ahead with no way to predict the end of the state's fiscal and environmental challenges, Brown called California the "state of innovation."

"We have 25 percent of the nation's foreign born, and we are the first state in modern times to have a plurality of families of Latino origin. So it's not surprising that California is the state where immigrants cannot only dream -- they can live," Brown said.

Times-Standard staff writer Melissa Simon and the Associated Press contributed to this report.