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State of California June 6, 2006 Election
Smart Voter

Tax Help... Really

By Bill Leonard

Candidate for State Board of Equalization; District 2; Republican Party

This information is provided by the candidate
Explains how Bill Leonard, as an elected member of the Board of Equalization, can help CA taxpayers and businesses.
"I'm from the government and I'm here to help." It is an overused cliché, but it fits. I am your elected representative to the Board of Equalization, which should really be called the State Tax Commission so that you could get some idea of what we do. (That complication alone dissuades people who need help from seeking it.) As an elected member of the Board, my role is to make a judgment when the tax bureaucrats make their case for separating you from your money.

You might easily gloss over that last sentence, but consider its significance. Nowhere else in the nation does a government employee have to stand publicly before a panel of elected officials and explain why you owe the government more money. California is unique in having elected officials who can overrule the government, waive penalties and interest, or order a change in policy. The Board hears cases about sales and use, property, special and personal income taxes.

While that is all to our credit, it is not all as good as it seems. Much of our tax policy is stacked against the taxpayer. The burden is yours to prove you have paid fairly rather than the government's to prove you have not. In arguing your case, you have to persuade three of five Board members to take your side, and only two of us are Republicans who are philosophically inclined to give a tie to the taxpayer.

So, you are better off resolving your tax issues before they rise to a Board hearing, and that is why I say I am here to help.

First, any businessperson who has a tax question can ask it up front, before making a dime in sales. You can write a letter to the Board and receive an advice letter explaining how the law applies to your situation. You can then organize your business around that specific advice, rather than holding your breath through an audit.

Second, anytime taxpayers have questions, they can call our toll-free Taxpayer Assistance line at 1-800-400-7115. A tax representative will get an answer to your question. Many of those questions can be answered by one of the many helpful publications the Board produces and makes available to you for free--everything from how the sales tax law applies to specific types of businesses to how to keep good records. Visit this site: and click on Taxpayer Services/Publications.

Third, taxpayers can learn about how to keep accurate records. One of the first cases I heard as a Board member was for a corner market. Unfortunately, the cash register did not distinguish between food items which are not subject to the sales tax and all other items which require a sales tax. Absent such information, the Board had to determine tax liability based on assumptions. The taxpayer will almost always come out better if the Board is basing decisions on accurate records instead of the assumptions of government auditors.

Fourth, when I served in the Legislature I voted for a law to create the Taxpayer Rights Advocate Office at the Board. The role of this office is to be your voice within the bureaucracy and its purpose is to make sure that someone who knows the rules and practices from the inside is helping you, the taxpayer. If you have a complaint about a tax agent, or believe you are being treated unfairly, you call the Taxpayer Rights Advocate Office at 1-888-324-2798 and you will be helped.

Fifth, I am your eyes and ears at the state level. You send elected representatives to Sacramento because you cannot pay attention to every important public policy issue. I am there advocating for low, fair, broad-based taxes that are administered impartially. I am also on the lookout for government waste and good ideas, so that we can fix what is broken and change what needs improvement. To help keep you informed about those issues, I offer a free, weekly, electronic newsletter that summarizes key happenings in California's politics. To subscribe, or to reach me about any tax issue you may have, contact me at, or call my office at (916)445-2181. I'm from the government and I'm here to help. Really.

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