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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] 8/17/04

CPR’s Tax Consolidation

I am pleased that the Governor's performance review team recommends that all of California's tax departments be blended into one body under the elected members of the Board of Equalization. As proposed, a California Tax Commission would enable businesses and individuals to deal with one shop -- instead of several -- to get taxpayer assistance and consistent application of the law. Additionally, having one body of elected officials responsible for the administration of California's taxes will raise the level of accountability by establishing a clear line of responsibility.

The only improvement I can suggest to the recommendation is to point out that the changes are statutory only. If the consolidation occurs and Californians are pleased with the new commission, a Constitutional amendment would make the change, and the protections it would bring, more permanent.

Some Highlights from the Performance Review

- There are almost 900 personal income and bank and corporation tax appeals, with a total value of approximately $2.4 billion held up at the FTB. Even if the government only won half of the appeals that is $1.2 billion cash into the state treasury.

- There are also more than 1,200 cases pending at the BoE, with a total value of $320 million. Most will end up not being appealed, but all backlogs must be reduced.

- California state government spends upwards of $7 billion annually on goods and services. Single departments make most purchases independently. It is not surprising that the state has 17 separate contracts with Microsoft, 78 with Cisco, and 54 with IBM. CPR recommends procurement reform.

- CalTrans is responsible for maintaining 50,000 miles of roads, 12,000 bridges, 250,000 acres of roadside areas, 88 roadside rest areas, and more. The maintenance of our existing infrastructure is largely ignored. CPR recommends more preventative maintenance.

- Of the 50,000 miles of road above, 6,000 miles of these go through cities. Many of these have become local streets as new highways have bypassed the original construction. CPR recommends turning over these roads to local governments for a possible savings of $100 million a year.

Economy Starting to Accelerate

The preliminary data from the BoE for the first quarter of 2004 taxable sales shows that California businesses completed approximately $110.8 billion in transactions subject to the sales and use tax. This is an increase of 6% over the first quarter of 2003 ($104.5 billion).

The increase in first quarter sales figures marks the largest increase in taxable sales since the fourth quarter of 2000, when an 8.7% increase was reported over the prior quarter.

These figures are not final, but nonetheless offer an encouraging sign the economy is vibrant.

Illinois: What Happened to the Big Tent?

I remember back in the day when conservatives like myself would regularly come to the defense of Republican nominees who supported abortion rights. I recognize that many issues determine what it means to be a Republican. Most of these issues are fiscal and law-and-order oriented. While I am a supporter of pro-life issues, my vote does not turn on that one issue alone. This is my idea of a big tent that includes a variety of opinions within the party’s umbrella.

Now it seems in Illinois that a high-profile Republican wants to collapse the tent entirely. In a Chicago Sun Times column I read last week, the former Governor of Illinois, James Thompson, said he will not endorse the Republican candidate for U.S. Senate, Alan Keyes, against the popular Democrat Barack Obama. Thompson was quoted as saying, “His [Keyes’] views are very conservative. Some of his positions would make me uncomfortable as a voter.” Keyes’ position on abortion is that current law renders the relationship between a mother and her unborn child to be virtually the same as that of a slave owner to a slave, and this state of the law undermines all other Constitutional protections. Keyes is a black American. I agree that Keyes’ principled stand makes a lot of people uncomfortable, but does it render him unfit for office?

The article went on to describe Thompson as a hero to the moderate wing of the Republican Party for his past support for abortion rights and the Equal Rights Amendment. My question to Thompson would be: Since you are withholding your support for a candidate in your party because of the abortion issue, do you recommend that the national party follow your lead and withhold support for any Republican that is not staunchly pro-abortion? I would assume not, but maybe Thompson has not thought this through completely.

Take a Moment to Consider

There was some heavy fighting in Iraq last week, where temperatures reportedly soared to more than 130 degrees Fahrenheit. Fox News reported that there is a popular myth going around in Iraq that the Americans have developed a special pill to deal with the heat because the Iraqis are incredulous at how our forces are dealing with the conditions.

We should start thinking about ways to acknowledge the incredible performance of our people over there. May I suggest that if a returning veteran comes and fills out an application for work at your place of business you might consider that such a person would likely not find any task you come up with very daunting.

I also agree with U.S. Senate candidate Bill Jones that we ought to pay our National Guard and Reservists some high percentage of the civilian salary they gave up to answer the call to serve.

November Ballot Propositions - Prop 62

The most controversial ballot measure this year is undoubtedly Proposition 62, which would create a Louisiana-style primary election process in California. Under this initiative statute, candidates from all parties would be listed on the same primary election ballot. The two candidates with the most votes would advance to the November general election, regardless of party. In many legislative districts, perhaps most, there would be two Democrats or two Republicans on the general election ballot. (The traditional closed primary system would be retained only for presidential elections and party central committee elections.)

For those who hate political parties, this initiative is the radical reform that will kill off parties. For those who believe that parties take stands on issues and are helpful in determining how candidates might act once elected, this radical idea should be opposed.

Looking at my own Board of Equalization district, I can see that two legislators running for this seat (after I leave, of course) who have some name identification and some campaign money will likely do well in the primary election and finish in the top two. These two and no one else will run against each other in the general election come November. Under Proposition 62, these two legislators could both be Democrats or could both be Republicans. Either way, almost half of the electorate registered in the other political party would be denied a real choice.

It gets worse for the minor parties. Again, if you like the idea of a principled party that takes strong stands, you will oppose this measure. Under Proposition 62, no minor party candidate will EVER be on the November ballot. The Green, Peace and Freedom, and Libertarian Parties will be gone. Maybe this is the true motive of the sponsors: to force these minor parties out of existence.

The proponents argue that this will make candidates more moderate as they appeal to more voters. Balderdash. I will not change my principles. But I will have to spend twice the money campaigning in the primary to voters of all parties and explaining my “Justice for Taxpayers” program of fighting for taxpayers’ rights and for lower taxes. If I am fortunate enough to make the run-off, I will campaign in the same fashion. How does this produce more moderate candidates?

Political parties came into existence early in this country’s history. There are truly multiple visions for the future of our country. While I think my vision is the best one and the others are not, I do recognize that there are differing views. To me, its wrong to change the election rules in a way that ends a party’s ability to coalesce voters around their issues and with those issues carry themselves to victory. Would the Republicans have beaten the Democrats after the Civil War with these blanket primaries? Would the Democrats have beaten the Republicans after the 1929 stock market crash with these run-off style rules? Probably not and probably not good for our country. I am voting NO on Proposition 62.CRO




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