Governor Rebuts Business Critics, Softens Stand on Nukes

After spending three days on the South Coast, California Gov. Jerry Brown on March 23 blasted the notion that the state is tougher to do business in compared to what it was after he was first elected to office almost four decades ago.

“California is not a tougher place to do business than it was 30 or 40 years ago,” Brown said at the final day of the fifth annual ECO:nomics Conference at the Bacara Resort & Spa. “Yes, the regulatory framework is challenging … but we have low Proposition 13 taxes,” referring to a measure that greatly lowered state property taxes.

The governor said the state now has a $3 trillion gross domestic product. “There’s a lot of money sloshing around California.” However, he said it is more difficult managing complexity than it is in other states. “I’ll herd the cats,” he said.

In a reversal of his stand against nuclear power in the 1970s, Brown said he will “keep an open mind” about it as a possible source to reduced carbon-based fuels, which he said are prompting climate change. However, he said, “It’s not a live issue in California,” mainly because he signed a bill that prohibits new nuclear plants that can’t provide disposal of their radioactive rubbish.

“I’m working to make sure we cover our electrical needs,” Brown said. “I’m more skeptical of everything now (because) shit happens; nuclear has issues, but compared to green house gases,” it’s better than fossil fuels, he said.

The governor said his goal is to have one-third of the state’s energy to come from renewable sources.

At an unscheduled news conference after his initial remarks, Brown said he’s not sure he agrees with Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates who the night before at the same conference called for “fourth generation” nuclear plants, which reuse radioactive materials.

Ther governor also said he’s somewhat undecided about the oil industry practice of “fracking,” in which chemical-laced water and sand are blasted underground to break apart rock and release gas.

“I’m middle of road,” Brown said because oil experts tell him it’s not as bad as some say, but environmentalists also tell him it’s not as safe as they say.

Brown defended the failure of a federally backed solar power company, Solyndra, which was funded with a $535 million from President Obama’s stimulus package.

“Solyndra’s failure is our benefit (because) we learned market had changed,” Brown said. “It’s not anywhere near as dumb as the mortgage meltdown, which was a multibillion screw up; Solyndra was $535 million, so it’s a plus not a minus.”

Brown, who will be 76 next month,  also pushed for  California’s proposed $99 billion multibillion-dollar high-speed rail that would whisk commuters up and down the state through the Central Valley. That project is important as is completing the state’s water system upgrade and prison reforms, he said.

While it still is unclear how the state will pay for the high-speed rail project, Brown said at news conference, that local rail money and funds from other sources also are available.

The governor also noted that he has a package of tax increases for voters to approve on the state’s November ballot to cope with California’s $26 billion deficit in its $90 billion budget. “That was mess I inherited,” he said. “(Gov.) Ronald Reagan doubled the state income tax” in the 1960s.

Reagan was elected governor in 1966 after Brown’s father, Edmund Brown Sr. The younger Brown  was first elected governor in 1974 and reelected in 1978. He was elected governor for a third term in 2011. He noted he was the  youngest governor when first elected and now is the oldest sitting U.S. governor.

“I don’t think about (my) legacy,” Brown said. “I got very interested in energy 30 years ago; I like to get things done (but) people don’t think about governors very much, my father told me.”

“I want to make stuff work; I want to deal with climate change,” Brown said. “Scientists support the climate change analysis and I want to  deal with that stuff by trying many paths because sometimes things don’t work.”

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