Californians should set aside partisanship and elect Lanhee Chen State Comptroller – Press Enterprise

As in the primary, for the November election, we endorse Lanhee Chen for California Comptroller. He would bring competence and independence to one of the most important offices in the state.

The State Comptroller is California’s official accountant.

He or she prepares reports on state finances and while the state auditor performs financial audits, the comptroller may also perform performance audits.

A major problem with this office under current Comptroller Betty Yee, which is time-limited, is its delay in producing the state’s comprehensive annual financial report.

The latest was submitted on February 2 for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2020 – over two years ago. All other States have already submitted their ACRF for the following year.

This is crucial because California state and local finances depend on accurate assessments of the government‘s fiscal position. For example, the latest ACFR reported an unrestricted net position of negative $208 billion.

These are liabilities – largely for unfunded state pensions and retiree health care – that every taxpayer in the state is responsible for.

Is the figure better for the 2020-21 financial year?

Should the state have used more of this year’s $97 billion surplus to pay off liabilities?

We don’t know because the numbers weren’t produced for analysis by lawmakers, the governor or the people of California.

Part of the problem is that the State Departments under Governor Gavin Newsom did not report quickly. “It’s a matter of political will,” Chen told us in an interview. “If the ACFR is not on time, this implies the rating of the state’s public finances.” This means that borrowing is more expensive, the additional cost borne by taxpayers.

He pointed out that if a family or business doesn’t keep its own financial records up to date, it could be hit with hefty fines by the IRS.

“The larger issue is the FI$Cal debacle,” he said, meaning the state’s struggles to complete its new, already $1 billion system to unify financial reporting in the 152 departments of the state.

“There’s no reason the controller can’t be a performance auditor,” Chen said. “He or she should go to Medi-Cal or some other department and look beyond the finances to see how well they are working.”

He also mentioned the Department of Employment Development, which during the pandemic lost $30 billion to fraud, while frustrating worthy unemployed Californians with months of waiting for help.

On whether he would politicize those audits, Chen, a Republican, said he would simply start with the five largest departments and then downsize.

After Medi-Cal, it would be prisons and public education. He said he would be independent and above all resist union pressure against such audits.

In a state where a recent World Population Review study found California to have the lowest literacy rate of any state, investigating why that performance is so low would be key to needed education reform.

Chen’s opponent, Democrat Malia Cohen, a member of the State Board of Equalization, is unlikely to make the necessary changes that Chen would.

Chen would be the controller the Golden State has needed for decades. That is why he has attracted support from across the political spectrum. That’s why it deserves your vote in November.

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