SACRAMENTO — Gov. Jerry Brown persuaded Californians to elect him by promising to fix the state's financial problems, and his latest budget proposal will play a big role in his effort to stay in the job.

His $155-billion blueprint, unveiled Thursday, lays the groundwork not only for spending negotiations with lawmakers but also for an expected reelection campaign that could earn Brown an unprecedented fourth term as governor.

Holding news conferences in three cities — Sacramento, San Diego and Los Angeles — Brown focused on the need for continuing fiscal restraint despite the state's economic recovery.

"By no means are we out of the wilderness," Brown told reporters in the Capitol, emphasizing the need to pay down debt and save money as a hedge against future financial turmoil. "We must be very prudent in the way we spend public funds."

It's the same message Brown has been pushing since his 2010 campaign: that he is a trustworthy steward of taxpayers' money. Tight-fistedness has long been part of Brown's public persona; he eschews state limousines and private jets in favor of more modest cars and commercial flights.

Although his proposed budget would raise general-fund spending by more than 8%, to $106.8 billion, he continued to portray himself Thursday as a necessary check on fellow Democrats eager to spend. For example, Brown declined to commit money for universal preschool, one of lawmakers' top priorities.

"A lot of programs are very attractive and may have very positive value," Brown said, but "it isn't time to embark on a whole raft of new initiatives." California still faces significant debt and other growing financial obligations, such as public pensions.

Election-year budgets can be a key campaign tool. In 2006, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger launched plans to borrow $68 billion for new public-works projects, dovetailing with his reelection year message that he was the man to rebuild California.

That year's budget also boosted money for schools — a priority for most voters, opinion polls consistently show — and prevented a scheduled 8% tuition hike at the state's public universities.

"To not consider reelection while preparing your budget would be malpractice," said former Schwarzenegger aide Matt David.

Brown's political spokesman, Dan Newman, said the governor's proposal was not political posturing. While Schwarzenegger used his election-year budget to change his image, Newman said, Brown's spending plan simply reflects his core values.

"Jerry is who he is," Newman said, "the cheapskate who also thinks big."

Brown the penny-pincher is proposing a ballot measure that would divert some revenue to a rainy-day reserve. If passed by lawmakers, it could serve his claims to prudency.

But Brown the visionary has already run into trouble. One of his big ideas, a $68-billion state bullet train network, has grown increasingly unpopular as it has faced a series of legal setbacks.

Brown wants to spend $250 million from fees on polluters to help keep it rolling, and that has drawn fire from environmentalists who want the funds used elsewhere, and from conservatives who oppose both the train and the carbon-trading market that generates the money.

Republican candidates for governor also took aim at Brown's support for high-speed rail, calling it a boondoggle and evidence of his financial mismanagement.

Former Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado, who is expected to run this year, said in a statement: "Jerry Brown's policies are just not working for the people of our state."

Assemblyman Tim Donnelly (R-Twin Peaks) said in a statement that Brown was failing to tackle some of the state's deep-rooted financial problems. Donnelly accused the governor of viewing the budget through "rose-colored lenses."

Brown declined to discuss any reelection campaign Thursday, but he had more than $10 million in a campaign account as of June 30, and he has raised an additional $6.9 million since then. Donnelly raised $92,000 in the last six months, and Maldonado has collected $149,000. Former U.S. Treasury official Neel Kashkari, who is also weighing a bid for governor, has not reported raising money for the race.

Taxes