For Proposition 13’s sake, let’s keep the elected California Board of Equalization

Here’s a question for homeowners: If there is an issue regarding how Proposition 13 should be interpreted or implemented, would you rather have it resolved by unelected political appointees – who have an inherent conflict in their desire to raise revenue – or a board directly elected by, and accountable to, the voters?

Seems like an easy choice to us.

For the second time in recent years, there is a push by anti-taxpayer politicians to abolish the California Board of Equalization. Assembly Constitutional Amendment 11 would transfer the BOE’s responsibilities to a newly created agency or agencies.

When Proposition 13 was overwhelmingly approved by the voters in 1978, the BOE was instrumental in interpreting its Constitutional and statutory provisions as well as in developing programs and guidance to administer Proposition 13. During this period, the Board continued its role as an unbiased arbiter of property tax issues so important to both business property owners and homeowners. Very few of its adopted policies and regulations have been challenged or overturned, largely because of the Board’s status as a respected independent elected body.

Working with county assessors, the BOE administers property tax statutes and regulations for all taxable real estate, consisting of both state-assessed property, such as railroads and utilities, as well as all locally assessed properties including homes. The Board also oversees how counties conduct assessment appeals and periodically surveys their assessment practices.

The elected BOE also develops the Assessors’ Handbook, an exhaustive explanation of property tax law for county assessors, their staff, and other interested parties. All the resources of the BOE are available online and provide valuable guidance, not just to assessors, but to property owners and taxpayer organizations.

The BOE was especially helpful to Californians who were victimized by Proposition 19, which substantially weakened the ability of homeowners to transfer their home and a limited amount of other property to their children without triggering reassessment. While the BOE had no power to change Prop. 19, board members worked very hard to ameliorate the impact to families who had just suffered the death of a loved one.

Homeowners are justified in their concerns that the abolition of the BOE and the transfer of its responsibilities to other bureaucracies will eliminate accountability and convert what is now a relatively responsive body to some uncaring agency as oppressive as the IRS. For homeowners, this is unacceptable. Homeownership is an important right and property taxes are perhaps the most sensitive (and costly) point of contact between citizens and their government.

Those attacking the BOE claim that it is mismanaged. But this argument is a pretext as those accusations are based on an investigation nearly a decade old against former BOE members. None of the current members have been accused of such malfeasance.

Proponents of ACA 11 contend that the duties of the BOE could be performed by political appointees and bureaucrats rather than elected officials. But government tax agencies have a sorry history of being abusive and, in some cases, even vindictive to taxpayers. (For example, look at what the IRS did in targeting some political organizations for audits. Also, California’s former Franchise Tax Board was found guilty of violating the civil rights of Californians who attempt to establish residency in other states).

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The final failed argument by those seeking to abolish the BOE is that it would save money.

Oh, please . . . since when did the California Legislature show an inkling of concern about waste?

The cost of running BOE, about $35 million, is a pittance compared to the waste demonstrated by the state’s political leadership in recent years – high-speed rail, anyone?

Moreover, since most of the functions of BOE would be transferred to other agencies, the alleged cost “savings” would be a fraction of the $35 million.

Taxpayer advocacy organizations, including the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, CalTax, and the California Alliance of Taxpayer Advocates are opposed to ACA 11.

We’re united in our belief that the elected Board of Equalization gives taxpayers accountability, responsiveness, and transparency. It is greatly needed and must be preserved.

Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association.

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