Mac Taylor, the nonpartisan legislative analyst, is deeply respected. And careful. The analyst and his office have a well-earned reputation for independent thinking, and for not taking sides.
In that context, it was interesting to hear Taylor speak forthrightly this week at a Sacramento conference put on by the Public Policy Institute of California. (Your blogger was on a panel at the conference, but not the same one as Taylor).
Taylor's sharpest comments came when he described the complexity of the budget system, including how hard it is to predict and understand the school funding guarantee, and when he talked about the state tax system.
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Taylor noted various problems with the tax system, and in particular its volatility. And then he added, in what sounded sharp to my ears at least, "It's only getting worse."
How so? Taylor then said a couple of things that wouldn't have made Gov. Jerry Brown terribly happy to hear (Brown wasn't there).
First, he noted that the changes in the balance between state and local government pursued by Brown, known as realignment, had made the state more dependent on the income tax -- and that dependence is the reason for that volatility, since income, particularly for wealthy taxpayers, can be volatile.
Taylor then also mentioned that voters are considering two measures that could add to that volatility. Those two measures are the hotly contested Propositions 30 and 38, each of which raise income taxes temporarily (though in different ways and for different time periods).
There was nothing untrue in what Taylor said. As Prop Zero readers know, the California budget system, built on complicated formulas, is truly getting worse (quite naturally, without anyone having to help it along).
But Taylor's words also felt unusually direct, and they come at a politically delicate time, when much of the state's political and media establishment is billing Prop 30 in particular as a necessary measure to save the state.
As the state's problems get, well, worse, keep a close eye on Taylor. And what his office says and does.