California Seal

AP California News
Jul 5, 2:19 PM EDT

By JULIET WILLIAMS
Associated Press

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Gov. Jerry Brown is drawing praise and glowing reviews from the national media for his deft political maneuvering in closing a $25 billion budget deficit and restoring some of California’s financial luster after years of recession.

The state’s credit rating is on the rebound, schools are expecting an infusion of money this fall, and the budget for the new fiscal year even includes a modest rainy day fund after years of deficits forced billions of dollars in program cuts.

Yet Brown’s legacy remains uncertain as he finishes his third term in the governor’s office and prepares for a likely re-election campaign for a fourth and final one.

The $6 billion a year in sales and income tax increases he persuaded voters to approve last fall will be expiring by the end of his possible fourth term in 2019, leaving the same type of budget headaches he inherited. What Brown has called California’s “wall of debt” remains, including an estimated $200 billion in unfunded public pension and retiree health care liabilities.

And he is pushing two infrastructure projects that could saddle the state with additional debt for decades to come – a $68 billion high-speed rail system and a $24 billion water plan that includes freeway-sized water tunnels under the Northern California delta.

Despite the criticism over long-term spending, Brown has managed to turn the national conversation about California, which was often portrayed as a sort of “paradise lost” during the recession.

In a May profile, The Atlantic called Brown a “ruthlessly practical” governor who was “embracing his inner politician to restore the California dream.” Journalist and Ronald Reagan biographer Lou Cannon, in an essay posted late last month on realclearpolitics, noted the “remarkable comeback” of both Brown – the former “Governor Moonbeam” – and his state.

The latest incarnation of Jerry Brown is a far cry from the unfocused maverick who served from 1975 to 1983, when his presidential ambitions often distracted him from the job of managing the nation’s most populous state. At 75, the approach of the former Jesuit seminarian is softer and some say more congenial.

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