The poor guy. I’m lucky; I was born to the Thompson family, and have been around “Americans” all my life. So even though I might be pretty far down the alphabetical roll call, everybody pretty much gets my name right. Not the Treasurer of the State of California, however. His family came from Taiwan, and in the Meet ‘n Greet lunch, we were gifted with a story from the Chiang (pronounced “Chung”) family. John Chiang’s father came to this country in the early 1950’s with very little; a few pairs of pants, a couple of jackets and a hundred bucks ($940 adjusting for the most recent inflation figures, according to the Treasurer). John remembers growing up in Chicago, and discussing his education, with his father pushing for skills and certificates that would yield a steady paycheck.
That is exactly what he ended up with, too. A degree in Finance (Univ. of So. Florida) and another in Law (Georgetown) pretty much fulfilled his promise to Dad that his education would support he and his family. In fact, during Mr. Chiang’s speech, he kept returning to the process that shaped his own life; rising from a very humble beginning to a very “fortunate” position as the person who pays the bills for the most populous state in the nation, one that has literally Trillions of dollars of checks written every year. The Office of the Treasurer is responsible for paying those bills, and making sure they don’t “bounce.” More on that later, but the emphasis we heard in forty minutes of eloquent and informative speech was that the ‘American Dream’ should again be available in California, instead of being limited to Canadians and the Dutch, as it is today.
Sadly, as the Treasurer sees it, the path from the bottom twenty percent to the top twenty percent, is not easily traveled, and that, more than anything else, is the basis of the ‘American Dream.’ The disastrous events that led to the economic collapse of 2008/2009 were felt even more acutely in California, since they arrived almost immediately after then Gov. Schwarzenegger signed an ambitious budget – one that relied on predictions of income the State would never see. A budget that caused then Controller John Chiang to issue IOUs instead of checks, and delays to the school system. But as any smart financial expert knows, keeping your credit rating out of the trash can means enormous savings in the future, and that’s exactly what John Chiang did. California’s recovery in terms of jobs, tax base, budget and other measures of economic health, has been due to a great deal of effort by a large number of people, and rather than calling him “Debbie Downer,” as the OLD Governor did, our Treasurer is prized for his insight, forward thinking and dedication to that ‘American Dream.’
Touching on budget distribution, Treasurer Chiang reminded the audience that our single greatest expense is education – that delivering a quality K-14 education to today’s AND tomorrow’s kids is the best investment in the future of every Californian, not just members of the Chiang family. The second greatest expense is the care of our elderly and sick; that the huge percentage of people eligible for Medicaid and Medicare is a factor we can’t possibly ignore. Since our state’s income relies most on income taxes and sales taxes, the smart finance person works to make it easy to get a job and easy to run a business. That, in a nutshell, is the goal of our State Treasurer.
Business applications should be easier and not rely on endless forms that are filled out by hand.
State programs for both individuals and businesses should be linked to those who need them easily.
State banking should be easier and less labor intensive (mostly accomplished already).
Investment in our future should be done with a RETURN on investment in mind (like a bullet train that delivers a better workforce not convenience travelers or casual shoppers) and should attract private sector investors if it is truly a good investment.
The Treasurer reminded us that technology is a fact in our future, and will be a factor in our handling of it. We can embrace its benefits, understand its capabilities and limitations, or we can remain ignorant of it and resist applying it in favor of traditional and less effective methods. Educating our future leaders, workers and administrators in its use will require those extra years; you simply should start saying “K-14” now, since the old “K-12” isn’t going to get the job done.
John Chiang met with a representative from China on Mother’s Day, and will do so again this week, since globalization is also a fact we can’t ignore. Handled correctly, the forces from other countries can improve our lot in California. Treasurer Chiang knows this. The same can be said of the choices we make regarding our roads, how cleanly we produce our ever increasing levels of energy, how transparent our flow of cash is made, how well our youth are trained to help, and where we find the administrators of our State and its future. We make these choices wisely and prosper; slowly or without sufficient, accurate information, and we don’t prosper. John Chiang knows this as well, and is prepared to use every tool at his disposal to make it come true.
He humbly didn’t respond to the now common question of his candidacy for the office of Governor, but it is people like Treasurer John Chiang we look to for expert guidance in the years ahead. It was our pleasure to offer him a lifetime membership in our Club and to thank him for his continued service to our community and our State. We know a good investment when we see one, too.
Glen Thompson – Vice President,
Mountain Bears Democratic Club