Transparent Reform: A 21st Century Board of Equalization

Thursday, June 1, 2017


Sebastian Ridley-Thomas

Recently uncovered problems at the State Board of Equalization (BOE), the agency that oversees sales taxes and hears tax appeals, are quite concerning and demand transparent and publically debated solutions. I have introduced legislation, Assembly Bill 1210, to fix the problems and increase transparency, while protecting taxpayers’ rights.

The problems are well-documented. An evaluation by the State Department of Finance revealed that the BOE misused revenue-generating employees, and did not correctly allocate sales tax revenue to various funds that receive state money.

My proposal, based on recommendations from the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office, includes reforms in three key areas.

First, it establishes a clear separation of powers. The BOE is a large agency overseen by five elected officials: the state controller and four members elected from regional districts. AB 1210 puts the agency’s executive director in charge of administrative functions, most personnel decisions, and day-to-day operations, so the five elected officials can focus on hearing tax appeals and establishing overall policies.

The legislation also increases transparency by requiring the executive director to report annually on each board member’s use of staff and resources. This gives taxpayers more information about how their tax dollars are being spent.

Finally, my proposal ensures accountability by adding an “inspector general” to provide independent oversight, ensure proper management, and scrutinize implementation of needed reforms. It is important that the inspector general be time limited, work independent of the agency, and potentially be appointed by the Governor in consultation with the Legislature.