Editorial: The Board of Equal What? Let California voters decide whether to dump pointless elected positions

It’s time for a three-part quiz about the California government.

Question 1: What does the California Board of Equalization do?

If you’re at a loss, don’t despair. This obscure state tax agency, run by four regionally elected board members and the state controller, has significantly fewer responsibilities than just a few years ago. In 2017, following allegations of mismanagement and corruption, the California Legislature removed about 90% of the board’s duties and employees and turned them over to two newly formed state agencies, the Department of Tax and Fee Administration and the Office of Tax Appeals. The Board’s primary responsibility at this time is to ensure that county tax collectors are properly levying property taxes.

Question 2: What does the elected state school board do?

This answer might seem simpler, but it’s tricky. A reasonable guess would be that this impartial elected official sets the guidelines for the California Department of Education and approves curriculum frameworks and academic standards for the state’s public schools. But no; that is the task of the appointed state school board. The State Superintendent’s job is to oversee the department and its staff, a type of job typically performed by an officer with management experience.

Question 3: Does California Really Need These Five Elected Officers?

Probably not. But that’s a question we hope voters will be able to answer next year.

Two bills would put constitutional amendments on the 2024 vote to abolish the positions. One, ACA-11, by Assemblyman Phil Ting (D-San Francisco), would eliminate the Compensation Board and turn over the rest of its duties and staff to the state’s other tax agencies; the other, ACA-9, by Assemblyman Kevin McCarty (D-Sacramento), would eliminate the position of Superintendent-elect at the end of the current incumbent’s term and replace it with one appointed by the governor.

Those are reasonable suggestions. Lawmakers should support the bills, which would let voters decide. We’ve been saying in editorials for years that these positions are unnecessary and a waste of money to maintain.

It seems the only reason these five elected seats have hung around for so long (the Board of Equalization was established in 1879) is that they often serve as career-enhancing positions for sacked MPs. The current State Superintendent for Public Instruction, Tony Thurmond, is a former member of the California Legislature, as were the three superintendents before him. Two of the four currently elected members of the Compensation Committee are also former members of the state parliament. The other two are former city council members. None of them are experts in tax policy. (The fifth board member, the state controller, is an ex officio member.)

Putting these questions on the ballot will open a healthy debate about the roles and responsibilities of elected officials and the function and structure of government. More elected offices do not automatically lead to better supervision.

One of the main reasons for the gutting of the Compensation Committee in 2017 was evidence that elected officials were misusing staff and funds to further their own political interests. For example, at a non-tax policy conference, a board member assigned 113 employees with parking and reporting obligations.

A concern previously raised is that the Compensation Committee staff, even in its reduced state, is doing important work and providing valuable fiscal support to constituents and district councillors. This work can go on whether overseen by four elected board members or not. In fact, no other state has an elected tax commission. Also, ACA-11 would only eliminate 13 BOE positions. Most of the nearly 200 employees are civil servants who would do the same job in another state agency.

For those concerned that the elimination of these five elected posts will dilute voters’ power to direct state and local government services, consider this: There are seven other statewide constitutional officers, including the governor, as well as 120 full-time MPs, and many more Thousands of elected officials representing California’s 58 counties, 482 cities and more than 1,000 school boards. And that’s not even counting the state’s many elected water boards and special districts. Californians are not short of opportunities to elect government officials.

But ultimately the voters should decide. Once they know enough about these five chosen positions to confidently answer the essay portion of a California civics quiz, we think the choice will be clear.

https://www.latimes.com/opinion/story/2023-03-27/let-californians-decide-whether-to-dump-obscure-and-pointless-elected Editorial: The Board of Equal What? Let California voters decide whether to dump pointless elected positions

Alley Einstein

Alley Einstein is a USTimesPost U.S. News Reporter based in London. His focus is on U.S. politics and the environment. He has covered climate change extensively, as well as healthcare and crime. Alley Einstein joined USTimesPost in 2023 from the Daily Express and previously worked for Chemist and Druggist and the Jewish Chronicle. He is a graduate of Cambridge University. Languages: English. You can get in touch with me by emailing Alley@ustimespost.com.

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