Eliminate the wasteful California Board of Equalization

Those wanting to reduce California government waste should start with the state Board of Equalization — not tweaking it but disbanding the agency and its elected leaders.

We said that at election time four years ago, and our experience this year interviewing candidates for the seat covering much of California’s coastal region solidified our position that the board is a needless expenditure of tax dollars.

None of the three candidates running in District 2 could clearly articulate why they were running. We recommend Michela Alioto-Pier, a former San Francisco supervisor, because at least she didn’t overreach trying to explain her reasoning — and she’s willing to consider eventually eliminating the board.

The Board of Equalization, the only elected tax commission in the country, once held wide-ranging duties to collect and hear appeals on state taxes and fees. But the agency the board oversaw was gutted in 2017 after findings of widespread nepotism, misallocation of tax revenues and questionable spending.

Most of the board and underlying agency’s duties were placed under the authority of the governor’s office and a separate Office of Tax Appeals. But the board and the agency’s remaining approximately 200 employees retained responsibility for ensuring county assessors across the state appraise property equitably, for valuation of state-assessed public utility and railroad property, for administration of alcoholic beverage and insurance taxes, and for hearing some specific taxpayer appeals.

Those responsibilities should also be reassigned to the governor’s administration and the Office of Tax Appeals, but that would require voters passing a state constitutional amendment. Some state legislators are considering putting the issue on the statewide ballot. It can’t happen soon enough.

Meanwhile, voters must again pick representatives to the Board of Equalization, comprised of four members selected by district, who each earn $164,000 annually, and the state controller. Dividing the state in four means each district includes about 10 million residents — more people than 40 of the nation’s states.

District 2 takes in California’s coastal region, stretching from Del Norte County at the Oregon border to Ventura County in Southern California, including all the Bay Area except Solano County.

Alioto-Pier served on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors from 2004-11. Gavin Newsom appointed her to fill his seat on the board after he was elected mayor. She had previously run unsuccessfully for Congress and twice for secretary of state.

Her biggest goal if elected to the Board of Equalization would be to help people understand what the agency does. We give her credit for at least setting her sights on something related to the job.

Former Assemblywoman Sally Lieber, currently a member of the Mountain View City Council, wants to protect the financial stability of the state, an issue only marginally related to the duties of the Board of Equalization. She candidly admits that election to the board would provide her a platform “to speak out on issues that don’t relate to the Board of Equalization.”

Voter registration in District 2 is 54% Democrats, 17% Republicans and 24% no party preference. Alioto-Pier and Lieber are both Democrats. Peter Coe Verbica, a financial advisor and former real estate broker who hasn’t run for office before, is the Republican sacrificial lamb.

Perhaps more like a deer in the headlights. He claims on his website that his top campaign issues are good-paying jobs, safe neighborhoods, housing for teachers and first responders, and high-quality schools. Laudable goals that have little to do with the Board of Equalization. And, in an interview, he was adamant that the board should be preserved — an interesting position for a member of the GOP, which usually favors eliminating government waste.

It’s time to put an end to this quadrennial circus. The Legislature should give voters the chance to shut down the Board of Equalization.

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