SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) – Fulfilling a constitutional duty for the 16th and final time, California Gov. Jerry Brown on Thursday paraded the state’s wares in an annual address, defending big-ticket infrastructure projects and touting a remarkable economic comeback and commitment to fighting climate change.
In a 29-minute State of the State address, Brown said that despite the dysfunction in Washington, the nation’s most populous state will continue pioneering its own social, economic and legislative path during his last year in office.
“Simply put, California is prospering,” Brown said. “While it faces its share of difficulties, we should never forget the bounty and endless opportunities bestowed on this special place; or the distance we’ve all traveled these last few years.”
Brown opened his second stint as governor in 2011 promising to pull the Golden State out of a bitter economic downturn which created a $27 billion deficit. During the 2011 address, he said his main job was to “fix the budget.”
On Thursday, the Democratic governor said 2.8 million jobs have been created and California’s personal income has exploded by $845 billion since 2011. His latest budget proposal assumes a $6 billion surplus along with hefty deposits to the state’s rainy-day fund.
“Very few places in the world can match that record,” Brown said of California’s prosperity.
Brown swept through a bevy of topics and current events in a speech dotted with standing ovations from the crowd in both levels of the Assembly chamber. He was introduced by Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, who is running to replace Brown in 2019.
Newsom, a former San Francisco mayor, used a phrase from one of San Francisco’s most adored musicians Jerry Garcia to characterize Brown.
“You don’t want to be the best of the best, you want to be the only one that does what you do,” Newsom said.
Brown, 79, didn’t mention President Donald Trump by name but blasted him for being a climate change denier. He said California’s recent natural disasters are further proof the state, nation and world should be increasing efforts to stop global warming.
“Despite what is widely believed by some of the most powerful people in Washington, the science of climate change is not in doubt,” Brown said. “All nations agree except one, and that is solely because of one man: our current president.”
Brown spent several minutes talking about California’s recent wildfires and landslides, thanking first responders who “answered the call” to help. During his final months in office, Brown said he will create a task force to study California’s ravaged forests and find ways to reduce the threat of wildfires.
“We can’t fight nature. We have to learn how to get along with her,” Brown added.
Signature transportation and infrastructure projects were highlighted in the speech as well, with Brown urging progress on controversial high-speed rail and California WaterFix projects. Critics including state Republicans and environmentalists call the multibillion-dollar projects – routinely delayed by lawsuits and budget issues – boondoggles.
But Brown said that while the high-speed rail project is behind schedule and over budget, California will be the first state to have a bullet train.
“Like any big project, there are obstacles,” Brown said, mentioning delays with the Golden Gate Bridge and the Panama Canal. “It will be fast, quiet and powered by renewable electricity, and last for a hundred years.”
State Republicans applauded Brown’s thanks to the firefighters and first responders, but were disappointed in his continued support of the high-speed rail project.
“I was hopeful that he would put the brakes on high-speed rail. With a price tag of more than $60 billion and no completion date in sight, it is time to focus on real transportation solutions,” said Assembly Matthew Harper, R-Huntington Beach.
With a Republican effort to repeal a recently enacted gas tax gaining momentum, Brown vowed to “do everything in my power” to squash any repeal effort.
Last year, Brown warned about a “battle ahead” with the federal government. Since then, California has sued the Trump administration 26 times on issues including air pollution, immigration and offshore drilling expansion.
The fourth-term governor – giving the annual address 42 years after first taking office in 1975 – finished his final address by noting that the Science and Security Board of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists on Thursday moved the symbolic doomsday clock 30 seconds closer to disaster amid concerns of nuclear war and threats to democracy. The former Latin scholar and Jesuit seminarian said the world needs theological virtue, specifically hope.
“Our world, our way of life, our system of governance – all are at immediate and genuine risk. Endless new weapons systems, growing antagonism among nations, the poison in our politics, climate change,” Brown cautioned.
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