Radio transcript: Governor Jerry Brown talks water, budget, and High Speed Rail
This state has had way too much of that hot dry weather over the past few years. A lot of this state remains in an extreme drought, and we want to talk about that right now and much more with Governor Jerry Brown who is joining us from the state capitol in Sacramento. Governor, welcome to Here and Now.
Thank you very much.
You said when you declared a drought emergency in January in California that this is perhaps the worst drought the state has seen in 100 years. There has been some rain since then. How serious is it now?
It’s just as serious. And it’s serious because there’s not only a drought this year, but there are previous years that have been very dry, and the drawdown of water in our reservoirs added to the lack of rainfall now really is quite devastating.
Why haven’t you imposed mandatory water restrictions on Californians?
Because we are very respectful of the principle of ‘subsidiary’ and that principle says that primary responsibility is local and the state is only there to provide a subsidiary backup function. Now we are asking for widespread serious water conservation, but we’re letting locals craft their own particular pathway, but you can be sure that as we go down the road, we’ll have mandatory programs in every part of the state.
State imposed mandatory programs?
When you say state imposed – we’re here at headquarters, and there are 38.5 million people, there are over 400 cities. California stretches from the Oregon border to the Mexican border so we have to be somewhat humble when we issue “Thou shalts” and “Thou shalt nots” coming out of Sacramento, usually embodied in a rule or an executive order or some kind of a law. We have to work and inspire those who are on the ground, capable of reacting and adapting to the conditions they face.
One of the things that experts on this topic have talked about when we’ve talked to them is the idea that perhaps people, especially in Southern California, ought to stop having front yards and back yards that they have to water. Not something you’d enforce, but do you think that it’s a good idea generally for people who live in desert areas of the state to not have yards that they have to water?
You’re hitting on something very important. How can people in the semi-arid deserts of Southern California expect people in the north to share water under conditions where water is used on lower priority functions? It may well be that cactus and lizards take the place of rose bushes and lawns. It’s not something we’re going to issue a mandate today or the next month, but over time, sooner rather than later, the uses of water are going to come under very careful scrutiny and only the wisest uses of water will be permitted.[Note: This is the end of the discussion on water. Since it was a short interview, I went ahead and finished it, but if you were just here for the water part, you can cut out now. –Maven]
Governor, California has always been known as a model for the nation on a number of issues and I wonder if there’s something that California has done in response to the drought that the rest of us in other parts of the country should be learning from?
We’re siting a significant desalination plant in San Diego County, we have water recycling plants in Orange County that are quite impressive, and we are committed to manage our water above and below the ground. I’m focused on getting from where we are to where we need to be, and that’s a lot more conservation, a real reuse of water, and the management of water below the ground and above the ground in a very careful way.
Another big issue in California and something that people have praised you for is going from a $27 billion to a budget surplus, largely because of increased taxes that you convinced Californians were needed when you were elected, but there had been cuts in services as well. Now that you’re back in the black, are the things still that Californians have to live without that they had before the downturn and the financial crisis?
Californians had a number of things before the financial collapse that they obviously couldn’t afford. They were feeding off a bubble and the bubble burst. So yes, we cut programs. We can’t afford some of the programs that we’ve had in the past, and we have to exercise constant vigilance and fiscal discipline and that’s something I’m very strongly committed to.
Like what program did you have in the past that you think just doesn’t make sense in the future?
I would say most of the programs we had made eminent good sense, but that doesn’t mean we have the money to spend on them. There’s a lot in saying no man gives what he does not have. We had childcare programs, we had redevelopment, aid to universities, many, many things. All areas that we want to continue state support but only in light of the money that’s available.
You bring up the university system. Do you ever see a day in California when the state universities will once again be free for the top students in the state?
As a matter of fact for a number of the students who come from lower income families, they don’t pay tuition. We’ve held tuition down three years …
But the tuition is still comparable to what you would pay at other schools …
No, that’s not true. The UC is $12,000, Michigan is over $20,000, and our Cal State system it’s in the $5000 to $6000 range, and I want to keep that tuition as flat as possible. In order to do that, though, we just can’t do a rain dance. We have to change and reduce the cost structure of how universities operate and that is painful, but I believe there’s potential yield in imaginative programming at the university that will allow the university to live with perhaps less than they all think they need.
I want to ask you about one other thing you have called a priority for the future and that is this High Speed Rail line that you would like to be built. When do you think that I’ll be able to take a high speed train from LA up to San Francisco?
I certainly hope in my lifetime. We’re working at it. But I would call your attention to the middle ages when working people would work on a cathedral through generations. It might take 150 years to build a magnificent cathedral. And at that point, they had the faith, they had the vision, and they had the generational continuity to embark on great projects. High Speed Rail connecting the north of California to the south is a bold program, not at the status of a cathedral, but certainly one that takes intergenerational commitment and will link the diverse parts of California.
So I’m trying to decide whether I should take from that that it will happen in your lifetime or in the next 150 years?
No, it depends upon how long I live … I’ll be 76 on April 7, and I’m going to do everything in my human power to get this thing done so I can ride it.
Governor Jerry Brown of the State of California. Thanks so much for joining us.
Thank you. I enjoyed it.