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Streamlining Bill Goes On for 2,985 Pages : Measure: Old-timers call it the biggest legislation they’ve ever seen. Its goal is to replace two tax agencies with a single department.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A four-volume, 2,985-page bill weighing more than five pounds and six times bigger than the state budget is causing some red faces and belly laughs around the state Capitol these days.

It all started innocently enough when freshman Sen. Tom Campbell (R-Stanford) introduced the legislation (SB 1829) at the request of the Wilson Administration in late February.

Designed to streamline the state’s tax-collecting system to help save money, the measure calls for eliminating both the Franchise Tax Board and Board of Equalization and replacing them with a new, consolidated state Department of Revenue.

The idea of merging the two venerable bureaucracies, both of which employ several thousand state workers, has attracted support from the governor, who cited the need for consolidation in his 1994-95 state budget message, and Sen. Quentin L. Kopp, the independent from San Francisco whose merger bill was defeated on the Senate floor earlier this year. Tom McClintock, the Republican candidate for state controller, estimates that the change would save taxpayers $68 million a year.

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But the road to government efficiency hit an unexpected detour when a state computer spit out the 2,985-page measure to accomplish the task. It was the biggest bill Sacramento old-timers had ever seen. In comparison, the 1994-95 state budget bill is 498 pages.

Campbell’s bill grew to monster proportions because of seemingly unending cross-references needed in state law. Every time the terms “Franchise Tax Board” or “Board of Equalization” appeared anywhere in the statute books, they had to be crossed out and changed to “Department of Revenue.” And that meant an awful lot of changes and expense.

An initial 2,300-copy printing of the bill by the state printing plant cost $60,000. In contrast, the average bill costs about $2,500. Five more possible printings, as the bill moved through two committee hearings and the floors of both the Senate and Assembly, with amendments attached, could have added another $300,000 in printing costs.

When Campbell was told about the bill’s size and printing costs, he was mortified.

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Said longtime Senate Secretary Rick Rollens: “It easily was the largest bill printed that I’ve ever seen. He (Campbell) came running in here and shouted, ‘Stop the presses!’ ”

Campbell contacted Rollens for advice on what to do. The remedy: a slimmed-down, 23-page Department of Revenue name-change bill in summary form.

The newest version of the legislation was approved by the Senate Revenue and Taxation Committee in early July, just before the Legislature broke for summer vacation.

The next step is an Appropriations Committee hearing, scheduled to be held after Aug. 8, when lawmakers return.

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But if only the politics of consolidating the agencies were as simple to solve as rewriting a bill. The two institutions are large and powerful, although seldom generating public attention. The Board of Equalization in particular offers the politicians who run it lucrative jobs as well as a new landing zone for those pushed out of the Legislature by term limits.

State Sen. Robert Presley (D-Riverside), the chairman of the powerful Appropriations Committee that will review the consolidation bill, is leaving the Legislature to run for a Board of Equalization seat in the November general election.

And although Campbell’s bill wouldn’t eliminate such jobs, their functions and responsibilities would be reduced.

And should the bill survive the Senate, it would have to pass muster in the Assembly, where its first stop would be the Revenue and Taxation Committee, chaired by Johan Klehs (D-San Leandro). Klehs is also running for the Board of Equalization. He has a rival reorganization plan.

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Klehs wants to abolish the Franchise Tax Board, which includes the Board of Equalization chairman, the state controller and the state finance director, and transfer its powers and duties to the Board of Equalization.

The Franchise Tax Board has a $270-million annual budget and 4,600 employees. Its main job is to collect personal and corporate income taxes. The Board of Equalization has a $265-million annual budget and 4,000 employees. It collects sales taxes and considers appeals filed by taxpayers who think that their rates are unfair.

If Campbell’s measure is approved by the Legislature, the entire 2,985-page bill still has to go to the governor’s desk for his signature into law as a follow-up measure.

This would set another state Capitol record: the largest bill ever signed into law in California.

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