By Michael J. Mishak and Anthony York, Los Angeles Times
January 19, 2012

Reporting from Sacramento — After years of economic pain and deep budget cuts, Gov. Jerry Brown declared California to be “on the mend,” saying the state is emerging from financial turmoil and proclaiming his dedication to a string of ambitious public projects.

Delivering his annual State of the State speech to a joint session of the Legislature on Wednesday, Brown acknowledged more spending reductions to come, saying they are needed to complete the “unfinished business” of closing a $9.2-billion budget gap.

But the reference to austerity was a passing mention in a 20-minute address dominated by the sunny optimism that characterized the state during Brown’s first governorship, more than three decades ago.

“California has problems,” the governor said, “but rumors of its demise are greatly exaggerated.”

He proposed large investments in infrastructure, urging construction of the nation’s first bullet train, as well as significant changes in the state’s education and public pension systems.

The speech, which drew moderate applause and a few chuckles, stood in stark contrast to last year’s, his first State of the State address after being elected in 2010. Then, he focused on fiscal discipline, offered no major policy proposals and appealed to lawmakers in both parties to support tax hikes to balance the budget.

But after months of outreach, he failed to break Sacramento’s persistent gridlock — a key campaign pledge — working instead with the Democratic majority to cut more deeply into higher education and social services.

Keeping a low profile, he signed an essentially on-time budget that contained relatively few accounting gimmicks, which improved California’s credit rating — victories perhaps better appreciated by bureaucrats than by voters.

In outlining his ambitions Wednesday, Brown, who is 73, made clear he wants to be seen as more than California’s fiscal caretaker.

His proposals would couple his legacy to that of his father, the former Gov. Pat Brown, a legendary chief executive whose investment in universities, freeways and waterways helped make California an economic behemoth.

He took that message on the road immediately after his speech, going first to Los Angeles City Hall, where he redelivered the entire address to a couple of hundred guests and political dignitaries. He later met with teachers at Bret Harte Elementary School in Burbank. On Thursday, he is scheduled to visit business and civic groups in Irvine and San Diego.

Before launching into his speech in the Capitol, Brown showed flashes of his unscripted style, chiding GOP leaders for prematurely responding to the address in a video that was accidentally posted a day early.

“My speech wasn’t finished 24 hours ago,” he said, singling out the minority leaders of both houses. “I didn’t know that you were psychics and you possessed the powers of precognition and clairvoyance. After the speech, I want to check with you on some stock tips.”

A few moments later, railing against “declinists,” Brown gave a full-throated defense of the embattled high-speed rail project, urging the Legislature to approve the sale of billions of dollars in bonds to help fund the first section of track. The 520-mile system planned between Los Angeles and San Francisco has been beset by soaring costs and criticism from lawmakers and others.

“Those who believe that California is in decline will naturally shrink back from such a strenuous undertaking,” Brown said. “I understand that feeling, but I don’t share it, because I know this state and the spirit of the people who choose to live here.”

The governor likened critics of the bullet train to those who derided many earlier public projects: the Central Valley Water Project, the interstate highway network, even the Panama Canal.

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