By Josh Richman jrichman@bayareanewsgroup.com
Posted: 09/11/2012 03:48:12 PM PDT
Updated: 09/11/2012 06:12:57 PM PDT

SAN JOSE — Gov. Jerry Brown on Tuesday passionately defended his tax-hike ballot measure, California’s high-speed rail project, new public pension reforms and his plan to restore the Sacramento Delta.

But in an acknowledgement that might have been shocking had it come from any other politician, Brown found flaws with most of them. Though imperfect, he said, they’re the best plans he can push through Sacramento’s deep partisan divide.

“I play the cards I’m dealt,” he said.

In a wide-ranging, hour-long talk with the Bay Area News Group’s editorial boards, Brown said he thought long and hard about whether to proceed with the $69 billion bullet-train project, even as he asks voters to approve temporary tax hikes and pitches a $14 billion tunnel system for the Delta.

“There is tension, I acknowledge that, and I thought about it myself — I gave it a lot of thought whether to pull the plug and just send the money back like that fellow in New Jersey did,” Brown said, referring to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s 2010 decision to kill the nation’s largest public transit project, a rail tunnel beneath the Hudson River.

But with so much federal money available and so many Central Valley workers in need of jobs, Brown said, going forward seemed like the best choice.

Though the pension reform legislation he’ll sign Wednesday in Los Angeles didn’t entirely satisfy anyone, he said, it was the best deal he could get.

“You have basically one side who doesn’t know how to say no (Democrats) and we have another side that doesn’t know how to say yes (Republicans),” he said. “And I’m in the middle trying to squeeze a little more yes out of one side and a little more no out of the other side, and we’ll do more as we go along.”

For future workers, the pension legislation raises retirement ages, caps pensions and imposes new formulas that would reduce payouts.

Similar deliberation and compromise went into his Delta plan, said Brown, who decided that levee restoration won’t protect California’s most vital water supply with the reliability that his $14 billion tunnels would offer.

The tunnels would carry water southward beneath the Delta while tens of thousands of acres of wetlands are restored above ground.

“Somewhere between ‘full speed ahead’ and ‘mired in analytical paralysis’ there is a path forward, and that’s what I’m trying to take,” he said.

Perhaps his most remarkable admission was that Proposition 30 on the November ballot– which would raise the state sales tax by a quarter-cent for four years and boost income taxes on the state’s wealthiest residents for seven years — isn’t ideal for addressing the state’s volatile revenue stream, which already depends heavily on high-income earners.

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