Officials clash over future of tax agency
Lawmakers consider making state board positions appointed rather than elected.
SACRAMENTO — California’s scandalplagued tax agency might benefit from making its board appointed rather than elected, according to legislators who held a hearing Wednesday on how to address deep-seated problems.
A recent audit of the state Board of Equalization found that elected board members improperly interfered with the executive director’s role by transferring employees from handling tax collection to constituent services and using agency resources to hold community events that boosted board members’ standing with voters.
A report Wednesday by the legislative analyst’s office said options lawmakers could consider include transferring the board’s responsibility for holding taxpayer appeal hearings to a tax court and submitting “a constitutional amendment to voters to make the board appointed rather than elected — or simply to eliminate the board altogether.”
The idea of making the board appointed drew interest from Assembly members including Richard Bloom (D-Santa Monica), who said during the hearing that it could be beneficial if board members didn’t need to think about reelection.
Board of Equalization Chairwoman Diane Harkey told lawmakers that being elected means board members would be held accountable at the ballot box if they fail to serve constituents.
“Elected members, we respond,” she said.
She said the board recently took initial action on a series of changes to more clearly spell out the division of powers between the executive director and elected board members.
“We want you to know we are taking command of our own ship. We are trying to right it,” Harkey told the legislators.
Assemblyman Sebastian Ridley-Thomas (D-Los Angeles) has proposed sweeping changes that include a requirement for disclosure of communications between taxpayers and board members outside normal settings and the creation of an inspector general to make sure board members act ethically.
A S S E M B LY M A N Richard Bloom during a state budget committee hearing in Sacramento Jan. 20.