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Candidates Speak: State Controller

Lanhee Chen, Fiscal advisor/educator, chenforcalifornia.com

The Controller is California’s independent fiscal watchdog and the person who makes sure that taxpayer money is spent as we’re told it will be. But that’s not happening now. In fact, the Controller can’t even tell us where she sent over $300 billion in payments in 2018 alone.

With my experience in both business and government, and a strong belief in the values of fiscal responsibility, transparency and independence, it’s a job I know I can do well.

For too long, the Controller has been a Sacramento insider, valuing partisanship over competence. The Controller has been beholden to other politicians, defending them instead of fighting for taxpayers. That won’t be me. I’m not part of the one-party monopoly that has controlled Sacramento for too long. We aren’t going to change California by recycling the same old tired politicians from one job to another.

I am the only candidate in this race with the independence needed to be a true fiscal watchdog for California’s taxpayers who makes sure our money is spent wisely. Sacramento is wasting billions of dollars every year. As long as Controllers are from the same party as the politicians writing the checks, they’re going to be rubber stamps, providing little to no accountability.

As Controller, I will force Sacramento politicians to answer tough questions about the $20 billion in unemployment benefits sent to convicted felons and fraudsters, the billions spent each year on homelessness with dismal results, and the lack of a detailed accounting for the $300 billion in checks our state writes every year.

My background and experience will help me to bring a relevant and unique perspective to the Controller’s office. My wife and I are raising our two kids in the Bay Area, and we want to leave them with a California that’s better than the one we both grew up in. But for that to happen, it’s going to take new leadership that isn’t afraid to ask tough questions and demand results.

I love our state, but Sacramento can’t keep wasting so much of our hard-earned money. We need to spend smarter. I’ll make sure we do.

First, I will focus on protecting California taxpayers from fraud and wasteful spending. That means using the Controller’s audit power far more aggressively and frequently. The Controller is our state’s independent fiscal watchdog. I won’t need the legislature or governor’s permission to audit state spending or local programs using state funds. I intend to use this audit authority to delve into areas ranging from public education to infrastructure spending, areas that have not been examined carefully, in some cases, in decades.

Second, I will hold the Sacramento politicians accountable. For too long, we’ve had controllers who have been lapdogs for other elected officials rather than watchdogs for our state’s taxpayers. We need to hold policymakers accountable for their promises. This is particularly important as we consider the tens of billions of dollars in federal assistance and state funds that were supposedly spent to address challenges in K-12 education and public health in our state. How was this money actually spent? Californians deserve answers, and as Controller, I will finally make sure they get them.

Finally, I will ensure true transparency into our state finances and promote fiscal responsibility. The Controller’s Office was unable to disclose to the public where each one of the roughly 50 million payments it made — totaling over $300 billion in 2018 alone — went. We need a machine-readable, searchable, and accessible line-by-line database of state spending. California’s taxpayers deserve nothing less.

Betty Yee has served competently as Controller and exhibited an ability to be independent of other state elected officials at times. I also applaud her for sounding the alarm on some of the challenges in our tax system and the need for reform.

But I believe we would take fundamentally different approaches to the job. For too long, we’ve elected controllers who have been more interested in fitting into the one-party establishment in Sacramento than standing up for taxpayers first.

I would be far more aggressive in using the Controller’s audit authority to determine not only the whereabouts of state funds but also to look at the efficacy of some of our state’s biggest spending priorities. I would also look to bring complete and total transparency to the roughly $300 billion in checks the Controller’s office writes each year, something that Controller Yee has argued we do not have the technological capacity to do. Finally, I would use my seat on the two large public pension program boards — CalPERS and CalSTRS — to promote full transparency into our state’s long-term pension obligations and ensure that both funds are focused first on delivering promised benefits to current and future retirees, as well as serving as good stewards of taxpayer resources.

I am the only candidate for Controller who combines experience in policy-making, education and business with a strong belief in the values of fiscal responsibility, transparency and independence. I was raised in Southern California and am the son of immigrants from Taiwan. After attending my local public high school, I went on to earn four degrees from Harvard University, including a law degree and a doctorate in political science. I then had the honor of earning senior appointments in the federal government from both Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama.

For the last nine years, I have taught at Stanford University and conducted research at the Hoover Institution, a public policy think tank on campus. In my career, I have helped leaders in California and around the country develop policies to address some of our most pressing fiscal challenges, like improving our health care system, saving Social Security and growing our economy. My writings have appeared in America’s biggest newspapers, and I have frequently shared my ideas on television news programs across America.

I built my own small business, which provides advice on fiscal and other policy issues to leaders in the public and private sectors. I am an investor who works with entrepreneurs and innovators to help them grow their businesses and create jobs. And I’ve been chairman of the board of directors of a community health system in the Bay Area.

Together, I believe these experiences have prepared me well to be our state’s next Controller.

1 COMMENT

  1. I’m for a total change of leadership, top to bottom. But I have a hard time reconciling these two statements literally back to back.

    “The Controller’s Office was unable to disclose to the public where each one of the roughly 50 million payments it made — totaling over $300 billion in 2018 alone — went.

    Betty Yee has served competently as Controller and exhibited an ability to be independent of other state elected officials at times.”

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