John Chiang is the best choice to be the state’s next treasurer. He knows the intricacies of budgets and has learned, sometimes the hard way, how to approach some very difficult financial questions confronting the state.
Chiang, a Democrat and an attorney, is termed out as the state’s controller and seeks to replace Bill Lockyer, who also is termed out.
The job Chiang has been doing the past eight years, controller, involves oversight of the state’s spending. Essentially, he is the state’s bookkeeper – a job he took seriously and did well.
The job Chiang wants, treasurer, is more like the state’s personal banker. He invests the state’s assets and establishes oversight boards for a wide variety of state projects, from building schools and prisons to cleaning up the environment.
Based on Chiang’s performance as controller, he ought to be a steady and honest steward of the state’s finances. Chiang is a low-key figure who rarely is seen in the Capitol. We’d prefer he become more engaged in the give and take of state government and politics and offer his advice and expertise where it might be helpful. As treasurer, that’s a necessity.
Chiang’s opponent is Republican Greg Conlon, a businessman who headed the California Public Utilities Commission during Gov. Pete Wilson’s tenure. He is running with little support or funding.
As treasurer, Chiang would act as the state’s banker and manage its assets. In short, the treasurer is responsible for protecting taxpayer money and making sure it is invested wisely.
Like the controller, the treasurer sits on the boards of the state’s two major pension funds – the California Public Employees’ Retirement System and the California State Teachers’ Retirement System.
During a budget impasse at the start of Gov. Jerry Brown’s tenure, Chiang wrongly interpreted a voter-passed initiative about balanced budgets and docked legislators’ pay; they sued and won in appellate court.
Legislators viewed his actions as a cheap political stunt. We’re not certain that was the case. We prefer to see it as an effort to guard taxpayer funds, which is his job.
Our biggest concern with Chiang is also the most recent. As a CalPERS board member, he voted recently to, in effect, allow pension spiking for many state employees – a measure that crossed Brown and local governments and undeniably increased the state’s pension liability. He’s supposed to be finding ways to reduce pension costs, not increase them. Such a vote, taken in September, leads us to no other conclusion than it was a political manuever. It was disappointing.
Other treasurers, Lockyer among them, have been career politicians and have used the position to champion significant legislation or initiatives.
Chiang told The Bee’s editorial board the offices of controller and treasurer are so similar they could be combined. We like the idea. He should devote some energy to making that happen.