By Marie Ekberg Padilla, Opportunity Zone Magazine
California State Treasurer Fiona Ma serves as California’s head banker, overseeing the government’s investment portfolio and accounts as well as managing the state’s $92 billion in financial assets. She has chaired the California State Board of Equalization, representing more than nine million taxpayers, and served on the California Assembly, where she acted Assembly speaker pro tempore. Prior to that, she served as a San Francisco supervisor, leading the effort to create the city’s Disadvantaged Business Enterprise program to empower small businesses to participate in public works projects, Ma, a certified public accountant, has also worked for Ernst & Young before starting her own accounting practice in San Francisco.
What are the goals and priorities for the State of California under your leadership when it comes to Opportunity Zones?
Opportunity Zones utilize tax incentives to encourage private investor investments in otherwise less lucrative community development opportunities. That state’s goals for these programs is to leverage these dollars to encourage desperately needed housing and infrastructure in the communities that need them most. My office will lead outreach and project acceleration efforts, while Governor Gavin Newsom’s GO-Biz team will lead on policy development.
What do you hope the Opportunity Zone program will bring to our economy, especially to California?
The Opportunity Zone program will serve as the carrot, which will hopefully direct private equity and philanthropic investments towards our most underserved communities in need. A true spirit of public-private collaboration will hopefully be created.
Why do you think Opportunity Zone participants should choose to invest in California?
California is open for business! We are the world’s 5th largest economy, we embrace and celebrate diversity, and a tradition of innovation has helped guide our growth.
Does California have any plans to add any additional incentives to draw investors to California and its Opportunity Zones?
The beginning of my term, January 2019 was hallmarked by my five-city Affordable Housing Listening Tour. These events provided my administration with an opportunity to connect with over 200 stakeholders including developers, advocates and investors. The results of these conversations have encouraged my team to explore reforms to the affordable housing tax credit process, namely making the California Tax Credit Allocation Committee and California Debt Limit Allocation Committee’s regulations and application processes more customer-friendly and less arbitrary. These changes will spur additional private sector investment in proposed affordable housing projects in the same way that Opportunity Zone policy will. In confluence, these policies represent the mindset that we need to have in California regarding the private sector’s role in solving our most vexing social programs through public-private partnerships our citizens can be proud of.
How can we expect California to conform aspects of its tax code with Opportunity Zone legislation and when can investors expect to see changes?
Governor Newsom in his 2019-20 state budget proposal has proposed tax conformity related to affordable housing and green technology (this could be expanded in the Legislature over the Spring during budget deliberations). The changes would begin to emerge as proposals in the Spring and if adopted would be part of the final state budget package that is finalized in June.
As a CPA with a Masters in Taxation, what are your thoughts about the proposed Opportunity Zone regulations?
While the federal regulations are a work in progress, I can appreciate the spirit behind the effort. We must be responsible stewards of the taxpayers’ money, but in moments of crisis government must provide more tools to help communities and attract private sector investments.
Why do you want to serve as treasurer and what do you hope to accomplish?
I want to effectively manage the financial health of our state as it maintains its place as the 5th largest economy in the world. Through this process, I hope to promote social equity and lift underserved communities. Additionally, I’d like to strengthen the small to medium sized businesses that constitute the backbone of our state’s economy.
What have you done previously in your career to stimulate economic development?
I started my career in public service advocacy in 1994 when I was elected president of a small business association. As a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, I authored the landmark Local Business Enterprise ordinance on behalf of women and minority business owners. As the elected member of the California State Board of Equalization, I traveled up and down my 23-county district speaking to small businesses and nonprofit organizations and organizing resource seminars to support these entities’ compliance with state tax regulations in an effort to promote their effectiveness within our economy.
What’s next for Fiona Ma? Do you see yourself running for governor or president?
I love California and the people of this state. I want to do what’s right for people irrespective of party affiliation, race, religion, sexual orientation or age. I am honored to get elected to my fourth public office, but my focus right now is to be a great Treasurer.