Applicant

Fiona Ma

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Applicant Fiona Ma is asking you to hire her for the role of treasurer, which pays $174,843 per year. Her resume:

Fiona Ma

State treasurer

Professional Profile

Fiona Ma has served as California’s treasurer since 2018 — the first woman of color in the role. She’s also voiced interest in running for governor

During her tenure, she led the sale of $20 billion in state debt, which financed many building projects that created thousands of construction jobs and saved taxpayers $1.8 billion. Ma has been outspoken in her support for increasing diversity on corporate boards, constructing high-speed rail to Las Vegas and divesting from fossil fuels


But her time as treasurer hasn’t been without controversy. A former employee has accused Ma of sexual harassment and wrongful termination for declining her advances. In a May interview with the San Diego Union-Tribune editorial board, Ma said it was a “frivolous” lawsuit by a former disgruntled employee. The employee also alleges that Ma accepted “improper gifts” from Sacramento-area businessmen. Ma has denied the allegations. 

In 2020, Ma’s office narrowly avoided losing nearly $457 million in state funds after a deal for N95 masks early in the COVID pandemic turned out to be fraudulent. It was only after two banks flagged the transaction that it was canceled.

Ma also came under scrutiny for supporting 2021 legislation that would help Santa Ana police union President Gerry Serrano count his union salary toward his pension and boost his retirement benefits. The union contributed to Ma’s reelection campaign. Serrano had previously been criticized by Santa Ana officials for seeking improper use of public money.

Despite the controversies, Ma has the state Democratic Party’s support and is widely expected to win.

Prior to her current role, Ma was a member of the state Board of Equalization, where she pushed for online retailers to collect sales taxes from third-party sellers to help brick-and-mortar retailers compete — which increased state revenues by between $431 million and $1.8 billion a year. She also advocated for taxing e-cigarettes and led efforts to regulate the cannabis industry.

Ma first got involved in public service in 1994, when she was elected president of the Asian Business Association, advocating at San Francisco City Hall and the state Capitol on behalf of minority business owners. She also served as a delegate to the White House Conference on Small Business. In 1995, she was appointed to the Assessment Appeals Board by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. She won election to the board in 2002 and then to the state Assembly in 2006. 

Experience

California state treasurer

2018-present

As treasurer, Ma oversees the state’s Pooled Money Investment Account, investing money on behalf of the state and local jurisdictions; serves on many boards and commissions, including the state’s two largest public pension funds (the California Public Employees’ Retirement System and California State Teachers’ Retirement System); and assesses the financial needs of the state’s public works projects. 

Member, California Board of Equalization

2014-2018

Represented nearly 10 million people across 23 counties.

As chairperson, ordered three external audits of the board, which led to reforms addressing nepotism and restructuring to increase the board’s efficiency.

In addition to implementing e-cigarette and online sales taxes, advocated for tax relief to businesses that suffer losses from a natural disaster

Member, state Assembly

2006-2012

Served as speaker pro tempore from 2010 to 2012.

As an Assemblymember, she authored 60 bills that were signed into law, including legislation to ban toxic chemicals in baby products; to strengthen protections for victims of domestic violence, consumers and working families; and one to help prevent the spread of Hepatitis B.

Member, San Francisco Board of Supervisors

2002-2006

Championed a campaign to end human trafficking in massage parlors and to close prostitution rings.

Led an effort to create a program to empower small businesses and those owned by women and people of color to participate in public works projects.

Certified public accountant

1992-present

Accountant, Ernst & Whinney

1989-1993

Worked in the real estate tax group for what is now Ernst & Young, one of the “big four” accounting firms.

Fun Fact

Ma’s 2021 Christmas card, with her husband and three dogs, attracted a lot of attention.“We were trying to make something that looked like a Sears family photo from the ’80s, so I pitched it and said, ‘It’s going to be weird, but gloriously weird,'” her husband told SFGate in December.

“One of the main lessons I learned is that if you don’t like the ceiling you’re working under, build your own house.”

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Here’s a look at where Fiona Ma stands on the most pressing issues she would face in office.

Key Topics
Where Fiona Ma Stands on the Issues
Budget
Economy
Taxes
Pensions
Housing/homelessness

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?

