The Democratic governor delivered his address just months after voters approved his Proposition 30, which raised sales and income taxes temporarily and is expected to generate $6 billion a year in additional revenue.
Brown used much of his speech to congratulate voters and lawmakers for having an optimistic vision of California. The state, he said, "has once again confounded our critics." He promised an end to the deep budget deficits that have plagued lawmakers and governors for most of the decade.
"Against those who take pleasure, singing of our demise, California did the impossible," he said.
Brown's speech was filled with the rhetorical gems and historical references that are hallmarks of his addresses, from the biblical story of Pharaoh's dream about fat and lean cows emerging from the river to the Spanish adventurers who forged north into modern-day California. But it did not break new ground.
The main topics Brown included have been addressed previously, including in his budget proposal earlier this month. Those include reform of K-12 education funding, the need for the higher education systems to hold down costs, promotion of the $68 billion high-speed rail system, the continued need to combat climate change and building massive twin water tunnels under the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta at a cost of $14 billion.
His speech seemed partially intended to lay out the lasting achievements he hopes to leave after his current tenure in the governor's office is over. Brown served from 1975-83, in the era before term limits, before being elected to his latest term in 2010.
Despite the big-ticket projects Brown sees as a priority, he urged the Legislature to rein in its temptation to add burdensome regulations and to practice fiscal restraint with the additional tax money approved by voters.
"We have promises to keep," he told a joint session of the Legislature held in the Assembly chamber. "And the most important is the one we made to the voters if Proposition 30 passed: that we would guard jealously the money temporarily made available."
Republicans reacted favorably to the governor's live-within-our-means message to the Legislature, where Democrats won supermajorities in both houses last November. That would allow them to pass tax increases without Republican support, if they choose.
"We have a governor who is speaking Republican language, embracing long-held Republican principles," said Sen. Jim Nielsen, R-Gerber. "He is admonishing his colleagues here that notwithstanding their supermajority status and the unnecessary taxes ... he is saying, 'Don't spend all the money.'"
Left relatively powerless, Republicans have taken a somewhat conciliatory approach to the governor in the first month of the new legislative session, looking for areas where they could align with him and against legislative Democrats, some of whom wish to expand social programs that were cut in recent years.
One of those is on Brown's call to alter the California Environmental Quality Act, a law that was intended to protect animals and habitat but has been co-opted by NIMBY-ism. Community activists, environmentalists and even rival developers use the law to block developments they don't like, even in already highly developed areas.
Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, said Democrats made difficult budget cuts in recent years and he said his party is poised to make smart investments in health and human services, education and higher education.
"We handled adversity well, we can handle success very well," Steinberg said. "The governor is right. We need to focus on a rainy day fund. We need to focus on paying down debt. But if the economy keeps growing and if there is room to invest in the appropriate ways ... we, of course, will do that."
The governor proposed changes to the environmental law as part of a broader initiative to restore the 1.3 million jobs California lost during the recession. He also wants to reform the state's job hiring credit for businesses and change the enterprise zone program.
Brown and other proponents of high-speed rail say that project also will be a major job-producer, but it has been losing favor with the public as its projected costs have soared. In his address, the governor said completing the system is crucial for the future of transportation in a state approaching 40 million people and is just the type of cutting-edge initiative for which the state is famous.
"Yes, it is bold," he said, "but so is everything else about California."