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Tony Strickland: Controller Chiang defies governor

Guest Commentary

Posted: August 1, 2010 10:14 p.m.
Updated: August 2, 2010 10:52 a.m.

In the months leading up to an election, it becomes more difficult for candidates to bring forward any policy discussion without it being viewed in political terms — and rightly so. I welcome this scrutiny.

This is the most important time for candidates such as myself, and my opponent for the office of controller, John Chiang, to engage in serious public-policy discussions.

As a member of the state Senate and as someone who seeks to bring change to the Controller’s office, I look forward to having a number of respectful policy exchanges between Controller Chiang and myself. To that end, a recent spate of court decisions has thrust Chiang and his policies center stage and serves as a jumping-off point to begin the discussion.

To be sure, Chiang’s consultants have adroitly positioned his defiance of the governor’s minimum-wage order and the courts as a wedge to galvanize his powerful political supporters and divert discussion from what many view as a failure to lead.

One prevalent narrative out there is that Chiang’s refusal to implement the governor’s executive order is nothing more than another example of a politician doing the bidding of the government employee unions that spent millions to elect him. While I think it is fair, given Chiang’s action (or lack thereof) for eyebrows to be raised at the vast sum of contributions to his campaign from the unions, for my part I see a colossal mismanagement of taxpayer dollars as the real travesty here.

If one takes Chiang at his word, that his office simply cannot implement the governor’s ordered temporary pay reduction due to systematic technical issues, then he is going to answer an inconvenient $100 million question.

Chiang asserts that his defiance of the governor’s order and the law are due to the fact that his 1970s-era computer systems simply cannot process the payroll.  I’ve known John Chiang for more than 20 years, I like him and I want to believe him. Unfortunately, more technology experts and those with firsthand knowledge with the situation are coming forward to say that his Chiang’s explanation is simply not credible (some say it is political jujitsu).

Enough has now been revealed that I think Chiang should offer an explanation for spending what experts say is $100 million on a computer upgrade that has apparently not taken place.

On the day that Chiang was sworn in as state controller nearly four years ago, his office was already in possession of appropriated funds dedicated toward upgrading the state’s payroll system. The idea behind updating our computer system for a situation we now face was brought forward years before and became known as the 21st Century Project.

According to the Legislative Analyst’s Office, and as reported by The Associated Press, more than $130 million of taxpayer dollars have been appropriated for his office in order to upgrade the payroll system. In 2009, three years into the project, the LAO reported that the Chiang had spent nearly $70 million of this money, “with few tangible deliverables to show for this.”

Whether it’s $100 million or $70 million, the controller needs to tell us how he’s spent $100 million with nothing to show for it.

Finding waste in government is never good news for taxpayers or those of us working for reform. Unfortunately, it is not always difficult to find waste — occasionally, it takes something like this situation (if the governor had not ordered the pay reduction, would we know that the controller still could not comply or that $100 million had been wasted?) to bring waste into the sunlight, where it can be exposed.

All of us in leadership positions, which certainly includes my fellow state legislators on both sides of the aisle, need to redouble our effort to eliminate waste and inefficiencies in government.

The public rightfully demands accountability, and as elected leaders we owe it to them to make sure they get it.

Tony Strickland represents the 19th State Senate District and is the Republican nominee for State Controller. His column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal.


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