Gavin Newsom and Jerry Brown
In following Gov. Jerry Brown, right, Gavin Newsom must sustain key parts of his predecessor's agenda while pushing his own.

In summary

While Gavin Newsom won’t face a budget crisis when he is inaugurated in January, he will find a stack of leftover issues on his desk from outgoing Gov. Jerry Brown.

Gavin Newson will not begin his governorship in January with a budget deficit, but nevertheless, Gov. Jerry Brown will leave him a stack of knotty managerial and policy issues that cannot be ignored.

The two most obvious are Brown’s two pet public works projects, twin tunnels to carry water beneath the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and a north-south bullet train.

While Brown portrays them as vital to California’s future, Newsom has blown hot and cold on both, reflecting their high costs and highly controversial nature. But at some point – and probably very early in his governorship – he must declare go or no-go on both.

The tunnels are being pushed by Southern California water agencies, hoping that bypassing the ecologically fragile Delta would allow larger, or at least more reliable, water deliveries southward via the California Aqueduct.

But Newsom is from San Francisco and the tunnels are very unpopular among Northern California environmentalists – an important Democratic Party constituency – who see them as a water grab that will doom the Delta.

An initial segment of track is being laid for the bullet train in the San Joaquin Valley but for the project to begin actually carrying passengers it would need to connect to a major metropolitan area.

Current plans call for a connection to San Jose, which then would allow passengers to flow southward from San Francisco via Caltrain service on the San Francisco Peninsula. But the connection’s costs are immense and Brown’s High-Speed Rail Authority has been unable to identify a source of financing.

Brown’s departure two months hence will doubtless leave two managerial messes still simmering – a service meltdown in the Department of Motor Vehicles compounded by allegations of corruption among DMV clerks, and allegations that the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) has been falsifying reports on psychiatric care of inmates mandated by federal courts.

Brown resisted efforts in the Legislature to require the DMV’s long wait times and voter registration errors to be probed by the state auditor’s office. But pressure for an audit will crank up again when the Legislature returns to Sacramento, especially with new revelations about clerks taking bribes to give driver’s licenses to applicants that flunked tests.

The prison scandal is playing out in federal court, centered on a “lengthy, detailed report” by the department’s chief psychiatrist, Dr. Michael Golding, alleging falsified reports on the treatment of mentally ill inmates.

“CDCR has a broken system of care because information is not accurately reported upon, and reliable, commonsensical action has not been taken,” the 161-page report from Golding, released by a federal judge, says.

“I have documented that patients are not getting to appointments on schedule and in confidential spaces, that appropriate consultation is not occurring, and worse, appropriate medical decision-making by psychiatric physicians has been overridden. I have documented that CDCR has prevented errors from being fixed, and worse, CDCR has not allowed anyone to know that there has been inaccurate reporting to the courts and to our leadership.”

The Golding report undermines what Brown has portrayed as successful responses to federal court orders to reduce prison overcrowding and improve inmate care. A shift of felons into local jails and probation is also being criticized by some law enforcement officials, who say it increases criminal activity.

Where the prison situation could lead is still very uncertain, but no matter what happens in court it will land on Newsom’s desk. And it’s just one of the leftovers he will find there.

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Dan Walters has been a journalist for more than 60 years, spending all but a few of those years working for California newspapers. He began his professional career in 1960, at age 16, at the Humboldt Times...