When Gov. Jerry Brown delivers his State of the State message Monday, he can steer California onto the path of genuine reform. Or, he can lard on more of the same costly, counterproductive and short-term "solutions" that have brought the state to its current precarious condition.
It's been refreshing to hear Mr. Brown's no-nonsense assessment of the mess his predecessor and state legislators wrought, aggravated by the worst national economic slump since the Great Depression.
But now the governor also needs to deal forthrightly not just with the state's 18-month, $25.4 billion budget shortfall, but also with the considerably greater fiscal troubles beyond.
Mr. Brown properly criticized previous administrations and legislatures for delaying tough decisions and acting as if the state can go on forever robbing Peter to pay Paul.
The governor would be little different from those who went before him if he settles for another round of patchwork fixes to keep California afloat, but ignoring the looming disaster of hundreds of billions of dollars in unfunded debt for public employee retirement benefits and the union contracts responsible for them.
Mr. Brown ought to frame his State of the State message in that context, and outline fundamental changes necessary to avert catastrophe. Renegotiation of public employee union contracts ought to be on the table, at the least.
Mr. Brown has acknowledged the ship of state is taking on water. But all his machinations to keep it afloat won't matter a whit if he ignores the iceberg dead ahead.
The governor has shown admirable candor framing Californian's short-term choices, and even courageously proposes slaying a few sacred cows. We support his plan to abolish 425 local redevelopment agencies and 14 Enterprise Zones.
However, Mr. Brown simultaneously calls for the same tired responses that hinder rather than serve. Pending voter approval, his budget-balancing strategy would extend for an incredible five additional years what were the highest tax increases in California history when enacted nearly two years ago. He also would entice local governments' support by offering them an opportunity to more easily increase their own taxes by lowering the constitutional two-thirds supermajority vote requirement to a mere 55 percent, again requiring voter approval.
Both tax proposals, integral to Mr. Brown's budget solution, are counterproductive in the best of times, let alone when the state severely lags the rest of the nation in creeping back from a prolonged recession. He should jettison them and make appropriate spending adjustments instead.