Brown's Criticism Hurts Candidacy Remarks on California's Economic Slump Ire Business

Article excerpt

AS America's most-watched governor's race for 1994 approaches its first curve - the June 7 Democratic primary - the lead rider is in danger of being bucked by her own bugle-cry.

After opening up a substantial 20- to 30-point lead over Gov. Pete Wilson last December, Democratic state treasurer Kathleen Brown watched the gap close as she stumbled amidst political gaffes and staff shakeups. In March, a new political image-maker was hired who created a slogan that has begun airing in statewide TV ads: "America's Best Treasurer To Revive America's Worst Economy."

Now with the primary date fast approaching, Ms. Brown is being taken to task by local and national economists for trying to capitalize on a state in fragile recovery and also misstating the facts.

"It is unfortunate that a major, American gubernatorial candidate is contributing to the polluting frenzy of misinformation about the California economy," says Phil Burgess, president of the Denver Center for the New West, a non-partisan, non-profit think tank that examines economic trends in the West.

Admitting that California has been through a tough recession - losing 600,000 to 800,000 jobs since 1990 - he says the state's overall economic strength alone would make it the world's seventh largest economy. The state still ranks in the top quarter in several indicators, he says, including high-tech growth, telecommunications, highway infrastructure, foreign trade, per capita income.

"Brown is trying to make political hay by making California sound like Arkansas, Mississippi, or Alabama ... Get serious!" Mr. Burgess says.

Joel Kotkin, a California-based economist for the Progressive Policy Institute in Washington, has taken issue with the Brown claim in print and broadcast. "California is not remotely the worst economy in the country," he says, citing the May issue of Inc. magazine indicating 33 of the nation's 100 fastest-growing companies are located here. "You don't have that much successful, entrepreneurial activity in a bottomed-out state."

The figures mentioned by the Brown camp to support its contention, are job losses, which currently push California's unemployment to 9.7 percent - well over the national average of 6.7. But those numbers are highly deceiving, Mr. Kotkin says, because they are based on previous labor participation rates that are up to 20 percent higher than states such as Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Vermont, and New York. …