Applicant

Controller

Applicant Malia Cohen is asking you to hire her for the role of controller, which pays $174,843 per year. Her resume:

Malia Cohen

Chairperson, California Board of Equalization

Professional Profile

Malia Cohen’s bid for controller might look a little familiar: She’s a Democrat campaigning for the position after serving on the California Board of Equalization, like current Controller Betty Yee, who is in her second term and can’t run again due to term limits. 

Cohen presided over the San Francisco Board of Supervisors for eight years representing the 10th District – a position previously held by Mayor London Breed. Cohen advocated for police reform, took on the tobacco and soda industries and created a program to address inequities in the cannabis industry. Cohen drew national attention in 2015 when her defense of San Francisco’s “sanctuary city” policy toward undocumented immigrants prompted Fox News commentator Bill O’Reilly to call for her arrest.

Cohen says she’s uniquely qualified for this position because of that hands-on experience with state finances, as an elected official and in local government – but also because of her life experience as a woman of color. She vows to be an inspiring example, to take a bigger policymaking role and also to make sure state money isn’t wasted so it gets to the neediest Californians. At the same time, she pledges to bring a more collaborative approach to the job, consulting with fellow Democratic leaders before issuing reports to the public.

Her platform involves using the controller’s office to address inequities. During her campaign, that has meant speaking out against the U.S. Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade, and calling on Lanhee Chen, her Republican opponent in November, to make his views on abortion rights clearer.

Experience

Chairperson, California Board of Equalization 

2019–present

Elected by the board unanimously to serve as chairperson in 2018, Cohen represented 10 million residents in District 2, which stretches from Del Norte County to Santa Barbara County.

The first African-American woman to serve on the board.

Board of Supervisors, city and county of San Francisco

2011-2019 

Board president in 2018 and chairperson of the Budget and Finance Committee, and as a fiduciary member of the San Francisco Transportation Authority.

Led the effort to transform the city’s Office of Citizen Complaints into the Department of Police Accountability, which gave it authority to investigate police shootings and to ban the use of chokeholds by police officers.

As chairperson of the San Francisco Employee Retirement System led the effort to divest $100 million from fossil fuels.

Founder and consultant, Power Forward

Started her own social media and public policy consulting firm after she was fired from another consulting job. Cohen wrote blog posts, op-ed pieces and editorials for clients.

References

  • Current Controller Betty Yee
  • California Democratic Party 
  • Unions, unions, unions – including the California Federation of Teachers, the California Nurses Association and the California Labor Federation
  • Emily’s List
  • Equality California

Fun Fact

Cohen is the oldest of four sisters, and says her first leadership experience was organizing Mother’s Day, Father’s Day and birthday gifts. She was born to be in politics, she jokes.

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“I believe in the future of California. I think that we need to have more diversity. I think we need to have more conversations about equity, what that looks like in the distribution of tax dollars.”

Media Endorsements

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Here’s where Malia Cohen, applicant for controller, stands on the big questions about California’s budget, pensions and taxes. Answers are from a sit-down interview:

Key Topics
Where Malia Cohen Stands on the Issues
Budget
Economy
Taxes
Pensions

While the state budget is awash in surplus cash, the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office and other watchdogs have repeatedly questioned whether all that money is being spent wisely or effectively.

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Which areas of the state budget would you focus on to make sure spending is effective?

The Employment Development Department, corrections agencies, the homeless initiatives. “I’d like to know if we’re spending good money. Are we throwing good money after bad?”

What specific strategies would you employ to prevent waste and fraud?

Legislative hearings with all the stakeholders, audits. “And then I would come back and make public my findings and if there are recommendations, make the recommendations.”

Even though the economy is rebounding from COVID, California still has among the nation’s highest jobless rates and hasn’t recovered all the jobs lost. Experts say the pandemic widened the gap between California’s rich and poor in some ways, despite unprecedented direct relief.

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Would you support another broad stimulus payment? What about the gas tax rebate?

“No, I don’t have a position on either one of the policy options….Just find a way… to get those checks to Californians as quickly and as efficiently as possible, ensuring that there isn’t any fraud, any loss or anyone receiving money when they don’t qualify.”

The pandemic has highlighted how much the state relies on the wealthy for tax revenues that are fueling record budget surpluses — and raised again the issue of whether the tax system needs an overhaul. Conversely, some progressives are pushing to increase taxes on the rich.

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Do you support any changes in income taxes or sales taxes to account for the shift to a service economy?

“I do believe that we are moving towards a gig economy. I do think there does need to be some sort of a restructuring of economic power and empowerment. Otherwise, I think that we will continue to see wage gaps growing, we will see a growing poor class.”

Do you support a “wealth tax” or increases on tax rates on upper-income residents? If so, what would the revenue be used for?

“I have supported a wealth tax in the past, particularly coming out of San Francisco. and that wealth tax was more geared and centered around property….Voters passed an initiative that I was supportive of.”

In the short term, Gov. Gavin Newsom and legislators are urging the state’s two huge public employee pension funds to divest from Russia over its invasion of Ukraine. In the longer term, CalPERS and CalSTRS both face huge amounts of unfunded debt, forcing them to consider riskier investments in search of higher returns.

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How would you reduce the unfunded debts of CalPERS, CalSTRS and local governments?

“State employees that have worked really hard, teachers that have worked really hard, I do believe that they should be able to retire and to count on their retirement. But I don’t think we can naively continue being blind and relying on the robust state government or the robust budget and the governor to continue to pay the unfunded liability.”

Do you think the state should divest from Russian companies or funds due to the Ukraine war?

“Divestment is always a hot issue, and it’s an issue that I think that we have to be thoughtful and judicious about….There are many ways to begin to register your protests before a full divestment….I don’t know how much money is invested into Russia.”

Would you change any specific investment policies of CalPERS or CalSTRS?

“I don’t have a deep understanding of exactly their pension strategy. I haven’t met with anyone so I don’t have anything to offer in terms of change today.”