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Jerry Brown seeks high road when crafting repair plan

Gov. Jerry Brown bobbed and weaved through a news conference about transportation needs on Wednesday, declining to say where he thinks the state should find billions of dollars to repair California's roads.

The governor spoke at the Oakland event after politicians and business leaders, including Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins (D-San Diego), said new revenue is needed to fund overdue maintenance. But he declined to endorse their proposals, which include higher taxes and fees on California drivers.

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"I'm not going to put all my cards on the table," he said. "As a brooding omnipresence, I stand above the fray here."

Brown said he would continue negotiating with lawmakers, and expressed confidence that a deal could be reached on an issue that both parties agree has become a pressing problem.

"We're not there yet," he said. "It's going to take some real patience and openness of mind."

In his inaugural address at the start of his fourth term in January, Brown asked lawmakers to bring him a plan to fund tens of billions of dollars in overdue road repairs. He has not publicly detailed a plan of his own, preferring to see what bubbles up from a special legislative session he called to address the topic.

Defending his reticence, Brown cited his success last year in crafting bipartisan plans for a $7.5-billion water bond and a strengthened rainy-day fund.

"This particular approach of mine has worked in the past," he said.

Asked Wednesday whether he would veto proposed taxes and fees, Brown responded with a smile: "You do very well in this chosen occupation of yours, and I do pretty well myself. So you run your business and I'll run mine."

Pressed again, the governor said only, "I will be a catalytic agent to make sure whatever they want has a decent chance of getting done."

At one point, Brown mused on the oddness of a press conference without the details sought by the press.

"That's kind of interesting to have a press conference and not provide you with what it is you're seeking," he said. "But what you're getting here is the opening chapter in a longer novel, and there will be more chapters in the next few weeks."

During the special session, Democratic lawmakers have suggested boosting the gas tax and increasing vehicle fees to pay for road repairs. They've also proposed a fee on drivers of electric vehicles, who don't contribute toward the cost of road maintenance through the gas tax.

Some support from Republicans would be necessary for such revenue measures, which require a two-thirds vote. So far GOP lawmakers have been skeptical or opposed to the proposals.

"We'll be able to work through it," Brown said.

Follow @chrismegerian for more updates from Sacramento

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