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Bill Leonard - Contributor

Bill Leonard is a Member of the State Board of Equalization

A Week Under the Dome
Bill Leonard's weekly report from inside the State Board of Equalization
[Bill Leonard] 10/22/03

Viva La Difference!

Over the last couple weeks, I have spoken with at least a dozen reporters about the Governor-elect, but it was not until late last week that a reporter from the Stockton Record asked the most relevant question: For legislators, how big a difference does it make to have a Governor from the same party? My answer is that it is bigger than the difference between night and day. Here is one example: When I was first elected to the Assembly, Jerry Brown was Governor. When he released his Budget, I had to read the newspaper like everyone else to learn what was in it. A few years later when I was Assembly Republican fiscal lead and Deukmejian was Governor, I participated in the discussions to write the Governor's Budget.

Moreover, with both Deukmejian and Wilson, there was a tacit understanding that legislation needed significant Republican support or would almost certainly suffer the fate of being vetoed. Although in the minority, we Republicans could often get the Democrats to significantly improve legislation because of our confidence -- and their fear -- that our Republican governors would back us up and deliver a veto if the other side did not negotiate in good faith.

Lastly, I believe very strongly that had there been a Republican Governor these last five years, despite the large Democrat majority in both houses, not a single one of the myriad of job-killing laws that are strangling our economy would have been signed into law. With this new Governor, I am confident that the voices of reason and moderation will no longer be cries from the wilderness.

And Maybe Just In Time

Professor Richard Vetter of Ohio University was in California recently. His research about the negative effects of tax increases on the economy is legendary. He made the point that the out-migration of Californians is a reliable indicator of bad times. People move out of the state because they have hopes for a better life elsewhere. Vetter presented the statistic that California lost more people during the last decade than escaped East Germany in the decade before the Berlin Wall went up! It’s time for California leaders to wake up that their negative policies hurt.

Power Grab

Constitutional governments are based on an intriguing proposition. The idea is that the government leaders will limit themselves to actions authorized by the Constitution. This means that if the government tries to limit free speech and the Constitution protects free speech then the Courts have the duty to tell the government, “No.” This concept of limited government is tested regularly. The Board of Equalization now is engaged in this extra-constitutional behavior. The staff of the Board’s Legal Department has advised the Board that we have the power to assess property taxes on non-utility or merchant power generators. The problem is that we do not have any such power. My colleague Carol Migden recognized this last year when, while serving as an Assemblymember, she authored legislation requiring the Board to tax these property owners. If the Board already had such power, her law would not have been needed. Yet the Board legal staff has ignored her new law (probably because it is also being challenged as unconstitutional) in favor of claims that the Board has the inherent authority to tell county assessors not to assess certain property. They believe the Board of Equalization can do it better than the counties would. This is an insult to elected county assessors, and it is a governmental power grab (no pun intended) by the BOE sanctioned by legal gymnastics.

OAL’s Blown Call

Board of Equalization legal staff is not the only batch of government bureaucrats making really bad calls these days.

This summer the Board approved new property tax rules that will allow domestic partners to an exemption from reassessment upon the death of one or the other partner. This is a benefit that was previously enjoyed only by married Californians under the Constitution. I am in favor of giving greater tax relief to all Californians, regardless of what kind of relationship they are in, but I was first elected to the Legislature in 1978 as a supporter and defender of Proposition 13, from which the spousal exemption originates. I maintain that the Board of Equalization does not have the power to ignore the Constitution of California.

After the Board approved the new rule over my objection, the rule was sent to the Office of Administrative Law (OAL) for confirmation. I asked them to deny approval of the regulation and submitted legal arguments including an opinion of the Legislative Counsel showing that there was no authority for the regulation. Last Wednesday, I received the stunning news that OAL approved the rule. As far as I can tell, their only reason is that AB 205, the domestic partner bill recently signed by the Governor, in their eyes has greater authority than the state Constitution.

The Office of Administrative Law has disgraced itself by this ruling and there is no provision for reconsideration. Therefore, I am going to ask the Governor-elect to find attorneys who take the Constitution seriously to head up this agency and I will work with pro-family groups to protect the Constitution.




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