Bill Leonard - Contributor
Bill Leonard is a Member of the State Board of Equalization
Week Under the Dome...
Bah humbug, econ stats and taxes and taxes..
[Bill Leonard] 12/22/04
Too Many Bah Humbugs
Last week’s comments about the Governor calling the state “Christmas
tree” exactly that instead of a “holiday tree” provoked
comment from a few Leonard Letter readers. My response to those
who asked was that state leaders can, do and should acknowledge
that religions exist and are part of our culture. Continuing
in that vein last week, Governor Schwarzenegger participated
in the 11th annual Menorah Lighting Ceremony on the west steps
of the Capitol Building.
It is sad to me that the news lately has been filled with tales
of carols being banned at schools and other bah-humbug reactions
to expressions of Christmas or Hannukah. But it is not just about
the holy holidays. Rather, there seems to be a concerted effort
to attack all public expression of faith, or anything that resembles
Consider Stephen J.
Williams, a fifth-grade teacher in Cupertino. He is suing his
school district because he believes it has blocked
him from distributing supplemental materials about the religious
aspects of American history to his students. The offending documents?
Samuel Adams ’ “The Rights of Colonists,” William
Penn’s “Frame of Government of Pennsylvania,” and
excerpts from the Declaration of Independence.
My friend Bill Evers,
a professor at the Hoover Institution and a recently elected
school board member who helped write the
state’s Content Standards for history, reserves his opinion
of Mr. Williams and his district until the facts come out in
court. However, he reminds us in general terms that, “The
official Content Standards say California wants fifth-grade students
to know about William Penn’s goals in colonizing Pennsylvania,
the Puritans in New England, Catholicism in colonial Maryland,
the role of religion in American’s founding, and the reason
for the Establishment Cause in the First Amendment. Students
of American history do need to learn about the role of religion.
To teach about religion is not to teach religion.” And
to display a Christmas tree or light a Menorah at the state capitol
is not to demand that Californians be Christian or Jewish.
Econ Stats are Good Holiday News
The San Francisco Chronicle featured a report on Friday from
the Mortgage Bankers Association that the percentage of California
homeowners behind on their mortgage payments in the third quarter
is at the lowest level in 25 years. Same for the foreclosure
rate. I suppose history could record these times as the last
of the real estate bubble, but I doubt it for two reasons. First
is demand. California's Department of Finance estimates we have
been underbuilding residential housing by at least 100,000 homes
per year over the last decade. That is a lot of pent up demand.
Second, I contend that Americans are a lot smarter than the experts
give them credit for. People sense we are entering a major inflationary
cycle. We also have historically low rates. What is not to like
about buying a home -- even at a premium price -- in an environment
such as this? Given the phenomenal growth in credit products
and the extraordinary access ordinary Americans have to large
amounts of credit, declining delinquency and foreclosure rates
would seem counter-intuitive. These stats should be seen as a
very big story.
The Not So Special District Taxes
In an era where the
public is demanding less burdensome tax collection with simpler,
shorter and on-line returns, the sales
tax program is taking the opposite tack with the special district
tax. Many recent sales tax elections in cities and counties create
special district taxes. Such taxes are collected by the BOE but
are distributed to local district entities for transportation,
public safety, hospital or other purposes. There are now 46 of
these districts in the state and two more are scheduled to come
on line as of January 1, 2005. One district is multi-county;
30 districts are countywide with some counties having multiple
districts; 15 districts are citywide. These districts require
approximately 40 lines on quarterly returns. The Board recently
heard a case where a San Diego health food company sold products
and had sales agents throughout California. Since the company
had sales agents in almost every area of California, it was required
to determine if the customer shipping address was in any one
of the district areas. If so, the company had to report the sales
on the proper line on its return and remit the appropriate taxes.
This is a tremendous burden on retailers even with the right
computer software. Just to make it worse for California’s
retailers, last November's elections saw the passage of 23 tax
measures for 17 additional districts and six existing districts.
