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Since You Asked...

December 2019

Treasurer Ma speaking

People I meet will sometimes want to know more about who I am, my policy concerns, and the path I traveled to become California State Treasurer. So today, a little more than one year into my election as California’s 34th State Treasurer, I am sharing those replies with newsletter readers.

To begin with, San Francisco is home and I am married to Jason Hodge. Jason is a full-time firefighter in Ventura County and an elected member of the Oxnard Harbor Commission.

I never dreamed I would become an elected official when I was growing up. My parents steered me early in the direction of becoming an accountant. I am grateful they did.

I received my B.S. degree from the Rochester (New York) Institute of Technology, which offered a CPA path and two mandatory paid internships. I received my M.S. degree in Tax from Golden Gate University in San Francisco. I earned an MBA from Pepperdine University. And I have been a licensed Certified Public Accountant (CPA) since 1992.

My first job out of school was with Ernst & Whinney’s Real Estate Tax Group in San Francisco. Ernst & Whinney helped me afford graduate school. It was a good place to work. But there were no women or minority partners at that time in the firm. I left after 5 years.

I then started my own CPA practice. I also became president of the Asian Business Association and took my first steps onto the path of public service. I was suddenly testifying on behalf of legislative bills and lobbying for more business opportunities for minority-owned and women-owned businesses.

I was appointed to the City and County of San Francisco Assessment Appeals Board (as an alternate member). It was a part-time position working with then state Senator John Burton. I handled tax and business related constituent issues.

It took eight years, but in time my parents gave me their blessing and I ran for a seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors (2002-2006). I followed that with election to the California State Assembly (2006-2012). Next, I went on to win a seat on the State Board of Equalization (BOE), which handles state taxes, fees and revenues – everything except income taxes.

I discovered I am made for public service. I am an extreme extrovert, for one thing. I enjoy all things related to people. I find meetings and socializing to be animating and energizing.

Rochester Institute of Technology’s 1985 women’s tennis team. Treasurer Ma is in the front row, second from right.

Rochester Institute of Technology’s 1985 women’s tennis team. Treasurer Ma is in the front row, second from right.

I also work well with mentors. John Burton had a big influence on my pubic service career. He was my first political boss and mentor. He not only served in the California State Assembly and Senate, he also served as chairman of the California Democratic Party.

He always stressed loyalty. “Remember who brought you to the dance,” he’ll say. And he always supports those who don’t have a voice and those who need the most help. He consistently stands up for what is right. Even if he is the only one standing. I try to follow these guiding principles every day.

My father has also had a large influence on me. I was recently asked what it means to be a trailblazer and I immediately thought of how he encouraged us to try everything. And to do our best. I excelled in sports and I especially liked team sports. I think that’s because I have a competitive spirit and a talent for working with others. I’m also a problem solver. I love taking on big complex projects, finding solutions, and recruiting the best and brightest to execute the plan that gets things done.

But I don’t think I aspired to be a trailblazer until I found public service. Being able to directly help people hooked me. As did being able to level the playing field by changing laws. It was inspiring. And now, being able to control, finance and fund trillions and billions of dollars every day as California State Treasurer – well, how great is that!

I am inspired by people with big visions and big ideas. People who want to make the world a better place every day, regardless of how large or small their contribution. People who are guided in action by a sense of the greater good rather than money and material things. People who are passionate and really good at what they do.

I most admire people who are driven by a sense of compassion and a personal commitment to pull others up behind them. I have had hundreds of interns come through the elected offices I have held over the years. And I’m proud that one of my recent interns in the State Treasurer’s Office just started working at a large minority-owned public finance firm.

In addition to finding a mentor who can help you advance up the corporate or government ladder, I advise people to always say yes when leadership roles are offered. Be curious and seize every opportunity to learn. Also, listen to, and learn, what motivates others and work collaboratively with them to meet shared goals. Develop great ethics and values. Treat people with respect.

I believe what goes around, comes around. As I believe in being truthful, because lies will eventually catch up with a person. I also believe the truth not only sets us free, it liberates us to focus more energy on doing good.

People also ask me to describe a typical working day in the State Treasurer’s Office. There is no typical day.

As the state’s banker, my team manages more than $2 trillion in transactions, close to $100 billion in short term investments, and we issue or administer more than $90 billion in bonds. I also chair 16 boards, commissions and authorities that fund a spectrum of programs critical to the financial wellbeing of Californians, including housing, schools, hospitals, transportation, advanced manufacturing, green tech, recycling, small businesses and more.

Among the authorities and commissions are the ScholarShare529, CalSavers and CalABLE programs. These are programs that help families save for college, workers save for retirement, and persons with disabilities to cover unexpected expenses. I also offer free small business and other financial workshops to inform stakeholders about these and the other programs I oversee. We are proactively bringing government to the people. And I find this very rewarding.

In addition, I am a voting member of the boards that oversee the California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS), the California State Teachers’ Retirement System (CalSTRS), the California Earthquake Authority, IBank, and the California Housing Finance Authority.

CalSTRS and CalPERS pose an ongoing challenge as we work to ensure California’s pension funds, the largest in the nation, stay on a financially strong and secure trajectory. Our goal is to earn a 7 percent return on investments each year.

What keeps me awake at night now is the thought of another recession. I never saw a surplus during my first 10 years as an elected official, including my time in the Assembly during the Great Recession. Difficult financial choices had to be made. Fortunately, we have a solid rainy day fund today and credit rating agencies agree that California is prepared for the future.

We also have a severe housing crisis, the result of decades of too little action. This has created a unique opportunity. We are trying to find creative and practical solutions that recognize we face more than a lack of housing. It’s about housing, yes, but it’s also about jobs and wealth inequality. In short, it’s about improving the financial well-being of Californians in danger of being left behind.

Treasurer Ma attending the groundbreaking ceremony for Day Creek Villas in Rancho Cucamonga, which will provide 140 units of affordable housing for seniors age 62 and older.

Treasurer Ma attending the groundbreaking ceremony for Day Creek Villas in Rancho Cucamonga, which will provide 140 units of affordable housing for seniors age 62 and older.

My office is at the heart of this effort, administering the state’s affordable housing tax credit programs, which provide incentives to developers to build workforce, affordable, senior, and disabled housing. We’re also working with private-public partnerships that can bring both housing and jobs to communities.

I’ve been working, for example, to bring high speed Virgin Trains USA to California. Initially, this project would link Victorville (near Los Angeles) to Las Vegas. The Victorville station, as well as the maintenance yard would jump-start economic development, as well as housing construction, while also creating high-paying jobs in the High Desert, an area that has been economically depressed.

So there you have it, a brief tour and highlights along the path of public service that leads to the present moment… and one of the best jobs in the world.