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Sacramento bids goodbye to veteran budget advocate

March 16, 2012 | 11:44 am

Jean RossJean Ross started her last annual conference as executive director of the California Budget Project with a speech on economic inequality. Hours later, during the Thursday event’s luncheon, she was in the back of the banquet room, taking pictures and collecting audience questions.

Her dual roles as chief spokesman and workhorse showcased her wide-ranging effect as the California Budget Project’s first executive director, where she became one of the most recognized voices on budget issues in the state during her 17-year tenure.

“Some of us never imagined Jean and the California Budget Project would not be synonymous forever and ever,” said Paul Rosenstiel, chairman of the Sacramento-based nonprofit’s board of directors.

But at the end of the month she’s leaving to work for the Ford Foundation in New York, leaving a trail of tributes from left-leaning politicians who often cited her analysis of state policies during California’s budget wars.

In a speech during Thursday’s conference, Senate Budget Chairman Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) said with a smile that “many of the facts and figures I’m sharing today I learned from Jean Ross.”

Because of restrictions on the number of terms lawmakers can serve, Ross has been in Sacramento longer than many of the politicians she’s advised. Assemblywoman Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles) said that’s allowed her to have greater influence than most Californians realize.

“They may not know your name. They may not have cast a vote for you,” she said. “But you may have had more of an impact on the residents of California in this term-limited environment.”

Ross won respect from political opponents as well. Jon Coupal, president of the anti-tax Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Assn., called her a “champion for higher taxes and bigger government” but praised her contributions to Sacramento politics.

“Jean has always been professional and easy to work with,” he said. “Even though we are ideological opposites, I’ve always found her pleasant to talk to and she has added a lot to the intellectual debate on budget issues.”

Near the end of Thursday’s event, Steve Coony of the treasurer’s office presented Ross with a gift: a plant called an old-fashioned bleeding heart, a riff on her social advocacy.

Said Coony, “With Jean leaving for New York, this town will be a little meaner and a lot dumber.”

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-- Chris Megerian in Sacramento
Twitter.com/@chrismegerian

Photo: Jean Ross holds a New Yorker magazine cover poking fun at politicians and taxes last year. Credit: Dave Getzschman / Los Angeles Times

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