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Why Jerry Brown is standing firm on shaky California high-speed rail plan

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Political analysts say Governor Brown has his eye on history, trying to be mentioned favorably alongside his father, Pat Brown, who was governor from 1959 to 1967 and whose achievements virtually define modern California.

“Governor Brown is seeking to define his legacy, and public mass transportation is one of the things in which he deeply believes,” says Michael Shires, a public policy specialist at Pepperdine University. “The creation of a high-speed rail link would allow him to leave an imprint on the state that is in the same universe as his father's legacy of water projects, universities, and highways.”  

The state auditor's report, however, spoke harshly of the plan. It notes that only $12.5 billion of the $100 billion-plus project is secured, with no indication of how the rest is to be obtained. It also claimed that the California High-Speed Rail Authority doesn't have mechanisms in place for monitoring its contractors.

Supporters of the project say the 220-m.p.h. trains will transform transportation in the state and create jobs. The move is also shrewd politically for Brown, helping him with unions, who helped elect him and whose support he needs for a tax-hike initiative this fall, analysts say. Plus, touting rail has very little downside for now.

“Particularly during a difficult recession, reminding voters of long term makes him look like a visionary,” says Dan Schnur, director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at the University of Southern California.

It was the Obama administration, he and others note, that last year pushed the idea of a national, high-speed rail network.

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