The California Board of Equalization divided along party lines Tuesday on how — and whether — to begin implementing the state’s new law aimed at collecting sales taxes from Internet sellers. It’s not only an unsettled political issue, but also a legal one since the Internet tax bill is, as the board’s attorney, Randy Ferris, said, “a new creature.”
It’s also another bit of evidence that the Board of Equalization, created 132 years ago to ensure that counties applied property taxes fairly, should be abolished.
It’s simply ludicrous that the administration of taxes is dependent on the ideological whims and personal agendas of five politicians. The board’s purview now includes sales taxes and income tax appeals from the Franchise Tax Board.
Four of the Board of Equalization members are elected from immense districts, while the state controller has the fifth seat. The controller, the chairman of the Board of Equalization and the state finance director also constitute the Franchise Tax Board, which collects personal and corporate income taxes.
It’s a virtual invitation to decide tax policy, and even individual tax cases, on the basis of ideology or political pull, examples of which have popped up frequently.
We should create a Department of Revenue that would include the functions of both boards, plus other tax-collecting agencies, with an administrative appeals process, backed by a tax court and the regular court system.
That structure has been proposed from time to time, but always has been shot down by politicians who coveted cushy seats on the Board of Equalization for themselves or their pals.
And that brings us to a redrawing of BOE districts by the state’s independent redistricting commission.
Its members wound up weeks of map-drawing late by jettisoning a widely criticized plan that would have radically changed the shape of the four BOE districts (one would have run from Oregon to Mexico).
It returned, instead, to a revision of the current map, with one Los Angeles district, another encompassing the southernmost tier of counties, a third along the coast, and a fourth covering most of inland California.
The most likely outcome would be a continuation of the current partisan split — two Democrats, two Republicans and the controller, usually a Democrat.
And that would continue BOE business as usual — vast power over tax policy wielded by those with political agendas of one kind or another. It’s time for a real change.
Dan Walters’ Sacramento Bee columns on state politics are syndicated by the Scripps Howard News Service.