With his speech, Mr. Brown firmly linked his political fortunes to the proposed 520-mile bullet train connecting San Francisco and Los Angeles as he urged lawmakers to release the $9 billion in state bonds needed to begin the project this year. His focus on the train line, along with a new emphasis on dealing with the state’s water problems, suggested that Mr. Brown was trying to turn the page after a year in which the legacy of his second turn as governor seemed in danger of being defined by a series of budget battles and spending cuts.
He made clear that the state’s fiscal problems were hardly behind it: Mr. Brown, a Democrat, formally called for putting before voters in November an initiative that would temporarily increase income taxes on the wealthy and sales taxes. And signaling a potential point of conflict with Democratic lawmakers, the governor said he would insist on further cuts to balance the budget if the tax initiative failed.
Still, Mr. Brown’s speech, coming after five economically tumultuous years here, was notable for its optimism.
“Every decade since the ’60s, dystopian journalists write stories on the impending decline of our economy, our culture and our politics,” he said, adding: “California has problems, but rumors of its demise are greatly exaggerated.”
Mr. Brown championed the rail project at a time when it has seemed increasingly endangered. The cost has doubled to $98.5 billion. The notion of starting the work in a sparsely populated section of the state has been ridiculed. And support for rail projects in Congress has all but died.
This month, an independent review panel created under state law raised questions about the financial feasibility of the plan and urged lawmakers to delay it. Within days, Mr. Brown pushed through a shake-up at the California High-Speed Rail Authority, the agency overseeing the project.
“Critics of the high-speed rail project abound, as they often do when something of this magnitude is proposed,” he said in his speech, adding: “The Panama Canal was for years thought to be impractical, and Benjamin Disraeli himself said of the Suez Canal, ‘Totally impossible to be carried out.’ The critics were wrong then, and they’re wrong now.”
State Senator Ted W. Lieu, a Democrat, called the train “a symbol of what California can do,” but suggested that the project was as much about Mr. Brown as anything else.
“He is a much more practical governor now than maybe 30 years ago,” Mr. Lieu said. “But he is still a dreamer. High-speed rail is very evocative and is one of those things that I think he would like to be part of his legacy.”