Gov.-Elect Jerry Brown brought his traveling budget seminar to UCLA today, sharing the stark realities that await him when he takes office on Jan. 3.

Brown seems to have done some thinking about how to start to solve this, but not as much as you'd like. His eyes started to glaze over a bit while Controller John Chiang delivered a PowerPoint presentation on the state's cash flow situation.

“I can't follow some of these slides,” he said. “Chiang's slides, they leave me in the dark.”

Fair enough. For all his cheapness, he's not an accountant. He's a politician with a philosophical bent, and what grabs his attention are the epistemological questions.

“People don't see the same world,” he said at one point. “It's amazing how people in one part of the state see such a different reality than people in the other part of the state.”

From that philosophical starting point we get to Brown's pledge to return decision-making to the local level. Perhaps that means cutting the threshold to enact a school district parcel tax from 2/3 to 55%, as some of the school officials in the crowd urged him to do. That way, every district would get to fund itself in accordance with its own reality.

Brown announced that he would set the tone, vowing to cut the budget for the governor's staff by 20% and then later upping it to 25%. Brown said the governor's office had swelled substantially since he left office in 1982, and that it could stand to be pared back down.

“I feel like Rip Van Winkle coming back after 28 years,” he said. “I've been around long enough to remember a different system. I don't know how we'll get there.”

He'll have to start figuring it out pretty soon. There are rumors of a June ballot measure to maintain the current temporary tax increases, and several school officials urged Brown to go to the voters for more money.

Brown avoided directly commenting on that, and admonished one superintendent who asked him to help “educate the voters” about the need for more taxes.

“In some ways, they've got to educate us,” he said. “There's a lot of skepticism about government… We have to take the world as we find it.”

The honeymoon should last about a week, between the inauguration on Jan. 3 and the presentation of his budget on Jan. 10. If this one is anything like the last decade of January budgets, it'll be grim.

“Please sit down when you read the stories on the budget on Jan. 10,” he said.

LA Weekly