Forbes: California’s Accounting System Cost Taxpayers $1.1 Billion And Still Can’t Produce A State Checkbook 11_hidden_checkbook

December 19, 2019 07:00 AM



California State Controller Betty Yee admits to paying 49 million bills last year. Yet, she won’t produce a single transaction subject to our public records request for line-by-line state spending.

Out of the 50 states, California is the only one that refuses to produce its state checkbook to our auditors at Even though it’s home to Silicon Valley, the state government isn’t letting tech drive transparency when it comes to its own records. 

It shouldn’t take subpoenas and litigation to force open the books.

Last year, Yee paid 49 million bills for about $320 billion in payments. If you can make the payment, then you can track the payment. The state controller’s office – whose job it is to stop waste, fraud, corruption, and taxpayer abuse – may be in violation of transparency laws. 

In 2013, then-California State Controller John Chang rejected our public records request for the state checkbook telling us: stop asking because the records can’t be located. Today, six-years later – Yee is still parroting the same answer.

So, how is the controller even doing her job without access to the records she helped create? We reached out to Yee for comment, and will update the piece if she responds. 

She’s charged with tracking “every dollar spent by the state.” Her duties includepaying the bills and all state accounting, bookkeeping, payroll, and auditing– including financial and compliance audits and attestations. 

Our objective is to empower citizens, watchdogs, media, politicians, researchers, academics – everyone – with the ability to give oversight to the massive budget. Here are just three critical issues facing the Golden State:


  • Homeless populations: a 2014 state proposition taxed millionaires to provide funds for mental health services. Did San Francisco – home to 7,500 homeless people – receive its fair share? Last summer, we published an interactive map featuring 130,000 instances of human waste in the public way, which is in part connected to the state’s homeless problem.
  • Unsustainable public employee pay and pensions: five-years ago, we openedthe books and have captured 2 million public employee salary and pension records annually in California. The data shows that lifeguards in Los Angeles County make up to $365,000 per year. There are 10,000 employees in University of California higher education earning more than $200,000.
  • Corruption: Controller Yee claims that she’s identified more than $4.35 billion in waste, abuse, and fiscal mismanagement of public funds since 2015 – about $1 billion per year. However, state government spent about $1.5 trillion during this period. Yee found only 34 pennies of waste for every $100 spent.

California Controller Betty Yee identified waste in CA checkbook.

It’s time to open the state checkbook. 

Since 2005, the state has invested $1.1 billion in accounting software costs. Using this platform, a state agency, Financial Information System For California (FISCAL), promises to publish by September 2020 a full year of state checkbook on a rolling basis – minus approximately $100 billion in spending. When completed, 65-percent of what’s taxed and spent by the state will be online. 

It’s a start. However, the FISCAL website will never contain the spending for ten major units of state government including colleges and universities, the California Public Employees’ Retirement System, the state legislature, California State Teachers’ Retirement System, and the office of legislative counsel. 

Furthermore, another ten major business units are deferred for years to come. These substantial departments include corrections, rehabilitation, health and human services, the lottery, justice, motor vehicles, water resources, and transportation. 

That’s totally unacceptable. We are based in Illinois, which, sadly, is famous for corruption. Our experience tells us that government can hide a lot of taxpayer abuse in $100 billion of non-transparent spending. 

In 2012, our organization at sued then-Illinois Comptroller Judy Baar-Topinka (R) for the state checkbook. In 2018, we sued then-Wyoming State Auditor Cynthia Cloud (R). 

Because of our litigation, today, the books in these states are open. 

California spends an enormous sum of money. The state spends more than $320 billion per year with federal taxpayers funding $106 billion of it. If we can’t follow the money, then it’s tough to stop the schemes and other public swindles. 

Every state across America can produce a complete checkbook of public expenditures. And taxpayers aren’t just dreamin’ to believe that California can produce a full record too.

Response from Betty Yee as of November 4, 2019

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