Approximately 25 more lines will need to be added to the return
form, bringing the total lines for district taxes to about 65.
This gives new and ironic meaning to the term “short form.”
An Invitation to Pay
I am working to alert
taxpayers to the tax amnesty program that runs until March
31, 2005 in California. The Board is joining
the Franchise Tax Board in sending notices to taxpayers who may
benefit from the amnesty program and avoid high penalties. Despite
the seriousness of the issue and amounts of money involved, I
had to laugh when I read that the FTB is calling those 2 million
notices “invitations.” Even though taxpayers could
end up paying less, I doubt any of them will look upon amnesty
notices in the same enthusiastic way they might consider a real
invitation. Maybe it’s a crafty plot by the FTB to get
more taxpayers to read their mail.
Tax Court Unpopular on Another Front
I have long argued
that California does not need to create a Tax Court. Not only
is it unfair to taxpayers with cases (who
would then have to hire attorneys) but it is also bad news for
taxpayers without cases (who would then be footing the bill for
yet another state agency). A poll last month by Fairbank, Maslin,
Maullin and Associates tested voters’ thoughts on a Tax
Court. Fifty-nine percent of people did not want to cede oversight
to judges or require taxpayers to hire attorneys to make their
case. Only a minority were critical of the BOE. A better way
to save money, help taxpayers and make tax administration more
efficient would be to consolidate all the taxing agencies into
a state Tax Commission governed by a board of elected officials
accountable to the voters for their decisions.
Some of you might have seen this in your in-box recently. The
London Spectator published a piece that is another illustration
of the declining standards and expectations we have for young
people. However, interpreting it in that limited way is depressing
and boring. Rather, what struck me as I reviewed the questions
below is what a tremendous gift the human intellect is. Clearly,
our minds are capable of great feats, and as the new year approaches,
we should resolve to make a greater effort to feed our own brains
as much as future leaders of the British Empire had to do in
The Spectator printed these exam papers taken by 11-year-olds
applying for places to King Edward's School in Birmingham in
1898. The exam is too long to reproduce in total and many of
the questions are too uniquely British to be of use here, but
I offer this sampling to make the point:
1. What kings of England began to reign in the years 871, 1135,
1216,1377, 1422, 1509, 1625, 1685, 1727, 1830?
2. Give some account of Egbert, William II, Richard III, Robert
Blake, Lord Nelson.
3. State what you know of: Henry II's quarrel with Becket, the
taking of Calais by Edward III, the attempt to make Lady Jane
Grey queen, the trial of the Seven bishops, the Gordon riots.
4. What important results followed: the raising of the siege
of Orleans, the Gunpowder plot, the Scottish rebellion of 1639,
the surrender at Yorktown, the battles of Bannockburn, Bosworth,
Ethandune, La Hogue, Plassey, and Vittoria?
5. How are the following persons connected with English History:
Harold Hardrada, Saladin, James IV of Scotland, Philip II of
Spain, Frederick the Elector Palatine?
1. Multiply 642035 by 24506.
2. Write out Length Measure, and reduce 217204 inches to miles.
3. Find the greatest common multiple of 13621 and 159848.
4. Subtract 37/16 from 51/4; multiply 63/4 by 5/36; divide 43/8
by 11/6; and find the value of 21/4 of 12/3 of 13/5.
5. Subtract 3.25741 from 3.3; multiply 28.436 by 8.245; and divide
.86655 by 26.5.
6. Simplify 183/4 22/3 ÷ 11/5 31/2 x 4/7.
7. Find the square root of 5,185,440,100.
1. Where are silver, platinum, tin, wool, wheat, palm oil, furs
and cacao got from?
2. Name the conditions upon which the climate of a country depends,
and explain the reason of any one of them.
3. Where are Omdurman, Wai-Hei-Wai, Crete, Santiago, and West
Key, and what are they noted for? CRO