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Calif. Gov. Jerry Brown backs high-speed rail plan

FRESNO — Gov. Jerry Brown said Wednesday that California should press forward with its troubled high-speed rail project, despite growing criticism about the project's management and cost.

While the nation is in a "period of massive retrenchment," Brown told the Fresno Bee's editorial board, "I would like to be part of the group that gets America to think big again."

The Democratic governor had said little publicly about the project since it came under fire this year in Sacramento, with cost estimates rising and lawmakers questioning its oversight. The project, to connect San Francisco and Los Angeles, was once expected to cost about $43 billion, a figure the California High-Speed Rail Authority is expected to update this fall.

Brown said his administration is "working directly with the authority to get their act together," adding, "I'm doing the best I can to keep this train running."

The rail project is one of two major infrastructure projects on Brown's agenda. He said he will present a plan for the other project – a peripheral canal or another way to move water through or around the Delta – within a year.

Brown's remarks came during a series of meetings in Fresno with elected leaders, law enforcement officials and others.

The visit was the first of his third term to the Central Valley city, which enjoyed substantial attention from former Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who called the Central Valley "the abs of California." Political and civic leaders in the conservative area hosted a tribute event for him before he left office.

Addressing the state's weak financial condition and persistent unemployment, Brown defended the budget package adopted this summer as necessary to stabilize the state's finances and to improve investor confidence in California.

He called the Wall Street credit rating agency Standard & Poor's improved outlook for the state a "mark of the power of the budget that I signed."

It was unclear, he said, whether California would require additional, midyear spending reductions.

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