A Wall Street public finance expert who says analyzing California’s fiscal condition was the “defining passion” of his career is the state’s new legislative analyst. He is Gabriel Petek, 47, who until recently was Standard and Poor’s chief credit analyst covering California from an office in San Francisco.
Patek’s career trajectory is unusual: He has had no direct experience in California’s Capitol, although he has been a respected outside adviser.
His position, although largely unknown to the general public, is one of the most powerful, important and stable in state government.
The LAO has been the Legislature’s adviser on fiscal and public policy matters since 1941.
Petek will head the Legislative Analyst’s Office, or LAO, and he will be only its sixth leader since the office was created 78 years ago. One of his predecessors, A. Alan Post, served 28 years in the job, from 1949 to 1977, while another, Elizabeth Hill, served 22 years, from 1986 to 2008.
The legislative analyst is the Legislature’s nonpartisan fiscal adviser, advising lawmakers on budget issues, ballot initiatives, economic projections and dozens of fiscal policy proposals. The operative word here is “nonpartisan,” a role that is drilled into the LAO’s DNA. (An old joke in the Capitol is that when an LAO staff member has a baby, its first words are, “On the other hand.”
The LAO was the first such office in the United States, and it inspired others states — and the federal government — to create similar operations, including the 1974 establishment of the Congressional Budget Office.
Petek’s appointment is a departure from the practice of appointing the legislative analyst from the ranks of those serving in the office. He succeeds Mac Taylor, who was with the Legislative Analyst Office (LAO) for 40 years and served in the top role since 2008, the same year that Petek started covering California.
The LAO has been the Legislature’s adviser on fiscal and public policy matters since 1941, issuing periodic updates on everything from the status of the Salton Sea to the impact on California of the 2020 Census. Currently, the office has a staff of 43 analysts and approximately 13 support staff.
“Given the importance of the research that the LAO does for the Legislature, it is critical to have someone with a strong economic background directing the office.” — Holly Mitchell
The Joint Legislative Budget Committee appointed Petek Jan. 16 on a unanimous bipartisan vote after what the committee described as “a bipartisan, bicameral nationwide search.”
““We chose Gabriel Petek because we believe that he has both a deep understanding of the state’s budget and fiscal situation, and the ability to assist us in making economic and policy decisions that will best serve the people of California,” Committee chairwoman Holly Mitchell, D-Culver City, said in a written statement.
“Given the importance of the research that the LAO does for the Legislature, it is critical to have someone with a strong economic background directing the office,” said Assemblyman Jay Obernolte, (R-Big Bear Lake), a Committee member.
Petek was “S&P’s primary analyst covering California from 2008 until I resigned in January 2019,” he wrote Capitol Weekly in an email. “This period spanned the Great Recession and its aftermath. While this was a difficult time for the state, it’s no exaggeration to say analyzing California’s fiscal condition, first under those stressful conditions and then as it recovered, became the defining passion of my career.”
He also wrote that he was “thrilled about the opportunity to broaden the scope of my analysis, so it encompasses California’s financial sustainability and program effectiveness for the benefit of the Legislature and all Californians, not just those who lend the state money.”
Like Taylor, Petek has a cautious attitude toward California’s future fiscal fortunes, citing the “volatility” inherent in the state’s dependence on high-income taxpayers.
Petek holds a master’s degree in Public Policy from Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government. He has a BA, magna cum laude, in political science from Loyola Marymount University. He completed part of his undergraduate work at the London School of Economics and Political Science, where he was a Hansard Scholar. The Hansard Society describes itself as an organization that works “in the UK and around the world to promote democracy and strengthen parliaments.” The Society organizes study programs at the London School of Economics and internships in Westminister.
Petek is not entirely without experience in governmental service, having worked as a budget analyst in Boston’s Office of Budget Management. He is a registered Democrat.
Petek’s resume is impressive: He is a Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) designation and is an active member of the CFA Society of San Francisco. He has served as an adviser to the analyst’s Committee on Governmental Budgeting and Fiscal Policy. He is a member of the National Federation of Municipal Analysts (NFMA) and has served as chairman of the board of the California Society of Municipal Analysts, the local affiliate of the NFMA.
The LAO has a long record of cautious, careful advice to elected officials and is not noted for flamboyance.
Post is still remembered by Capitol old timers. One legend has it that Post, presented with a bowl of roasted peanuts, ate just one of them.