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Bill Leonard - Contributor

Bill Leonard is a Member of the State Board of Equalization

A Week Under the Dome
NetFile, Cigarettes, Lawyers, CPR, under God...
[Bill Leonard] 4/6/04


Free NetFile Service

If you are getting nervous because the April 15 deadline for filing income taxes is quickly approaching, consider this time- and cost- saving option. The Franchise Tax Board’s NetFile program is designed to allow millions of Californians to e-file their returns for free. Returns go directly to the FTB, and the system is easy to use. When you file your return using NetFile, you can get a fast refund or choose to pay the amount you owe electronically. FTB will give you confirmation that your return was filed and keep only the final return information you file. To use this system, you must be filing a 2003 California personal income tax return and have been a California resident for all of 2003. There are some other qualifications, which you can read at NetFile qualifications. To learn more, see For those who use this service I would be interested in hearing any critique you might have.

Another April 15 Deadline

As if the income tax deadline on April 15th is not consuming enough, wholesalers, distributors and retailers also face that day as the deadline for obtaining a license to sell cigarette or tobacco products in California. If you are wholesaler, distributor or retailer of tobacco products and have not received an application for each location where you will be selling those products this year, contact the BOE information center at 1-800-400-7115 and select the “Cigarette and Tobacco Program” option. If you have received your application, be sure to return it by the deadline. The new law requiring these licenses carries penalties for noncompliance, including restrictions on sale of tobacco or cigarettes and criminal prosecution. UNDER THE DOME

Serving Lawyers at Taxpayers’ Expense

There is a proposal before the Legislature seeking to create a new state Tax Court that would hear tax appeals rather than the Board of Equalization (BoE). Currently, any taxpayer can come before the Board of Equalization and present their point of view -- with or without an attorney-- because the process is fairly informal. Taxpayers do not have to familiarize themselves with legal jargon or worry that there is secret code of conduct when coming before the Board. The state Tax Court idea, however, is modeled on the United States Tax Court and the procedural rules for that body cover more than 200 pages. The table of contents for this document is larger than the BoE’s entire Rules of Practice. I submit that the average California taxpayer would not fare well before such a body without a highly trained and expensive attorney. I also disagree with having five attorneys appointed by the Governor take the place of the Constitutionally-mandated and voter-elected Board. The last thing this Legislature needs to do is pass another Full Employment for Lawyers Act. This bill should be killed in its very first committee.


Last week I began a profile of the Governor’s ambitious California Performance Review. The first phase of the project is a review of and recommendations for restructuring the executive branch. I expect the Governor will make a separate announcement about this aspect of the project, probably when the legislature returns from its spring break next week. The second charge to the project, which I will discuss today, is Program Performance Assessment and Budgeting. When the state budget is proposed and debated every year, there are rarely significant changes from the prior year. That is because the prior year’s budget becomes the baseline for the following year, adding to the cycle of growth in spending that has gotten us in this upside-down mess. Instead of assuming that any particular program is functioning well and deserving of growth, the services provided should be evaluated regularly. CPR intends to undertake detailed and rigorous assessments, focusing on priorities, return on program investment and effective program management. The state will then be able to make program elimination and or modification decisions and budget choices based on these evaluations, rather than on raw emotion or political demagoguery. Of course, the first step to such an open process is discovering the true costs of programs. Once we determine those costs and link them to actual services provided, we will also be able to compare our programs with those in other states. The goal, CPR says, is to make the state’s budget process into a management tool rather than just a financial exercise.

If Governor Schwarzenegger can accomplish even a portion of this ambitious agenda he will have advanced responsible fiscal management beyond what any other Governor has been able to do.

Living Under God

The Pledge of Allegiance lawsuit has brought forward a number of opinions about God in American history. Even though I very much disagree with the atheist who brought the lawsuit, I find myself stunned at the report of the questions he received by one of our U.S. Supreme Court Justices. The Justice made the point that the words "under God" might be so devoid of religious significance that they fail to cross any line be church and state. I actually agree with the atheist that the words "under God" are filled with meaning, and not, as the Supreme Court Justice intimated, that they have become simply a vacuous recitation. The reason they do not violate the Constitution is because they do not establish a state church; rather they acknowledge the fact that our nation was founded on divine principles and our leaders and our people have called upon God to bless this nation. My prayer is that whatever happens in this court case, our Justices will figure out that "under God" is filled with power and blessings. AROUND THE STATE

End Run on the Legislature

Among the handful of reasons commonly cited for our dysfunctional legislature is the huge number of noncompetitive districts. Current law requires that after each census, the legislature redraw the boundaries of Senate, Assembly and Board of Equalization districts so that they are balanced by population. However, legislators drawing their own district lines take into consideration much more than population and have produced districts that leave legislators virtually unaccountable to the voters. Right now, there are about 2-4 competitive seats out of 40 in the Senate and 4-8 unsafe seats of the Assembly’s 80.

When I served in the legislature, I introduced a law to change this process and allow an impartial panel of retired judges draw the boundaries. I believed their intentions would be less political and, therefore, result in more competitive seats. More competitive seats mean legislators who are more in touch with the people and better incentivized to do good work. I am pleased that my law, which for obvious reasons was not passed by the legislature, has now been introduced as an initiative.

Petitions are currently circulating to take the henhouse (redistricting process) away from the foxes under the dome. As a former fox, I can testify that the efforts spent to draw safe districts can be all consuming. I encourage you to order petitions and sign them, sending yet another signal to the state capitol that you demand a change in politics as usual. Visit

Strengthening Megan’s Law

Another ballot measure worthy of your signature is the Sexual Predator Punishment and Megan’s Law Expansion Act. Megan’s Law, as authored by my Chief Deputy Barbara Alby when she was in the legislature, took an important step in creating a database of criminals who prey on children. However, that database is currently of limited use because it is not available widely enough. This measure would disclose key information about “high risk” sex offenders on a website maintained by the Department of Justice. It would increase treatment required before sexual predators can be paroled, increase penalties for child pornography and exploitation, and require electronic monitoring of paroled sex offenders.

This measure needs about 600,000 signatures by April 15 to qualify for the November ballot. Please do your part by visiting to order your petitions today. CRO




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