John Chiang for controller

CALIFORNIA’S BUDGET now comes in at more than $100 billion each year. With that kind of revenue and spending, even the tiniest mismanagement could cost millions of dollars and mean the difference between an efficiently run state and one that blunders from one fiscal crisis to the next. It’s in Californians’ best interests to get to know their controller, whose hands are on the state’s purse strings and who also has the important power to audit the workings of government.

Controller candidate: A photo caption in some editions of Thursday’s California section misidentified the Democratic candidate for state controller as Tony Chiang. His name is John Chiang. —

Of the two leading candidates for the low-profile job, Democrat John Chiang and Republican Tony Strickland, Chiang is the better choice. He chairs the state Board of Equalization, a post that steeps him in tax and financial policy. He has done a good job of going after tax cheats, while also reaching out to businesses to make sure they know how to comply with the law and aren’t needlessly overpaying. On a board that is carefully gerrymandered to assure that two Democrats and two Republicans fill the seats, Chiang has taken the lead role in keeping political peace. As controller, he would remain on the board as the tiebreaking vote, and his ability to seek a middle path between vigorous collections and taxpayer assistance would serve the state well.

Strickland, a former assemblyman from Ventura County, has vowed to audit aggressively and repeats one of the standard promises of candidates: He would be able to rescue California from its fiscal problems by identifying millions of dollars in waste and fraud.

The state budget no doubt hides plenty of waste, perhaps even fraud. But once in office, elected officials always seem to discover that problems are much more complex and require more knowledge and experience, less pontificating and posturing. Chiang would likely succeed more quickly, and more completely, because he has a better grounding in Sacramento’s administrative quirks and policy choices.

Chiang is a former tax lawyer for the Internal Revenue Service and previously served in the controller’s office as a tax attorney. His experience should help him to keep a careful eye on the state’s five infrastructure bond measures, should voters approve them, and to bring prudent oversight to the boards of the state’s two giant pension funds, and scores of other boards.

The Times urges a vote for Chiang on Nov. 7.