Gov. Jerry Brown says the plight of California’s poor is part of a larger, global rise in income inequality. But he suggests that there’s some justification for the anger seen at protests in San Francisco and beyond.
In a wide-ranging interview with KQED on Thursday in Sacramento, Brown defended his record on the issue of income inequality, even as he’s been criticized on both sides of the current political debate — including by one of his potential Republican challengers — for not doing enough.
“We’re taking many steps,” he said. “I’m sure there’ll be many more.”
The governor’s comments came as the Legislature was formally convening in special session to consider his plans for an enhanced state budget reserve fund. That session is expected to run concurrently with the other tasks of lawmakers at the state Capitol over the next several weeks.
And some of his fellow Democrats want much more to be done to deal with what public polls show is a sense among many Californians that the gap is growing between the haves and have-nots. This week, state Senate Democrats introduced legislation to raise taxes on some highly paid CEOs.
“There’s a definite and growing discontent,” Brown said. “It’s true: executives get paid enormous salaries.”
In particular, the debate over rich versus poor has sparked protests by groups in the Bay Area over the sharp rise in high-tech salaries and housing prices — most visibly, the angry crowds that have followed commuter buses chartered by Google and other tech companies for their employees.
Do the protesters have a point?
“They have a point,” Brown said. “The return on assets is better than the return on labor, and people’s ability to make salaries.”
But Brown argues the forces at play are, in most ways, out of the control of either him or other state elected officials.
“To try to close the gap, which is a global phenomenon, based on technology, return on assets, on global flows of capital, one little state can’t do that,” he said.
Even so, the governor defended his efforts to battle income inequality by pointing to a higher minimum wage and to the law granting driving permits for those without legal immigration status. He also touted the 2013 shift of more education dollars to school districts with high numbers of kids from low-income families and who are English learners.
“We can’t equalize everything, or you’d need state control like the old Soviet Union,” Brown said. “And we’re not going there.”
The governor also declined to say how he’d wrangle a deal on a debate that is much smaller but will be closely watched over the next few weeks: how to modify plans for a state budget “rainy day” reserve fund. Brown will face opposition from both parties on the issue, and most likely strike a bipartisan deal due to the trio of state Senate Democrats forced to sit on the sidelines after corruption and felony charges.
“I’m trying to forge enough support that we get the two-thirds vote required,” Brown said. “And that’s challenging.”