SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Gov. Jerry Brown presented a robust defense of his record over the last three-and-a-half years during a speech to California business leaders Wednesday, promoting his efforts with education, pension reform, workers' compensation, criminal justice and the economy.
"California is not sitting on its laurels. We're building," the Democratic governor told about 1,300 guests during an annual California Chamber of Commerce breakfast. "I don't want to sugarcoat our liabilities or our diversity or disagreements. There are plenty. But still, this is an incredible place in which to live."
Brown promoted some of his accomplishments since he retook the office in 2011, after being governor for two previous terms from 1975-1983. He noted compromises that he has reached with legislative leaders on issues such as a recently approved rainy day fund measure that will appear on the November ballot and restructuring how schools and prisons are funded.
He attributed closing the multibillion-dollar budget gaps of previous years to spending cuts, the state's economic recovery since the recession and voters approving his Proposition 30, which temporarily raised income taxes on high earners and the statewide sales tax.
Brown did not touch on two massive public works projects he is pushing: the $68 billion high-speed rail project; and a $24.7 billion plan to build twin water tunnels underneath the Sacramento San Joaquin River Delta and provide money for delta restoration.
Brown faces re-election this year, but he is expected to easily win one of the top two spots in the June 3 primary. He reported this week that he has nearly $21 million in his campaign account and has spent very little.
A new poll on the governor's race is expected later Wednesday.
State Assemblyman Tim Donnelly, one of the top Republican candidates trying to make it through the June gubernatorial primary, said the governor should not tout success on education or the economy.
He noted that California schools rank near the bottom nationally in academic performance, a stark contrast to their high ranking when Brown was governor in the 1970s. Donnelly also said the state's business climate is leading companies to relocate to other states.
"What we have in California is a climate of tremendous uncertainty created by the government, by unbelievable mountains of regulation that can change on a dime and a governor who rules arbitrarily" if he decides to target a particular industry, Donnelly said.
Jessica Ng, spokeswoman for another GOP candidate for governor, former U.S. Treasury official Neel Kashkari, said Brown's claim that California is rebounding rings hollow for millions who are struggling.
"It's clear that the status quo is unacceptable — and it will take new leadership that is willing to make the hard changes the state needs in order to create good jobs and ensure our kids get the quality education they deserve," she said.
In his address to the chamber, the 76-year-old governor noted that California faces many challenges, including tackling more than $300 billion in pension liabilities. He joked that even that sum relies on optimistic projections.
"And by the way, that assumes nobody gets healthier or lives longer," he said. "God help us if medical technology has some breakthroughs and these people who are retiring don't live to 80 but to 100."
Brown did not directly address his re-election campaign or the two Republicans who are competing to challenge him in November. But he told the crowd he never anticipated spending most of his life in politics.
"In fact, my father never encouraged me to get into politics, and I didn't even like politics. That's why I went into the Jesuit seminary after a year of college," he said, referring to former Gov. Edmund G. Brown. "But I think he surreptitiously and silently imprinted me with a bug because it's been quite active for most of my adult life."