State controller – like most of the down-ticket executive offices in California – should be an appointed position, not an elected position. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t matter.
It’s an important position. The duties include being the state’s chief fiscal officer, maintaining control on all receipts, payments and balances in state funds; monitoring bonded indebtedness; reporting on the financial condition of the state; apportioning revenues to local governments; serving on more than 70 boards and commissions (including the Board of Equalization, Franchise Tax Board, CalPERS, and CalSTRS); conducting audits and reviews of state operations.
Didn’t realize the controller did all that? Well, powerful interests in California didn’t want you to know. They’ve been successful at electing competent officials to the job who won’t use their power to rock the boat.
That’s too bad, because a determined controller could be a huge force for change in California. She could use their position and leverage to try to force changes in the state budget process and in the tax system – both of which, despite today’s surpluses, remain badly broken. A controller also could expose financial misbehavior.
(Fortunately, a controller can no longer stop lawmakers from being paid.
Ideally, an aggressive investigator type in the minority party would hold the office – and use its power to ask hard questions and hold the majority party’s feet to the fire.
The Republicans seem to have a strong candidate for the job, at least politically, in Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin. But it’s unclear whether she has the fiscal and investigative chops to tap the full power of the position.
This fall, that may be the race most worth watching.