Reforms to the BOE Urgently Needed to Restore Public Trust

Sacramento – During the Board of Equalization’s monthly meeting in Culver City this week, Board Members unanimously voted to adopt a rigorous review of education and outreach policies.

“For the two years since I was elected, I have consistently pushed the BOE to adopt reforms that would impose appropriate checks and balances, greater accountability, and increased transparency. I've led my own internal investigations, called for external audits, and worked with the Legislature to sponsor bills to increase transparency at the BOE.  Unfortunately, my efforts have been met with a culture that is resistant to these important and critical reforms,” said Board of Equalization Member Fiona Ma, CPA. “It’s about time the agency established clear guidelines. While we sort this out, I’m reviewing all the events we have scheduled and am cancelling events in May while this rigorous review is being conducted.”

Board Member Ma has also sent a letter to Senator Richard Roth, Chair of the Senate Budget and Fiscal Review Subcommittee 4, detailing seven recommendations on how the Board should function. These recommendations will provide fiscal transparency and enhance the function and efficiency of the agency.

1)    The right of taxpayers to petition their elected officialsIt is imperative that taxpayers be able to communicate directly with their elected SBOE Members to seek redress.  

2)    Independent adjudication of taxpayer appeals by elected officials. This provides a vital check against audit and collection abuses suffered by taxpayers. It is a key feature of California’s tax system and should be preserved.

3)    Finality of BOE decisions.  Given the grueling nature of the current audit and appeal processes, which can span several years, it is essential that if a taxpayer wins an appeal before the BOE, that decision be final. 

4)    Promulgation of sales tax, business tax and fees, and property tax regulations. These regulations should be approved by elected officials who are accountable to the voters, not bureaucrats who are isolated from public review. 

5)    Internal investigations of reported abuses of taxpayers. When wrongdoing is alleged by a taxpayer, the elected Board must be empowered to investigate the bureaucracy being accused of misconduct. 

6)    Taxpayer guidance and advocacy. The current BOE provides publications, guidance, and legal counsel opinions, as well as a “hotline” providing live advice to the taxpaying public. These important functions must be preserved.  

7)    Checks and Balances. The BOE has a number of key “Check and Balance” functions, such as the County Assessment Practice Surveys and Audit Program, which also promote uniformity and consistency in statewide property tax administration. The BOE’s publications of property tax guidance, such as Assessors’ Handbooks and Letters to Assessors, also advance these goals by providing needed guidance to counties.

Additionally, Board Member Ma called for a number of organizational changes, such as modeling the BOE similarly to the New York Tribunal Tax Appeal Committee, urging the Legislature to ask the Attorney General to immediately appoint an acting Chief Counsel, and establishing a consistent CEA Raise Policy, among other reforms.

“As someone who has been working since day one to bring transparency and appropriate reforms to the BOE, I welcome legislative oversight and the opportunity to work together to restore accountability and public trust to this Agency,” said Board Member Ma. “California’s taxpayers deserve to know we are working hard to restore trust in the Agency.”

Read the Letter sent to Senator Richard Roth, Chair of the Senate Budget and Fiscal Review Subcommittee 4.


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Board Member Fiona Ma, CPA, was elected to the Board of Equalization in November 2014, to represent the Second Equalization District. She represents 9.5 million residents in many of California's coastal counties, from Del Norte to Santa Barbara, including the entire San Francisco Bay Area. Ms. Ma served in the California State Assembly from 2006 to 2012, serving as the first Asian woman Assembly Speaker pro Tempore since 1850. While in the Assembly, Ms. Ma focused on improving California, authoring legislation to create jobs and grow the state's economy. As an Executive Board Member of the National Conference of State Legislators, she worked to keep California's economy competitive with other states. Ms. Ma has been a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) in California since 1992. For more information, visit Board Member Ma's website.

 

The five-member California State Board of Equalization (BOE) is a publicly elected tax board. The BOE collects $60.5 billion annually in taxes and fees supporting state and local government services. It hears business tax appeals, acts as the appellate body for franchise and personal income tax appeals, and serves a significant role in the assessment and administration of property taxes. For more information on other taxes and fees in California, visit the California Tax Service Center.

 

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