Former reporter, Calif. finance dept. say Brown lowered taxes

Jessica M. Karmasek Sep. 13, 2010, 11:00am


SACRAMENTO (Legal Newsline) - A claim in a Meg Whitman television ad saying state taxes went up when her Democratic gubernatorial opponent Jerry Brown was previously governor is false, according to the California Department of Finance and a former CNN reporter.

Former eBay CEO Whitman on Thursday launched a new 30-second commercial that features former President Bill Clinton attacking her now opponent, Brown.

The ad uses a clip of Clinton assailing Brown, California's current attorney general, for his tax record during a 1992 presidential primary debate.

The commercial features the former two-term president accusing Whitman's Democratic opponent of lying about cutting taxes during his previous stint as the state's governor.

"CNN. Not me, CNN says his assertion about his tax record was, quote, 'just plain wrong.' Jerry Brown went out there and took credit for the fact that the people of California voted for Proposition 13, which lowered taxes, which he opposed. And now he's going around taking credit for it," Clinton says in the April 1992 C-SPAN clip.

"He raised taxes as governor of California. He had a surplus when he took office and a deficit when he left. He doesn't tell the people the truth."

H.D. Palmer, a spokesman for the state's finance department, told The Los Angeles Times over the weekend that overall state taxes went down, not up, during Brown's previous tenure from 1975-1983.

"Taxes went down, by this yardstick, yes," he said, adding that the figures are the result of an impartial, nonpartisan analysis of the data.

"The data you have in front of you does not have an R suffix or a D suffix after them. The Department of Finance calculated these numbers in a consistent manner over Republican and Democratic administrations," Palmer told the Times.

Palmer told the newspaper that CNN apparently used the wrong years for its analysis.

Brown took office in January 1975, midway through the 1974-75 fiscal year. The first budget under his command covered the 1975-76 fiscal year. The CNN report appeared to use the 1973-74 year as its baseline.

Meanwhile, the former CNN journalist who reported that "California state taxes went up while Brown was governor, not down," is now admitting he was wrong.

The reporter, Brooks Jackson, now the founder and current director of, wrote in a feed on his company's website that he "made a mistake" in his 1992 report.

"The issue is whether taxes went up or down during Brown's previous time as governor, starting in January 1975 and ending in January 1983," Jackson wrote. "Most of what I said back in 1992 remains true. I was critiquing Brown's claim -- in a TV spot he was running during his presidential primary campaign -- that he had 'cut taxes for working people.'

"I said that 'inflation pushed state taxes up' during Brown's early years, 'helping create a tax revolt.' I also said at the time that 'Brown then supported cuts.' All that remains true. But I was wrong when I said that 'state taxes were still higher' during his last year than when he began. In fact, they were a bit lower," Jackson wrote.

Jackson, in the feed, admits he "simply picked the wrong year" for his comparison.

"Brown took office Jan. 6, 1975. My CNN report compared the Brown years to taxes in fiscal year 1973-74, the last full fiscal year that preceded Brown's inauguration. But the state's fiscal year starts July 1, and I should have taken fiscal year 1974-75, the last year for which Gov. Ronald Reagan was responsible," he wrote.

In light of the findings, Brown's campaign has asked Whitman to stop airing the false ad, but her campaign told the Times it has no plans to do so.

From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by e-mail at

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