But you no longer analyze every bill with a fiscal impact?
We stopped doing that about 20 years ago, after Proposition 140 was passed and the budgets for the Legislature were reduced. We do recommendations primarily on the government's budget proposals, but we can make recommendations on anything.
What are the myths about your office?
I don't know about myths, but what I'm most concerned about is when mostly new members come to Sacramento, they've been involved in very partisan races and they may not understand our office's [role]. Even though there's a Democratic majority, we work for both parties in both houses. I worry that they don't appreciate that the nonpartisan, independent role we've been given by the Legislature is a reality.
The public and politicians often analyze Sacramento with the words ''waste, fraud and abuse.''
I've never liked that phrase because there's really not a lot of fraud, outright stealing money or misrepresenting. There is the aspect of waste, and we need to be more nuanced about that. In some cases you have programs that some folks feel achieve something positive but don't feel is being administered as effectively as it could be. Now, is that waste? It may be inefficiency. It may be that the government could operate better.
Once you [tell] folks that Sacramento actually passes most of its budget back down to local governments, they can still [think] we [could]spend our money more effectively but hopefully we can get away from the "waste, fraud and abuse" concept.
How have term limits affected your job?
It surely does change the kind of assistance we provide to members, because there's so many new ones, and new staff. We spend a lot of time providing basic information about the way programs work. If you have members who have been around longer, you can take [the discussion] to a different level of what the problems are and the best ways to address them.
A New York Times story about the California budget process called you "the adult in the room."
I hate when they say something like that. We don't have to deal with the problems of getting 51% of a vote on a measure. We don't have to deal with all the really hard stuff of governing, so I think it was kind of an unfair description. There are lots of adults in the room. We've just been given this unique job.
Is the job harder with budget constraints, or is it just red ink instead of black?
The last four years we've been on nonstop budgeting, year-round budgeting. It's been a pretty tough four years.
Do you have counterparts in other states?
Most states have something similar. I was talking with my counterpart from Wisconsin. Can you imagine what he went through with what Wisconsin did in these changes in collective bargaining, and people walking out, and mobs of people [at] the Capitol for a long time? Based on experiences he related to me, I didn't envy what he went through.
What's your advice for voters as they approach the ballot?
That's a tough one. Just looking through the ballot, I sometimes get a little overwhelmed. Do I expect people to spend three or four hours on each [measure]? That's probably what you'd need if you wanted to have a really informed vote. That's why people look for shortcuts. They look at who's supporting it, who's against it, and I don't think that's always the best way to do it, because there's a lot of money being spent, [and] how much money is being spent doesn't necessarily speak to the policy-worthiness of it. You listen, and you try to triangulate.
How do you get your head out of numbers, or numbers out of your head?
When I go home at night, I'm ready to pick up some book of fiction or watch a TV show. I like mystery and crime novels because they're good stories and so different from what [I] do during the day.
This interview was edited and excerpted from a taped transcript. An archive of Morrison's interviews can be found at latimes.com/pattasks.