Editorials

Hallinan would get rid of BOE; Ma, Yee will protect state’s finances

The State Board of Equalization occupies the second floor of the three-story River Bluff II office building at Palm and Nees avenues in northwest Fresno.
The State Board of Equalization occupies the second floor of the three-story River Bluff II office building at Palm and Nees avenues in northwest Fresno.

If Tom Hallinan is elected to the Board of Equalization, he has no intention of ever running as an incumbent. That’s because Hallinan’s sole purpose in running is to put the ineffective, unnecessary and scandal-ridden bureaucracy out of existence.

Voters should help him carry out that goal by electing him to the board in gigantic District 1 (it stretches from the Oregon border to Santa Barbara County).

The other candidates – former mayor Dave Evans, state Sen. Ted Gaines and former legislator Connie Conway – promise various levels of reform, refocus and housecleaning. But that’s not what’s needed.

The BOE has been a source of nepotism, scandal and gross inefficiency for generations. The first calls for disbanding it came a decade after it was formed in 1879. In 1943, the Legislature’s budget adviser recommended getting rid of it.

In 2016, board member Fiona Ma and state Controller Betty Yee helped expose problems in an agency responsible for collecting and distributing the state’s retail and gas taxes and other assorted fees. There were expenditures of $130,000 for a single board member’s office furniture, misuse of employee work time and threats. It was found that 30 percent of employees were related to other staff members.

With the whistle blown, Gov. Jerry Brown backed legislation to gut the agency. Nearly all its duties were reassigned, along with hundreds of employees. The BOE went from a staff of 4,800 to 400. Now its only function is to audit assessment practices of each county every five years, ensuring collection methods are proper and appropriate.

But it’s a constitutionally mandated agency, meaning it takes an amendment to kill it. Hallinan said he’ll work with an unnamed legislator to do just that.

Conway has a different plan. The former Assemblywoman is angry the board was ever gutted and wants to fix what’s left from the inside. Gaines, a state senator, also would simply reform the board. Evans, a CPA, wants to keep it just so taxpayers will have some remaining accountability. Accountability for what?

The other candidates are “just torturing themselves trying to be relevant,” said Hallinan. The board meets only once a month, Hallinan points out, and those meetings often last less than an hour.

Those 400 jobs would be reassigned.

“This isn’t about cutting jobs,” said Hallinan, the only Democrat in the field. “It’s about cutting politicians.” He could have added “and cutting problems.”

Treasurer

Of the four candidates for state Treasurer, Fiona Ma is by far the best. A CPA, former speaker pro tem of the Assembly and vice chair of the BOE, she has broad and deep knowledge of tax policy and state budgets; she’s an ideal fit to manage California’s assets. We appreciate the transparency she created at the BOE.

Ma says she’ll be more active in the Legislature than predecessor John Chiang, who has endorsed her. She wants to create a banking system for cannabis, and backs legislation to bring back redevelopment agencies as a means to creating affordable housing.

Controller

Incumbent Betty Yee has served admirably as California’s chief financial officer and deserves another term. She was instrumental in rooting out fraud and waste by auditing small cities and Central Valley water districts with weak financial controls and, of course, gutting the BOE. She wants to “frame the conversation” around tax reform. California’s reliance on a small group of wealthy people to fill the state’s coffers is not sustainable. Oh, and she endorsed Hallinan for the BOE board.

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