For an example of what happens when a state does not have a competent Controller, look no further than Bell, California.
Bell is a small city in Los Angeles County with a population of ~40,000 (90% of whom are Latino), an average annual household income of $30,000, and an unemployment rate of 16%. Other than a brush with fame in 2000, when 55 Oscar statues were stolen off a trucking company loading dock in Bell, and thousands of missing Oscar ballots were discovered in a Bell post office, few people had ever heard of Bell before the Los Angeles Times blew the lid off of the obscene compensation structure for Bell city employees and elected officials. Bell's Chief Administrative Officer, Richard Rizzo, made an astonishing $1.5 million in salary and benefits last year; he and seven of his colleagues are in currently in trouble with the Attorney General, the Los Angeles District Attorney, and the FBI, for offenses including misappropriation of public funds, conflict of interest, and falsification of documents.
The scandal has inspired a closer examination of local government compensation across California. John Chiang, the incumbent Controller, responded to the scandal by requiring California cities to post salary information for officials and employees on the State Controller's Office website, as if transparency is a sufficient cure for corruption. Transparency certainly makes it possible for private citizens to detect malfeasance on the part of their elected officials, but it also puts private citizens in the position of having to become researchers and investigative reporters in order to ensure good government.
If John Chiang, the California Controller, had been doing his job, we wouldn't have needed the Los Angeles Times to reveal the corruption at the heart of Bell, and Californians wouldn't need to sift through data dumps on a government websites in our spare time in an attempt to ferret out government waste. John Chiang's boast of transparency is really a cynical act of delegation; here's all the information I should be looking at, if you think you can do a better job, have at it.
Meanwhile John Chiang knew or should have known about the outsized compensation structure in Bell, because the California Pension and Retirement System (CalPERS) knew about Bell's salary structure in 2006, and the Controller sits on the CalPERS board.
John Chiang has also stood in the way of Governor Schwarzenegger's attempts to use every tool available to him to ensure that California's budget is on time. Through a quirk in California law, if the California budget is late, the Governor has the authority to pay state employees federal minimum wage until the budget is signed. California has 240,000 active state employees, and the loss of pay would doubtless be disruptive if not devastating, but the threat of minimum wage also gives the Governor a very big stick.
Although the courts have affirmed that the Governor wields this stick, year after year the Controller has refused to implement the Governor's orders, claiming that his payroll systems are too antiquated. By putting the interests of California state employees before the interests of California as a whole, John Chiang has become a hero to the state employee unions and a recipient of generous union campaign contributions.
Meg Whitman is running for Governor, and promises to streamline state government if she is elected. She'll need a good Controller to help her accomplish that, but John Chiang has proven himself beholden to the public employee unions.
Real reform is impossible if John Chiang remains Controller, we need Tony Strickland. As CEO of EBay, Meg Whitman learned the value of a good Chief Financial Officer, which is why she tapped Strickland to run for Controller. In the State assembly, and now in the State Senate, Tony Strickland has compiled an honorable track record of pro-growth, pro-business policies that facilitate job creation and boost the economy without raising taxes. Tony Strickland recognizes that wasteful state spending is a dead weight on the economy, and will use the powers of the State Controller's Office to protect Californians by rightsizing state government.
Tony Strickland for California Controller.