Complexities of the State Board of Equalization - March 29th
President Elect CHRIS BRADFORD stood in for Prexy MIKE so he will obviously enter service this July as an experienced Master! He called on PP HOMER NEWMAN to lead the Pledge, which was followed by the song, America, as interpreted and led by PP JIM DOWNIE on his new keyboard plus LENNY FRIEDMAN as Choral Director.
PP MIKE NEWMAN came forward with the Invocation which was inspired by some suggestions he had heard at one of the High Schools his kids attend. "…and when you give them the haven of firmness which they hear above the impulse…I pray that I may raise my voice more in joy at what they are, than in vexation at what they have done, so that each day they may grow in sureness of themselves. Help me to hold them in warmth…so they will be friendly to others, and the fortitude to free them to go strongly on their way." He suggested our concern for JACK HARRIS, and ended up with GO BRUINS! Good Job, MIKE.
We had some guests LENNY brought Sunny, and Janice Richardson came with our Speaker, Bill Leonard. Mrs Leonard, (Sherrie) was also with us. PEGGY BLOOMFIELD reminded us of the forthcoming District Breakfast, which will be on April 10th, Tuesday morning at the Crowne Plaza. There may be a space or two still available at the WVRC table. She spoke next of the District Conference, which will be at the Bahia Resort in San Diego from 26 to 29 April. They have another interesting program, and particularly, new members should consider attending you’ll learn a lot.
Attention, Board Members: the District Assembly is set for Saturday, May 19th, and it is particularly important for new Boarders (my word) to attend and learn what the Board does. So save the date details to follow.
PP STEVE SCHERER wanted us all to know about the hidden coaching talents of one of our PP’s, BOB WESSLING. BOB arose to announce that DePauw University had just won its first NCAA Championship, in Women’s Basketball, Division III. While he did not go into detail about his own major contribution to this success, he did point out that WVRC has several connections to DePauw. ANN SAMSON’S mother went there, as did DONN CONNER’S wife, and PP STEVE SCHERER’S son just graduated. And you probably already know that both JUDY and BOB WESSLING claim it as their Alma Mater. This touching tale ended with PP BOB being saddled with a seventy-buck fine, which someone figured out was legitimate.
This brought forth ELLIOTT TURNER, pinch-hitting as a Jokester in the absence of Prexy MIKE. Seems there were two brooms, who decided to get married. One was the Bride Groom and the other, the Groom Groom. They were both appropriately dressed for the occasion, of course. After the wedding dinner, the Bride Groom leaned over to the Groom Groom, confiding that she was going to have a little Whisk Broom! “Impossible” replied the Groom Groom - “We haven’t even swept together!”
Moving right along, another story: A businessman was considering holding a conference in Africa. Since he wanted to book a Golf Tournament, he was directed to a course deep in the jungle. The pro asked him his handicap, and while it was actually an 18, he told the Pro his handicap was 16. With this information, the caddy picked up the businessman’s bag, plus shouldering a large rifle. Arriving at the first hole, a par four, the caddy advised, “Please avoid those trees on the left.” Sure enough, his shot landed right in the middle of the trees. The businessman found his ball, and just before he played it, there was the crack of a rifle, and a large snake, which had been in the tree overhead, fell dead at his feet. When the caddy approached, he explained, “That’s a mamba, the most poisonous snake in Africa you were lucky I was here”. They moved to the 2nd hole, and our golfer was cautioned to keep away from those bushes on the right. This of course insured that he would hit right into the bushes, which he did. As he addressed the ball, he heard a roar, and a huge lion came running toward him. Another shot was heard, and the lion fell dead at his feet. The third hole had a water hazard, and his tee shot landed well, but the backspin caused it to roll back almost to the lake. With one foot in the lake, he was about to swing, when a large crocodile leapt from the water and bit off his right leg. He fell to the ground, bleeding and in great pain, but observed the caddy with the rifle at his side, looking unconcerned. “Why didn’t you kill it?” asked the golfer incredulously. “I’m sorry, Sir”, replied the caddy. “This is a 17 handicap you don’t get a shot here”. And in the interests of fairness, I must remind our readers that I only REPORT the news I don’t CENSOR it!
SHANE WAARBROEK introduced our Speaker, Bill Leonard. He is one of five elected members of the State Board of Equalization, whose main function is to hear appeals from those who are affected by our tax laws and collections. He was first elected to the State Legislature in 1978, following the adoption of Prop. 13. In 1988, he was elected to the State Senate, representing 11,000 square miles of California. In ’96 he returned to the State Assembly, and in 1998 was elected Speaker of the Assembly. (While not mentioned, I would assume these public office shifts were due to our Term Limit laws are they really useful?) He and his wife Sherrie have three children and several grandchildren, and they live in the Sacramento area. They flew in today for this meeting.