Housing. My priority is making it more efficient and cost-effective to meet Gov. Newsom’s goal of building 3.5 million homes by 2025. Under my leadership, we have sold bonds that fund the CalVet Home Loan Program that helps veterans buy a home. We also embarked on our first student housing project at Santa Rosa Community College, and plan to build more student/faculty housing at other community college sites. My office also administered the study for the “California Dream for All” loan fund that will help provide gap funding for first-time homebuyers who need assistance making down payments. 

Even though the economy is rebounding from COVID, California still has the nation’s highest jobless rate 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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Do you support a further increase in the state minimum wage?

California’s minimum wage of $15 per hour equates to $28,800 per year. This is far below the “living wage” of $34,337 for a single person. However, California is not monolithic. Having started my public service career on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, I support giving more decision-making authority to local governments to raise wages, since they better understand the needs of their constituents. For example, 12 localities plus the County of Los Angeles raised their minimum wages on July 1, 2022. I support the law that is expected to raise the minimum wage in California to $15.50 in 2023.

Is state government doing enough to address the growing divide between the haves and the have-nots? Do you support a guaranteed, basic income?

We are not doing enough to address the growing divide. I support a guaranteed yearly basic income model with appropriate guardrails. I also support additional basic income initiatives, such as Stockton’s targeted neighborhood programs begun under then-Mayor Michael Tubbs and the Legislature’s proposals to support pregnant women and those that left foster care. I also backed the expansion and promotion of the Earned Income Tax Credit, as well as the California College Promise Program, which provides free tuition to students who attend a community college.

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?

The top 1% of state income taxpayers pay about 45% of the state’s total personal income taxes. And about 95% of our state’s General Fund is made up of personal income taxes, sales taxes and corporate income taxes so we need high income earners to stay in California. Our sales tax laws should be reviewed in their entirety. Changes could be made to increase uniformity regarding items that are subject to sales taxes. I do not support a shift from sales taxes to a service tax since it would put an undue burden on small businesses and sole proprietors.

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 do not support a wealth tax. Our state is highly dependent on high-income earners. We should be encouraging and incentivizing these individuals to stay and invest in California. Nations that have experimented with wealth taxes have largely found that they have failed and have repealed them. According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, the reasons for failure of the wealth taxes include limited revenue collection, administration and compliance costs, tax avoidance, evasion and the desire to attract more foreign investments. 

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?

Gov. Jerry Brown made needed changes to our pension systems with the California Public Employees’ Pension Reform Act, which included provisions in legislation I authored. With its surpluses, the state also has been making extra contributions to our pension systems to pay down unfunded liabilities to save the state money, which I have supported. Strong investment returns over the long term will be key to reducing costs for employers and members. I supported recent changes in new asset allocations that increase investments in private markets such as private equity, real estate and private debt.

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

Absolutely. I was one of the first elected officials in our state encouraging California’s pension systems to divest from Russian companies.

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

Climate change is real. We have a responsibility to take action today. For three years, I was the only CalSTRS board member to stand with the youth “Earth Guardians” to urge a major change in the climate investment policies of our pension systems. As a result, CalSTRS will soon conduct a new asset liability study incorporating climate change scenarios. I also support integrating Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in our investment portfolios to ensure more diverse leadership and ownership at public and private companies.

California’s affordable housing crisis only deepened during the pandemic, as average home prices surged even further out of reach for many families. Homelessness likely worsened as well, prompting Gov. Newsom to propose forcing more homeless and mentally ill people into treatment. The Legislature twice extended a statewide eviction moratorium, but the final protections for renters ended on March 31. Lawmakers also tried to pump up housing supply by allowing duplexes on single-family lots, but cities are pushing back. Some also say the California Environmental Quality Act is stopping housing production.  

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How would you increase the production of affordable housing?

I have combined the state’s two boards that I chair overseeing housing financing under one common management and also streamlined processes. During the past four years, we have approved more applications than ever before and focused on new construction projects for low-income communities. This has helped private sector developers build more than 5,000 projects that have created more than 435,000 low-income units. Solving the housing crisis is possible. We must assist affordable housing developers to build more. And we must encourage and reward local governments that allow for increased density and multi-family development.