Heed Your Libertarian Impulse, Gov. Brown

It’s time for Gov. Jerry Brown to release his inner libertarian.

I know. This sounds nuts, or born of wishful thinking.

The governor has spent his first months in office advocating more government spending and protecting the ravenous public-sector unions that helped elect him to office. But deep down – maybe, not so deep down – Brown understands the limits of government and the importance of freedom, entrepreneurship and a competitive environment.

The big news this past week was Brown’s call for a constitutional amendment that would assure funding for his state realignment plan that shifts responsibility for low-level offenders from the bureaucratic state corrections department to county governments.

The plan itself has libertarian elements in that local control is more accountable to the public than state control. Unfortunately, speaking to a group of government officials and law enforcement leaders in Sacramento Wednesday, Brown reassured them that there will be plenty of money to implement the plan. Brown offered these reassuring words to officials concerned about the new costs that will be imposed upon them: “Don’t worry about the money. We’ll get it to you one way or the other.” That’s anything but reassuring to taxpayers.

But Brown said something else, too: “A lot of what people think the governor does is consider new bills … and unfortunately, that’s a lot of what I have to do, even though we have more laws than we need, many more laws than we need, we keep getting more. … Every year, on average about 1,000 new laws are enacted and most of the laws are solutions to the same problems. … It means that no matter how many solutions are provided every year, we have the same number of problems.”

Brown loves to discuss ideas. Indeed, his 1990s radio show is filled with often radical opinions one doesn’t usually hear from people who become governor. But Brown’s recent libertarian- leaning statements weren’t a complete aberration. They strike a theme he has been making while he approves or vetoes the many bills that have come before him.

In vetoing Sen. Lou Correa’s bill that would have unnecessarily restricted medical marijuana clinics, Brown wrote:

“Decisions of this kind are best made in cities and counties, not the state Capitol.”

In vetoing a bill that would have required kids to wear helmets while skiing, he wrote, “While I appreciate the value of wearing a ski helmet, I am concerned about the continuing and seemingly inexorable transfer of authority from parents to the state. Not every human problem deserves a law.”

Don’t get me wrong. The governor has steadfastly resisted pension reform and other governmental reforms that are crucial to the ongoing fiscal health of the state. He is in the pocket of the public-sector unions. He believes in increasing taxes early and often, even if he will do so only after citizens vote in favor of them.

On Wednesday, the governor wasn’t specific about his funding plan, but the constitutional amendment he is pushing will almost certainly be designed to make it easier for local taxpayers to pass bonds and special taxes by lowering the supermajority vote threshold for tax hikes. That’s very bad.

So I hold no illusions. But the key to saving California is to pare back an out-of-control public sector, and to once again unleash the freedoms and entrepreneurial spirit that built this state. There are signs he understands that fact. If he acts on those libertarian impulses, he could pull the state back from the brink and earn a place in history. Here’s to wishful thinking!

Nothing contained in this blog is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of the Pacific Research Institute or as an attempt to thwart or aid the passage of any legislation.

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