California Gov. Jerry Brown advocates for high-speed rail

California Governor Jerry Brown prepares to sign copies of the California Homeowner Bill of Rights (AB 278 and SB 900) on July 11, 2012 in San Francisco, Calif. He also recently signed a $8 million transportation bill.

Jeff Horwich: In California, Governor Jerry Brown has been on the campaign trail. He's not up for re-election -- he's campaigning for massive infrastructure projects. Some of these, Brown's been pushing for decades. But why is he on the offensive now, when his state faces multi-billion-dollar deficits?

From KALW in San Francisco, Ben Trefny reports.

Ben Trefny: When Gov. Brown signed an $8 billion transportation bill in San Francisco last week, he acknowledged he's been at this a long time.

Jerry Brown: You know, I signed my first high-speed rail bill 30 years ago, it's taken that long to get things going.

High-speed rail isn't the only thing he's pushing. He also wants a pair of tunnels to transfer water from northern to southern California. Cost? Anywhere from $14 billion to $24 billion, depending on your favorite estimate, figures similar to the deficit California faces year after year.

If the projects do get built, they would be completed after the 74-year-old Brown is out of office. Sacramento Bee columnist Dan Walters says that's part of the point: the lifelong politician once nicknamed Governor Moonbeam wants more of a concrete legacy.

Dan Walters: He wants people to look back on him and say, "That Jerry, he did some really great stuff." Rather than, "Hey, Jerry, he was kind of crazy. You know?"

There is one constant over Jerry Brown's long political career. He's always shooting for the moon.

In San Francisco, I'm Ben Trefny for Marketplace.

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Ben Trefny, you used the glib throwaway, "once nicknamed Governor Moonbeam", to describe Gov Brown. You probably aren't old enough to know why. If you did, you wouldn't waste airtime painting him with that "accolade".

Back during his 1st stint as Governor ('75-'83), while he was cleaning up the Mess Ronald Reagan left the State, he dated the excellent singer Linda Ronstadt, who affectionately called him "Moonbeam". This "endearment" was picked up by Chicago Sun-Times" satirist/columnist, Mike Royko, who foolishly conflated it with a Brown policy suggestion.

Years before the Internet was commercially viable, Gov Jerry was looking for new technological solutions to reduce State Expenditures while bringing this enormous closer together. He suggested that the State launch its own communications satellite to provide distance conferencing for State agencies, eliminating enormous T&L expenses; and to provide distance learning capabilities for California K-12, JCs and the CSU & UC systems. One good teacher could provide quality course work in hard-to-find expertise from anyplace in CA to any rural or remote campus in the State. People not familiar with CA have little idea that lots of the State's communities are in remote mountainous, coastal, desert or island areas.

The Aussies have been using radio/telephones for distance learning for decades. It seems that Stanford, MIT and a few other universities have just recently started up a similar distance learning project.

Jerry was about 35 years ahead of the Curve in proposing such fiscal pragmatism. Mike Royko later regretted ever using the term.

Jerry declined to run for a 3rd term. Deukmejian took office and the State has been in free-fall ever since - until now, that Jerry's back.

There is a major difference between "fiscal pragmatism" and "fiscal idiocy". Jerry's "fiscal pragmatism" just might save this State while bringing it into the 21st Century.

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