Brown defends California bullet train in annual address

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Brown defends California bullet train in annual address
FILE - In this Jan. 24, 2017 file photo, California Gov. Jerry Brown delivers his annual State of the State address before a joint session of the California Legislature, in Sacramento, Calif. Brown will look back on his four terms as California's governor and lay out his vision for what's to come when he delivers his final State of the State address Thursday, Jan. 25, 2018. In the background are Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, D-Paramount, left, and Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon, D-Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, File)

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Gov. Jerry Brown declared “California is prospering” on Thursday as he kicked off his final State of the State address as leader of the nation’s most populous state.

“While it faces its share of difficulties, we should never forget the bounty and endless opportunities bestowed upon this special place,” he said.

It’s the 16th such address for the 79-year-old Brown, who served two terms as governor starting in 1975 and returned for two more in 2011. Brown, the son of former Gov. Pat Brown, is termed out of office after the November election.

Brown has frequently used his annual address to the Legislature to highlight California as the nation’s beacon of opportunity and hope but also warn of its past economic woes and the financial pitfalls that may loom ahead. He largely stayed away from financial doom and gloom but warned that California and the world “are at immediate and genuine risk” from threats such as climate change and war.

Brown defended two much-scrutinized infrastructure projects: The bullet train from Los Angeles to San Francisco and his plan to re-route water from northern to southern California through one or two massive tunnels. Both projects have faced criticism, and costs of the train recently jumped by nearly billion.

“I make no bones about it. I like trains and I like high-speed trains even better,” Brown said. “Difficulties challenge us but they can’t discourage us or stop us.”

Brown also touched on the state’s devastating fire season last fall, which destroyed thousands of homes up and down the state. In his speech, Brown called for a task force of scientists and forest management experts to find ways to reduce the wildfire threat to California.

Brown reflected on improvements to California’s economy since he entered office in 2011, when the state faced a billion budget deficit and an unemployment rate of 12 percent. Things have since turned around, with Brown projecting a billion surplus in this budget.

He’s consistently warned that California ought to save for future uncertainty rather than spend.

“What’s out there is darkness, uncertainty, decline and recession, so good luck, baby,” he declared at his budget press conference in early January.

Brown largely avoided talk of President Donald Trump and Washington during his more than 30-minute address, although he highlighted the president’s decision to withdraw the United States from international climate commitments. In 2017, Brown emerged as a de-facto U.S. leader on climate policy, traveling to China and Germany and leading a coalition of states to uphold the nation’s carbon reduction goals.

As he looked ahead to his final year in office, Brown told the Legislature “there is much more to do.”

“We too will persist against storms and turmoil, obstacles great and small,” he said. “The spirit of democracy never dies.”