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State government

California's embattled tax board would lose power over staff and funding under lawmaker's plan

 (Staff and handout photos)
(Staff and handout photos)

Following months of accusations about mistakes and improper use of power by its elected members, the state Board of Equalization could lose substantial power and gain an independent overseer under legislation introduced in the state Assembly.

The bill by Assemblyman Sebastian Ridley-Thomas (D-Los Angeles) would shift much of the power over staff and spending authority away from the independent tax board and create a new inspector general to watch over its actions.

"What we're trying to do is make sure that the reform is transparent," Ridley-Thomas said. "That's what I think the moment demands."

The plan, introduced as an amended bill just before the Memorial Day holiday, comes in the wake of audits alleging the tax agency made multimillion dollar miscalculations on revenue allocations and that some of its elected members improperly used staff members who were supposed to be focused on tax collection. Earlier this month, Gov. Jerry Brown called the situation a "mess" and in April asked for an investigation by the state Department of Justice.

Four members of the Board of Equalization are directly elected by voters. The fifth, state Controller Betty Yee, serves in an ex officio capacity.

The Assembly bill would transfer significant staff decisions to the agency's executive director and would require the Board of Equalization's members to have their operations funded in detailed line items included in the state budget. It would also create an inspector general office and would require the board's members to disclose all ex parte communications with those seeking action by the agency.

"I think that these issues can be addressed if we keep them in the sunlight," said Ridley-Thomas.

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