SACRAMENTO — When I first learned about the existence of something called the California Board of Equalization, it sounded like something that might have existed in the novel, “Animal Farm.” All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others. Few things sound more totalitarian than a government agency in charge of equalizing things.
But California’s BOE, founded in 1879, simply is a banal tax board that oversees collection of the state’s sales and excise taxes. It also handles appeals of the state’s income and corporate taxes. The “equalization” has nothing to do with equalizing Californians’ financial status, but making sure “that county property tax assessment practices were equal and uniform throughout the state,” according to the agency’s own description.
Currently, it’s the only state tax bureau in the nation run by elected officials. The board has four elected members who represent large districts, plus the state controller. It has a staff of more than 4,000 people and offices across the state. There have been multiple efforts to eliminate the agency over the years, and in the wake of a series of recent problems, it looks like the agency finally is having its powers drastically reduced.
California legislators recently approved some urgency bills that are part of a budget deal that will surely be signed by the governor. One such bill takes away most of the board’s powers and replaces them with two new departments. The first agency will collect taxes and fees, explained the Sacramento Bee. The second will serve as a tax court run by administrative law judges. Almost all of the BOE employees will work under the new agencies.
Columnist Dan Walters argued in April, following a Department of Finance audit that was highly critical of the BOE, that it’s time for the board to go away after allegations “such as spending lavishly on personal offices, misusing civil service workers and interfering with pending tax cases.”…