Jerry Brown files for re-election, defends funding plan for high-speed rail

Forty years after he first ran for governor and with a lifetime of politics behind him, Jerry Brown, now 75, strode into a dimly lit elections office Friday and filed paperwork one more time.

“I just completed the papers to run for re-election,” the third-term Democrat told reporters standing down the hall. “I do so with humility and a realization that there’s a great responsibility in the work that lies ahead.”

The filing follows months of fundraising and Brown’s widely expected announcement a day earlier that he would seek re-election to an unprecedented fourth term.

Brown is the clear front-runner in a race against two Republican challengers in this strongly Democratic state. Brown did not mention either challenger by name, and he suggested he may not ever – at least not until after the primary election in June.

“No, not yet,” Brown said when asked if he had an opinion about the Republicans, Neel Kashkari and Tim Donnelly. “I don’t want to comment until, certainly until filing is closed, certainly not until after the primary, and even then, we can talk about it.”

Brown said he wants to keep working on the state budget and on the implementation of education funding and prison policy changes he has overseen during his third term.

“Frankly, I like the work,” he said. “I understand what it is.”

Brown defended his plan to use carbon-reduction funds for years ahead to prop up California’s high-speed rail project, saying uncertainty about the project’s long-term financing is “one of the greatest questions of the critics” and that fees paid by carbon producers are an appropriate source of funds.

Brown in January proposed using $250 million in cap-and-trade revenue – money polluters pay to offset carbon emissions – to help finance the $68 billion rail project, and in a budget trailer bill he proposed dedicating one-third of all revenue from the greenhouse gas reduction fund to the project in future years. In addition, Brown proposed that $400 million loaned from the cap-and-trade program to the general fund last year be used for high-speed rail when that money eventually is repaid.

Donnelly and Kashkari have criticized Brown relentlessly on the rail project, and the cap-and-trade proposal is one of the most controversial elements of Brown’s budget plan this year. Some environmentalists have said money should be used for other projects, while the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office has raised legal questions about the funding shift.

In a review of Brown’s proposal, the LAO said the first phase of the rail project will not be operational until after 2020, and “the construction of the project would actually generate GHG emissions of 30,000 metric tons over the next several years.”

Despite acknowledging the California High-Speed Rail Authority’s plan to offset emissions by planting thousands of trees in the Central Valley, the LAO said the administration’s “emission estimates for construction do not include emissions associated with the production of construction materials, which suggests that the amount of emissions requiring mitigation could be much higher than currently planned.”

The rail project, a priority of Brown’s administration, has been beset by a fall-off in public approval and uncertainty about long-term financing. In addition, legal challenges have left state bond funding in doubt.

Brown said using cap-and-trade revenue “is very appropriate because high-speed rail reduces greenhouse gases.”

Brown was joined in Oakland by first lady Anne Gust Brown and his political consultants Ace Smith and Dan Newman, whose company, SCN Strategies, ran Brown’s ballot initiative campaign to raise taxes in 2012.

Brown and Earl Warren are the only California governors ever elected to three terms, and Brown, governor from 1975 to 1983, would be the only one elected to four. Term limits preclude him from running for a fifth term, and he has said he does not plan to run again for president.

But Brown could not say that this would be his final run for office.

“I’m not going to say it’s the last race, because there’s always some races around,” Brown said.