Brooks Jackson, the former CNN reporter whose 1992 story on taxes under ex-Gov. Jerry Brown touched off a furor in this year's governor's race, acknowledged Saturday that he erred when he reported that taxes were higher at the end of Brown's eight-year term than when he took office.
"Brown is right," Jackson wrote in a post on FactCheck.org, an influential nonpartisan website that he now runs. "I made a mistake in my 1992 report."
Brown, the Democratic candidate for governor, has called on Republican Meg Whitman to yank a TV ad featuring an old videotape of former President Bill Clinton citing the CNN report and calling Brown a liar. At the time, Clinton was running against Brown in the Democratic presidential primary.
The Mercury News reported on its website Friday night that Jackson had picked the wrong base year -- fiscal year 1973-74 -- to make his comparison. He should have used fiscal year 1974-75, the last budget controlled by Brown's predecessor, Ronald Reagan.
Picking the wrong base year was a critical error because Reagan in his last year in office oversaw a huge tax increase. According to the state Department of Finance, taxes soared from $6.35 to $6.89 for every $100 of personal income between fiscal year 1973 and fiscal year 1974 -- an increase of 7 percent.
After Jackson, arguably the nation's most prominent fact-checker, checked his own story, he concluded: "I simply picked the wrong year for my comparison.''
Taxes under Brown went down from $6.89 to $6.56 per $100 of income, a 4.8 percent decrease.
The figures don't include the dramatic reductions in local property taxes triggered by Proposition 13, passed in 1978.
But Jackson didn't let Brown off the hook entirely, arguing that the gist of his report was true.
He noted that state taxes went up during four of Brown's eight years -- and that during six of those years, they were higher than before he took office. But, Jackson said, they were lower during his final two years.
"The point I was trying to make in 1992 remains valid," he wrote. "Brown's claims to have been a tax-cutting governor -- then and now -- need to be seen in context. As I said then, rising taxes in Brown's early years helped bring about a tax revolt."
It came in the form of Proposition 13, which Brown initially opposed and later championed, Jackson said.
Sterling Clifford, a spokesman for Brown, said he greatly appreciated the fact that Jackson took a second look at his story. But part of Jackson's analysis is still incorrect, Clifford said. "Proposition 13 wasn't a reaction to a rise in state taxes," he said. "It was a reaction to the soaring value of homes, which triggered increases in local property taxes."
Tucker Bounds, a Whitman spokesman, said Saturday that the campaign will not pull the controversial ad in which Clinton says of Brown: "CNN -- not me -- CNN says his assertion about his tax record was, quote, just plain wrong. He raised taxes as governor of California. He doesn't tell the people the truth."
Replied Clifford: "It's astounding that anyone who wants to be taken seriously as a candidate for governor would cling so ridiculously to an obvious falsehood."
Bounds, however, said the ad wasn't false, because if you take an average of Brown's eight years as governor the rate was $7.17 per $100 of personal income, compared with $6.89 when he took office in January 1975.
"It's an ironclad fact that Californians on average paid more in state taxes while Jerry Brown was governor than before he arrived, which FactCheck.org also illustrated today," Bounds said.
Contact Ken McLaughlin at 408-920-5552.