Bill Leonard - Contributor
Bill Leonard is a Member of the State Board of Equalization
Week Under the Dome...
[Bill Leonard] 8/17/04
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
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
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
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