California Governor Brown to lay out priorities in speech to lawmakers

Reuters News
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Posted: Jan 21, 2016 7:10 AM

By Sharon Bernstein

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (Reuters) - California Governor Jerry Brown will lay out his legislative priorities on Thursday amid improvements in the state's financial health and a weather pattern that is helping to ease four years of catastrophic drought.

It will be the fourteenth State of the State address for Brown, a Democrat known for peppering his speeches with Biblical references and quotes in ancient Greek. He served two terms as governor from 1975 to 1983 before returning to California's top job in 2011.

His office would not release a copy of the speech ahead of time, but Brown has made no secret of his priorities.

He has pushed hard for legislation to combat climate change and continues to support a high-speed rail line stretching north from San Diego to Sacramento.

Earlier this month, Brown proposed a new budget plan for fiscal year 2016-2017 that included a $2 billion payment to the state's rainy day fund and called for increases in spending on education, transportation infrastructure, as well as a modest increase in aid for the disabled.

Last week, Brown championed his $15 billion plan to divert water from a Northern California river for use elsewhere, warning of near-apocalyptic water shortages if the project gets bogged down in political and environmental disputes.

California is in its fourth year of catastrophic drought that has cost billions to the state's agricultural economy and left gaps in the water supply for some small communities.

Recent snow and rain have begun to replenish the state's depleted reservoirs and mountain snowpack, but the drought is far from over, and Brown continues to enforce the state's first-ever mandatory conservation rules for residents and businesses in urban areas.

Brown, 77, has been tight-fisted since returning to office in 2011, reining in the state's liberal Democratic majority lawmakers to build a rainy day fund and hold down expenses after facing down a $27 billion budget deficit.

He is widely credited for stabilizing the state's finances, in large part by successfully urging voters in 2012 to approve a temporary tax increase that allowed the state to cover its budget gap and restore some social services.

(Reporting by Sharon Bernstein; Editing by Sandra Maler)