Howard Roth, a former aerospace engineer who became California’s chief state economist, was thrust into an uncomfortable spotlight when the recession tore a multibillion-dollar hole through the state’s budget. By all accounts, he handled his responsibilities with a steady hand, crafting his economic forecasts without any regard for politics.
Roth, 67, died Sunday at a care facility in Newport Beach. He had been suffering from Lewy body dementia, said his sister, Donna Sedelmyer.
A native of Erie, Pa., Roth worked in the banking industry for many years before becoming chief economist at the state Department of Finance in 2001. He delivered frequent economic forecasts and analyses for the department’s revenue estimators and the Governor’s Office. He also served as chief spokesman for state government when state and local unemployment statistics were released each month.
“He called it right down the middle; he never pulled punches,” said Mike Genest, who was the department’s director under former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
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Genest, now a consultant in Sacramento, said Roth understood the political implications of the forecasts he was making but never shied away from offering up his analysis. Roth’s tenure in Sacramento began during the tail end of the dot-com recession in 2001. When he retired in 2012, the state was just starting to come out of the recession created by the 2008 markets crash.
Roth served under three governors: Schwarzenegger, a Republican, and Democrats Gray Davis and Jerry Brown.
“No one ever looked at Howard as a political animal,” said Chris Thornberg, a prominent economic consultant in Los Angeles. “He told you where he stood.”
Dennis Meyers, an economist who worked for Roth at the Department of Finance for about a decade, said Roth was able to maintain an even temperament during good and bad economic times.
“He saw the reality of what was going on, wasn’t a Pollyanna,” said Meyers, who now works for Covered California. But Meyers said Roth didn’t become cynical. “His attitude was, ‘This too shall pass,’ ” Meyers said.
Added Tim Gage, another former Department of Finance director: “He called it as he saw it.”
Sedelmyer said Roth earned a bachelor’s degree in engineering from Case Western Reserve University in Ohio and went to work for General Dynamics in San Diego. He later received a master’s and doctorate in economics from the University of Michigan.
As an economist, he worked for the Federal Reserve in Kansas City before heading back to California, she said. He was an economist at Security Pacific Corp. and Bank of America in Southern California before becoming an economist with Freeman Associates Investment Management.
Roth is survived by his wife, Anne; two grown children, Michael and Rachael; and another sister, Barbara Blaley.