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California and the West | CALIFORNIA ELECTIONS / TREASURER

Low-Profile Race Offers Voters a Clear Philosophical Choice

Republican Curt Pringle and Democrat Phil Angelides differ widely on approaches to investment and raising funds for public works.

October 04, 1998|JEAN O. PASCO | TIMES STAFF WRITER

California voters may have strong opinions on abortion and capital punishment, but they aren't focused much on who invests the state's money, including $230 billion in employee pension funds.

Phil Angelides, a former state Democratic Party chairman, has raised $3 million to tell voters why they should care about who becomes the next state treasurer--and why they should vote for him instead of his Republican rival, Assemblyman Curt Pringle.

The race between the two political veterans is neck-and-neck, according to statewide polls, including a Times poll last month. But 40% of those most likely to vote still haven't made up their minds, the polls show.

The two candidates differ markedly on several major issues as to where investments are made and how best to raise funds to build schools, rebuild roads and make other major public improvements.

This week, Angelides will start spending $1 million on a television advertising campaign in Northern California and San Diego to tout his run for office. The ads will hit the rest of Southern California the following week.

Pringle collected nearly $2 million through the end of September. He said his campaign plans to hit the airwaves later this month.

This year's race for treasurer is lagging behind even the usual disinterest. The sex scandal involving President Clinton "froze everything for a month," said Tony Quinn, a Sacramento political consultant for Republicans. "People will probably decide late on what to do with this race."

Up to now, the treasurer's race has had such a low profile that Pringle suspended campaigning during the last two weeks of August to complete his final state budget duties as a legislator.

Despite the late start, Californians have a clear choice on Nov. 3 in what philosophies and strengths the two major candidates carry.

Pringle, 39, of Garden Grove, ran the family drapery business in Anaheim before being elected to the Assembly in 1988. He is a conservative who believes state investment decisions should be based only on the bottom line. Any other reason is an unwanted intrusion of social policy, he said, citing the state's divestment of South Africa holdings in 1986 because of that country's racist policy of apartheid, which has since been abolished.

He told delegates at the state Republican convention last weekend that his greatest qualification for election is that he is a conservative.

"The No. 1 responsibility of the state's fiduciary position is to get the highest and safest returns," Pringle said. "The office should be trusted to someone who will be a steward of taxpayer money."

Angelides, 45, a Sacramento developer who served as the state's housing administrator under former Gov. Edmund G. "Jerry" Brown Jr., believes California is obligated to use its money for public investments in building schools and rebuilding roads. He has proposed cataloging the state's capital needs, putting price tags on them and letting voters decide which should be funded.

He supports shunning unpopular investments in such fields as the tobacco industry. He wants to boost state pension fund investments in California businesses from 10% of the fund to 15% or more--a concept Pringle supports, though he opposes setting "an arbitrary threshold."

"A good fiduciary says, are there better places to put our money that have [the same] safety and yield" as existing investments, Angelides said. "I want to be someone who manages the finances of our state well and does it in a way that builds our economy."

There are some areas where the two agree. Among them is that the treasurer's office, though largely powerless to do more than lobby the Legislature, should prepare a list of the state's most pressing capital needs over the next decade.

The California Business Roundtable estimates that the state should invest $90 billion over the next 10 years for needed work on streets, bridges and public buildings, devoting up to $25 billion of that amount to transportation improvements.

But the Roundtable figures the state will be able to budget only $54 billion for improvements over the next decade.

The state Department of Finance comes up with slightly different numbers, but still sees a $29-billion shortfall in the amount needed.

How to cover that shortfall is one issue that separates the candidates. Angelides supports selling general obligation bonds, while Pringle is more cautious about issuing additional state debt.

Pringle, for instance, opposes Proposition 1A, which would authorize $9.2 billion in bonds to pay for new schools. He said it would nearly double the current debt load.

But Angelides said the investment is critical for the state's future, and he supports the proposition, which is on the Nov. 3 ballot.

"There are a variety of areas where long-term debt is necessary," Pringle said, "but you can't sell $9.2 billion in bonds all at once."

Differences on School Bonds

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