Assembly Speaker Willie Brown (D-San Francisco) has ended months of uncertainty and quietly granted a reprieve to the Legislature’s watchdog staff of fiscal advisers, it was learned Thursday.
In an unpublicized action, Brown agreed to provide $1.7 million as the Assembly’s half of the proposed $3.4-million budget needed to keep the office of the legislative analyst in business for at least one more year.
The Senate had set aside its share, but Brown’s delay in committing the Assembly had cast doubt on whether the nonpartisan agency would survive.
Assemblyman John Burton (D-San Francisco) said Thursday that Brown agreed last week to finance the nonpartisan fiscal advisers for another year. The message was conveyed to an Assembly Ways and Means subcommittee, which wrote the sum into the state budget, an action that virtually assures survival of the office after July 1.
For more than half a century, the politically independent office of the legislative analyst, now directed by Elizabeth G. Hill, has been credited with saving taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars through its tightfisted recommendations to the Legislature.
Chief among its tasks is examining the governor’s proposed budget with a view toward making programs less costly and more effective.
In 1990, voters approved an initiative imposing term limits and cutting the Legislature’s budget 38%. Because the legislative analyst was included under the overall legislative budget, its funding was jeopardized. The payroll of the analyst has been cut 55% since 1990.
An initiative last year would have spared the legislative analyst by setting up funding independent of the Legislature, but the measure failed at the polls.
Brown’s delay in committing to finance the analyst raised fears that he intended to abandon the agency in favor of preserving the jobs of other employees, including committee consultants and aides to members.
But Burton dismissed such notions. “I read all this b.s. in the press and I went to Willie and said: ‘You got a problem?’ He said: ‘Of course not. The only thing I want Liz (Hill) to do is come in with a (budget) proposal.’ She did.”
Burton said Brown had not committed himself sooner because “he just wanted, in effect, to take a look at what the Assembly had to spend on various programs.” He said Brown then agreed to Hill’s plan to finance the office next year at the level it now receives.