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The Riggs Report: Jerry Brown’s 2016 Campaign

The governor’s campaign cash makes him an important player

Gov. Jerry Brown has a busy calendar for 2016.

He’ll wrangle with fellow Democrats, as in past years, to hold down spending in passing a balanced budget. He’ll need to resolve a $1 billion hole in the Medi-Cal budget caused by an expiring tax on health plans. And he still needs to resolve the state’s serious road and bridge repair needs. Both of those last two issues are unfinished business from 2015, and are the subject of special sessions that are still in effect at the Capitol.

But Brown will also be extremely active on the campaign front. No, his name is not on the ballot. No, he’s not expected to be active in presidential politics— California’s not exactly in play.

But the governor’s sitting on a campaign war chest of roughly $24 million. And at the Capitol, one of the big guessing games is where he plans to deploy that cash.

It’s not hard to identify some of his options. Brown is expected to spend to defeat a ballot measure sponsored by a San Joaquin Valley farmer that poses a threat to one of Brown’s priorities: construction of two massive tunnels to divert water around the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. That ballot measure, which recently qualified, would require a public vote on any large project to be financed with revenue bonds in excess of $2 billion.

The ballot measure doesn’t specifically mention the tunnels, but the project—with a projected price tag of $15 billion—would be affected. Currently, revenue bonds for public works projects don’t require a public vote, because the debt is repaid by those who benefit from the project; in the case of the tunnels, it would be water agencies who would foot the bill.

Brown, who’s also made fighting climate change one of his top issues, could also get behind an as-yet-undefined environmental ballot measure for what’s shaping up as a very crowded ballot. He was unsuccessful last year in pushing a legislative measure that would have required a steep cut in petroleum consumption in California, and isn’t done with the topic.

As for taxes? In 2012, Brown championed the successful passage of Proposition 30, which raised income taxes on the wealthy for seven years, and increased the sales tax for four years. It passed with 55 percent support; a significant achievement in a state with a strong anti-tax sentiment. Now, with the California Teachers Association and other groups pushing a 2016 measure to extend the income tax portion of Prop 30, the question is whether Brown will play a role in the issue as he did four years ago.

Brown is on record as saying Prop 30 was intended to be temporary, but he’s also said that raising taxes is a voter choice. Proponents hope he will not oppose the new proposal, and will instead occupy a neutral corner.

It’ll be a jam-packed ballot, with pending issues that include the minimum wage, a tobacco tax, gun control, a repeal of the plastic bag ban, and legalizing recreational use of marijuana. But Brown will focus on legacy issues, such as water and the environment, to set the stage as he heads into his final year in office.