California Dolphin: statewide California news

Editorial: Betty Yee the only qualified option for state controller

When it comes to paying the state’s bill, keeping the books and auditing government expenditures, there’s only one candidate on the ballot qualified to be California’s controller: Betty Yee.
Don’t misunderstand. This isn’t a full-throated embrace of her candidacy. It’s a recognition that the other two candidates in the race are unprepared for the assignment.
Republican Konstantinos Roditis, founder of a Southern California cab company, and Peace and Freedom Party candidate Mary Lou Finley, a retired special education assistant, lack the skills to run the critical state agency of about 1,300 employees. Neither has experience in state government and neither has the financial background to take on a job of this magnitude.
California State Controller Betty Yee (AP Photo/Ben Margot, File)
The controller also serves on about 70 boards and commissions, including those overseeing the Franchise Tax Board, Board of Equalization and the nation’s two largest public employee pension funds, CalPERS and CalSTRS.
Yee, a Democrat, has decades of budget, finance and policy experience in Sacramento.  She wasn’t our pick for the job in 2014 when she narrowly made the runoff before beating Republican Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin in the general election.

Click here for a complete list of our election recommendations.  

But she has been a competent leader. And she’s thinking about some of the state’s most pressing issues, among them the strong likelihood that the state’s highly volatile tax revenues will shrink rapidly in the next economic downturn, which is overdue.
It’s “what keeps me up at night,” Yee says. “The timing is right to talk about comprehensive tax reform.” She’s absolutely right. Now she needs to use the bully pulpit of her office to push state legislators and the new governor to act.
Most agree that the state is overly dependent on income taxes to balance its books. The problem has worsened under Gov. Jerry Brown, who increased the state’s dangerous reliance.
Yee should also lead the push to shore up our badly underfunded public employee pension funds, especially the California Public Employees’ Retirement System.
CalPERS at the end of last year had only about 71 percent of the funds it should have. The next economic downturn could leave it in a precarious financial position.
Yee is a strong defender of traditional pensions, which provide predictable monthly income to retirees until their deaths. We fundamentally agree.
The question is how large those pensions should be and how they should be funded. Pension plans across the state, and nation, are in a pickle because they have offered benefits they can’t afford and banked on unrealistically high investment return forecasts rather than requiring adequate contributions.
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It’s here that Yee gets squishy. She supports Brown’s Supreme Court challenge to the state’s pension vesting rules that lock state and local governments into unaffordable benefits.
But she continues to cling to CalPERS unrealistic assumptions that it will earn 7 percent annually, even though the system’s consultants forecast only 6.2 percent over the next decade. It’s disappointing, especially coming from the state controller.
This year, Yee is clearly the only viable alternative voters have. We hope, in her second term, that she’ll step up on these key issues.

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