Elizabeth Hill has been California's nonpartisan legislative analyst for two decades, but she announced this week she will retire later this year. KPCC's Julie Small caught up with the woman affectionately called "The Budget Nun" in her Sacramento offices.
Elizabeth Hill: I've been in the position 22 years, I've been in the office 32 years, so this is my 32nd budget. And it's been a dream job for me. The Legislative Analyst's Office is really a unique place. We were the first office of this kind in the country. We were established in 1941. There have only been four legislative analysts in our 67 year history, and it's just time for me to enter the next phase of my life. My husband is retired, and so we're ready to take on some new challenges.
Julie Small: I wonder if you have any advice for your successor.
Hill: You know, I think the main advice I would have is to maintain the nonpartisanship, objectivity, integrity of the office, to be a level playing field for all 120 members of the state Legislature, so that they can rely on the office for information and advice to help them set the priorities for the state of California.
Small: There's a dance that goes on between the Legislature, the governor puts out a budget, and then you respond, and then they put out a counter-budget, and it's this thing that goes back and forth. What's the most important function you serve in that dance?
Hill: Well, I think being a fiscal advisor and trying to be sure that state government is running in a cost-effective, efficient way. So if we can find programs that aren't working as the Legislature intended, or are duplicative, or just giving them the sense of the overall fiscal picture, so that they know how the pieces fit together. What that also means, not only for the current budget, but for the future budgets, so that they can position the state well to serve the needs of California.
Small: Sometimes you're in the position of kind of punching holes in the rose-colored glasses.
Hill: (laughs) That's our job, and that's what we have been paid to do, and fortunately, throughout our 67 years of history, the Legislature's found that service to be valuable and important.
Small: So there's, I gotta ask you: when they start calling you the budget nun?
Hill: (laughs) You know, I don't honestly remember. I think it's been somewhere in the last 10 years. I'm not even sure who quite coined the phrase. We do certainly try to speak truth, and we try to give it in a factual manner, and that's what we're charged to do. But I'm not Catholic, and so I'm not really sure how the name has stuck. (laughs)