Dan Walters

By Dan Walters
Published: Monday, Feb. 20, 2012 – 12:00 am | Page 3A

If Californians believed that electing Democrat Jerry Brown as governor would mean a big break with Republican predecessor Arnold Schwarzenegger, they must be disappointed.

On the chronically imbalanced state budget and other issues, such as water and global warming, Brown has generally picked up where Schwarzenegger left off. The differences, such as they are, exist only on the outer margins of policy.

Brown is somewhat more willing to cut spending than Schwarzenegger, and his tax-increase proposal is more modest than the one Schwarzenegger signed.

He’s doing the kind of bureaucratic streamlining that Schwarzenegger just talked about, and his relations with state employee unions are somewhat better.

That’s about it. Schwarzenegger was a moderate Republican and Brown sees himself as a pragmatic Democrat, and it’s difficult to place anything thicker than paper between them.

One has to go farther back than Schwarzenegger to find Brown’s true political opposite – back to Gray Davis, the Democrat whom Schwarzenegger succeeded after a 2003 recall election and who was Brown’s gubernatorial chief of staff nearly 40 years ago.

Brown’s major policy objectives would undo much of what Davis wrought during his five-year governorship – especially the negatives. And the chronic budget deficit is a prime example.

The deficit that has plagued the state for the last decade is the direct result of Davis’ fateful decision in 2000 to squander most of a $12 billion one-time revenue windfall on permanent tax cuts and spending after publicly pledging to “resist the siren song of permanent spending whether it comes from the left or the right.”

That created what fiscal experts have termed a “structural deficit” between paper spending commitments and revenues that exists even when the economy is doing well, and becomes unmanageably wide when the economy falters.

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