Of­fi­cials clash over fu­ture of tax agency

Law­mak­ers con­sider mak­ing state board po­si­tions ap­pointed rather than elected.

Los Angeles Times - - CALIFORNIA - PA­TRICK McGREEVY pa­trick.mcgreevy @la­times.com Twit­ter: @mc­greevy99

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.

Brian van der Brug Los An­ge­les Times

A S S E M B LY M A N Richard Bloom dur­ing a state bud­get com­mit­tee hear­ing in Sacra­mento Jan. 20.

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