State tax board’s fate might be left up to vot­ers

The Tribune (SLO) - - News - BY ADAM ASH­TON aash­[email protected]

A Cal­i­for­nia tax agency that used to col­lect tens of bil­lions of dol­lars a year could be snuffed out for good if the Leg­is­la­ture moves for­ward with a pair of bills that would kill what’s left of the Board of Equal­iza­tion.

As­sem­bly­man Adrin Nazar­ian, D-Sher­man Oaks, wrote the bills that would fin­ish an ef­fort the Leg­is­la­ture be­gan two years ago when it stripped the Board of Equal­iza­tion of al­most all of its power, bud­get and staff.

Back then, the Board of Equal­iza­tion had more than 4,200 em­ploy­ees and han­dled about $60 bil­lion a year in taxes and fees. It was the only elected board in the coun­try that both set tax col­lec­tion poli­cies and weighed ap­peals from tax­pay­ers. Its core du­ties were writ­ten into the state con­sti­tu­tion.

Its once-ex­pan­sive author­ity now mostly rests in two sep­a­rate de­part­ments, nei­ther of which is gov­erned by elected politi­cians. The Cal­i­for­nia Depart­ment of Tax and Fee Ad­min­is­tra­tion col­lects dozens of taxes and fees, while the Of­fice of Tax Ap­peals weighs com­plaints.

Now, Nazar­ian and other Demo­cratic lead­ers say it’s time to ask vot­ers to get rid of the elected tax board.

“A very high per­cent­age of their du­ties have now been taken away. I don’t see the point of keep­ing the in­sti­tu­tion around,” Nazar­ian said.

The Board of Equal­iza­tion still ex­ists, but with fewer than 200 em­ploy­ees and an elected board that pri­mar­ily han­dles dis­putes that vexed Cal­i­for­nia gov­ern­ment in the late 19th cen­tury, when state vot­ers passed an ini­tia­tive calling for an agency to “equal­ize” prop­erty tax as­sess­ments among dif­fer­ent coun­ties.

That’s the part of the agency that the Leg­is­la­ture could not elim­i­nate two years ago with­out putting an amend­ment on the bal­lot. They voted to gut it after a se­ries of au­dits con­cluded it had mis­placed rev­enue, al­lowed nepo­tis­tic hir­ing and per­mit­ted elected board mem­bers to mis­use state re­sources for events that ap­peared to be po­lit­i­cal in na­ture.

Nazar­ian has sup­port from State Con­troller Betty Yee, who was first elected to the Board of Equal­iza­tion in 2006 and has con­tin­ued serv­ing on the tax board since she was elected to statewide of­fice.

Yee had called for sig­nif­i­cant changes at the Board of Equal­iza­tion for years. A 2015 audit her of­fice con­ducted that showed the Board of Equal­iza­tion had mis­al­lo­cated $47 mil­lion in re­tail sales tax rev­enue be­came one of the key re­ports that per­suaded the Leg­is­la­ture to limit the agency’s power.

“Cal­i­for­nia is the only state with an elected tax com­mis­sion, and with its much scaled-down du­ties, it is time to abol­ish the BOE and as­sign its re­main­ing du­ties to an ex­ist­ing state tax agency,“she said.

The Se­nate Gov­ern­ment and Fi­nance Com­mit­tee on March 6 is ex­pected to hold an over­sight hear­ing on the Board of Equal­iza­tion. It’s also plan­ning hear­ings on the tax de­part­ments the Leg­is­la­ture cre­ated to re­place the agency.

Nazar­ian’s bills are Assem­bly Con­sti­tu­tional Amend­ment 2, which would put a mea­sure on the bal­lot abol­ish­ing the Board of Equal­iza­tion, and Assem­bly Bill 576, which sig­nals the Leg­is­la­ture in­tent to elim­i­nate the board if vot­ers choose to do so.

The Board of Equal­iza­tion has de­fend­ers among tax­pay­ers and ad­vo­cates who liked the idea of be­ing able to take their con­cerns to elected rep­re­sen­ta­tives.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.