Fiona Ma almost certainly will be the next member of the state Board of Equalization representing the mostly coastal district that stretches from Santa Barbara through the Bay Area to the Oregon border.

A former Democratic assemblywoman from San Francisco, Ma is running against Republican James Theis of Hollister, a candidate with no obvious credentials for the job who hasn't mounted a serious campaign.

Ma, on the other hand, is an accountant with an MBA and a masters in taxation. She has the right education and good political experience for the board of an agency that administers sales and use taxes, ensures county assessors comply with property tax laws, and rules on taxpayer appeals.

But we can't endorse her either.

It's hard for us to forget that Ma in 2010 authored legislation purporting to be pension reform that would have actually legitimized illegal spiking of retirement pay.

Most significantly, the bill would have allowed retiring public workers in specific counties across the state, including Alameda and Contra Costa, to continue counting final payments for unused vacation as part of the income on which their pensions were calculated.

Ma's bill would have also shut off public access to public employee pension records. At the time, court rulings had just opened up those records. The bill would have resealed them, hiding abuses from public view.


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Criticism led by this editorial page and from other newspapers across the state stopped what would have been a travesty. Legislators including Sen. Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord, then-Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, and Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan, D-Alamo, at first didn't understand the contents of the legislation they were supporting.

Once they did, they pulled their backing, forcing a rewrite that removed the most egregious portions. A toned-down version passed the Legislature but was vetoed by then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

It seemed then that Ma didn't understand the contents of her own bill. In a recent interview, it appeared she still didn't understand it. She says that she intended to stop pension spiking.

Her intentions might have been noble, but through laziness, political expedience, or excessive reliance on staff and union officials to write the bill, she almost cost taxpayers dearly.

Now she seeks an office in which attention to detail and political independence is critical. She almost certainly will win. We hope she performs well.

Four years from now, she probably will seek re-election. We'll evaluate her performance then, but this year we make no endorsement.