California is a very different place from the 1950s and '60s, when Jerry Brown's father, Pat Brown, served as governor..presiding over a think-big boom in highway and water delivery construction.
By contrast, when Jerry was governor the first time, from 1975 to 1983, he preached an era of limits and lowered expectations.
But these days, Jerry is sounding like his father.
Wednesday, he leaped squarely into a new and sure-to-be-fierce political fight over the fate of another big idea: California's much-criticized bullet train project.
It's not just the biggest and most ambitious high-speed rail plan in the nation. The cost is high, causing one top Capitol Democrat to describe it as causing "sticker shock." How high? According to a new business plan rolled out Wednesday by the High-Speed Rail Authority, the project is now projected to cost $98 billion, adjusted for inflation, over a 20 year construction period. That'smore than double the original estimate.
Gov. Brown knows that economic recovery is a top priority in the coming election year, and he frames the plan in those terms.
"California's high-speed rail project will create hundreds of thousands of jobs," Brown said in a statement.
He and other supporters say the plan makes sense, compared to what it would cost to upgrade airports and highways to account for population growth. He's talking about an investment in the state's future, much like his father did.
Brown is doing more than talking. He's taking an active role in re-shaping the debate, as well as the make up of the rail authority's board. He recently appointed Dan Richard, a former utility executive, and Michael Rossi, a former bank executive, to the board to review the business plan. Both say the system can be built and can make money under current projections.
But the plan has to win approval from the legislature. Republicans are skeptical. Senator Doug LaMalfa (R-Richvale) announced Wednesday he'll introduce legislation to put the project back on the ballot in 2012.
Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) said he'll convene hearings soon to assess the plan, but echoing the governor, said the project "could be the single biggest job creator California has seen in decades."
There's a lot of scrutiny to come. Brown is hoping that the jobs argument will carry the day, in his effort to launch a comeback for high-speed rail.