Mr. Leonard first pointed out that Janice Richardson worked with him while he was in the Assembly, and she is now his chief assistant on the Board of Equalization. They provide a weekly newsletter on line, and to become a subscriber, go to firstname.lastname@example.org. He has offices in both Sacramento and Ontario, and likes the opportunity to explain what the Board of Equalization actually does. By the way, there is only one Board of Equalization in the entire US and we have it! He would like to change the name to Tax Commissoners, but this hasn’t yet happened.
Their office was created in 1870, but their function has long since changed. They handle all the Income Tax appeals, collect and administer the sales and use taxes, plus another 34 taxes and fees which they collect. In addition to all this, they are also the State’s Assessor for the utilities in the state. There are four elected members, plus the Chairman, who is elected statewide, with the title of Controller. In 1870, when their office was created, we had four congressmen. Today we have 53 congressmen, and each of their four districts is huge, with a massive number of participants.
After 24 years in the State Legislature, when he ran for the Board of Equalization, he thought he knew what the Board did. He soon found out how disadvantaged Californians are when it comes to tax law. Those who file appeals before his Board have fewer rights than accused criminals do in a court of law. The burden is on the taxpayer to prove the government wrong. He gave the following example. A man appeared before the Board for actions that occurred after the Rodney King riots. He was urged to buy one of the many liquor stores that were offered for sale by the largely Asian proprietors. Since he was black, he borrowed $5,000 from friends, and took over one of the businesses. He got his permit from the Board of Equalization, and applied for transfer of the liquor license. subject to an inspection. The major damage to his store was caused by a Molotov Cocktail, which had started a fire. The ABC (Alcohol) agent comes in to inspect, and finds that the labels on his liquor have become illegible due to smoke damage. Further, alcohol that has been subject to heat is not saleable. So all he can do is take the entire inventory to the city dump, and then borrow some more money to start his inventory again.
He did this, and began paying the State Board every quarter for his sales. The Auditor wanted his records for the last three years, which he supplied. The Auditor told him the records looked OK, but they were $5,000 off in sales. He explained that that was the liquor he had to throw away, and the Auditor asked for proof. All he had was a receipt for what he dumped, but it was not detailed enough to be of any value, according to the Auditor. It turned out that what he was supposed to do was to have the ABC accompany him to the dump and certify what he threw away. So in addition to having no proof, he owed tax on the entire $5,000, with 8% interest accruing. On a split vote, 3 to 2, the Board rejected his claim and he was liable for the loss plus all taxes.
Another example: A man, who appeared to be in his 60’s, appeared for his dad, who was too old to appear himself. His dad was a retired insurance agent from Santa Barbara, and he didn’t file an income tax return because he was ill. The son didn’t pay much attention, but now learned that the Board was questioning why his dad had not filed returns since his retirement. He was living off his social security check plus some minor investments, which he had. Thus, he has no steady income. But he was charged with owing $40K for back taxes. The son pointed out that his dad had no regular income, but he had no way of proving that. The Franchise Tax Board had simply ASSIGNED him an income of $40K, which was determined by the average income of insurance agents in that part of the state. The son offered to write every client his father once had and have them corroborate that he was no longer their agent, plus he would write every insurance company that his dad once worked for to certify that he no longer worked for them. The FTB countered that he could have found new clients, and that there were many insurance companies he could have started to work with and in the absence of a tax return, the FTB has the power to make up a return for the accused! The lesson here, of course, is to file your taxes on time once you come before the Board, you are subject to THEIR rules and procedures.
One final example: The auditor got it into his head that the accused was a shady operator. When the accused left the room, the auditor spotted a file with lots of records, so he picked it up and put it in his briefcase, before the accused returned to the room.
The auditor then left, took the documents to his office and photocopied them, intending to return them the next day. But he lost his nerve, went to his supervisor, and explained what he had done. The supervisor said, let’s get a subpoena from a judge. This was easy to do, but the FTB still screwed it up. When the accused learned about this, he was furious, and tried to get the auditor and his supervisor fired, plus demanding a new auditor. All Mr. Leonard could do was get the State Review Board to put a nasty letter in the supervisors and auditors personnel files. He then concluded by pointing out that he, Leonard, and the Board itself, was available for advice, and if you are charged, you should get as much help as you can from their own files.
Q&A ED GAULD, In case #2, why wouldn’t they look at his past payment record? They did go back ten years, but not more case closed. BARRY MARLIN, If we had weather here like they do in Michigan, we would have five million people in California and wouldn’t have these problems. Yes, it’s true productive families are being driven out of California. And new businesses are not being started. It is just too difficult to do. ELLIOTT TURNER, is there a step beyond the Board of Equalization to which you can appeal. Yes, you can come before the Superior Court. From either ED GAULD or NICK KAHRILAS, Why won’t the Legislature change some of these unworkable rules? It needs an education campaign, and Mr. Leonard is working on doing that. The Governor supports his efforts.
Again, I would opine that public servants like Bill Leonard are few and far between. We wish him well in his reform efforts.
YOE, Ernie Wolfe