The California Board of Equalization is a low-profile board, but candidates for the district that serves Lodi and Galt say it's very important.
Edward Streichman says it's as important as the governor.
Barbara Alby wouldn't go that far, but says it's important who's on the board.
"The Board of Equalization can affect people's wallets," Alby said. "We can hurt people."
Three of the four Republican candidates — Alby, Streichman and Lodi's Alan Nakanishi — spoke at Wednesday's Lodi Republican Women luncheon at the Woodbridge Golf & Country Club. A fourth Republican, George Runner, said he was unable to attend due to a previous commitment.
Three Democrats are also in the fray in the June Primary — Mark L. Stebbins, of Stockton, Chris Parker, of Sacramento, and Paul Vincent Avila, of Ontario. The winners from each party will square off in November.
The Board of Equalization oversees $53 billion in tax revenue that comes to the state coffers, 85 percent of which is sales tax and use tax, Streichman said. It also hears appeals from people who want to challenge their state income tax audits.
The board has two Republicans and two Democrats; state Controller John Chiang, a Democrat, also is a voting member.
The Republicans on the board tend to cater to taxpayer needs, while the Democrats are more interested in government getting the tax revenue, Alby said.
"There's a tension there," she said. "We're very collegial on the board. On tax policy, that's where we have our differences."
Candidates said that the Board of Equalization usually doesn't take punitive action because people usually pay what the auditor says they owe. But the board has the legal authority to create quite a hardship, Alby said.
"We can take your business, your house, your bank account," she said. "That's why it's important to have a taxpayer advocate on the board."
Nakanishi is a former Lodi mayor and city councilman who was also an assemblyman in the Lodi area. He said that Board of Equalization members can use their position to advocate on taxation and business matters to the Legislature.
As an example, Nakanishi cited Lodi's efforts when he was on the City Council to work with the late Bob Wheeler to keep the General Mills plant in Lodi instead of moving to Arizona. Nakanishi said that the city was able to reduce electrical rates at General Mills to help keep the plant in Lodi.
At the state level, the Board of Equalization can work to reduce business taxes and encourage the Legislature to enact more job-friendly laws, said Nakanishi, who was appointed by board member Michelle Steel to represent her at meetings and confer with people who will testify at upcoming meetings.
Streichman, who lives in Fresno, has been an auditor at the Board of Equalization for 25 years. He wants to see more businesses get audited to ensure that they pay all the taxes they owe. One industry on his list are gas stations, which Streichman says often avoid paying all their sales taxes.
"I have the advantage of working in the field," Streichman said. "I (already) know the laws."
Streichman said he disagrees with the recent trend to consolidate Board of Equalization operations to the Sacramento office. More auditors should be in regional offices like they used to be. For example, he said, the Fresno field office, which had 33 auditors in 2000, is down to 14.
Streichman added that, due to his experience as an auditor, he would know when auditors make mistakes, an asset for people appealing their tax audits to the board.
Alby, a Folsom resident, was chief deputy for board member Bill Leonard until Leonard was appointed state Secretary of Consumer Services by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Alby then was promoted to the position of acting board member. She will complete Leonard's term, which expires this year.
Alby told the Lodi Republican Women the importance of electing Republicans to overturn the Democratic majority on the board. She also touted her personal background as a welfare mom who realized she had to get a job in the 1960s when then-Gov. Ronald Reagan issued what she describes as "tough love" and drastically reduced her welfare benefits.
Runner, a state senator from Lancaster, also describes himself as a taxpayer advocate. According to a press release, his platform includes:
- Combining the Franchise Tax Board with the Board of Equalization, which he says perform essentially the same tasks.
- Automating payments to the Board of Equalization. Currently, payments are processed by hand.
- Allowing the Board of Equalization to use private collection agencies within California.
Republican candidates at a glance
Education: Attended University of Wisconsin, no degree.
Career: Six years in the Assembly, terming out in 1998; interim Board of Equalization member, replacing Bill Leonard after he accepted a position in Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's staff; owns concrete contracting company with her husband.
Family: Husband, Dennis; five grown children, 10 grandchildren.
Education: Bachelor's degree, University of Redlands; graduate certificate in business, Azusa Pacific University.
Career: Assemblyman, 1996-2002; state senator, 2004-present.
Family: Wife, Sharon; son, Micah; daughter, Rebekah; three grandchildren.
Education: Medical degree at Loma Linda University, master's in health administration at Virginia Commonwealth University, bachelor's degree in chemistry at Pacific Union College.
Career: Opthamologist, co-founder of Delta Eye Clinic; Assemblyman for six years, terming out in 2008; Lodi City Councilman from 1998-2002; one year as mayor.
Family: Wife, Susan; three grown children, nine grandchildren.
Education: Bachelor's degree in business administration and economics, Humboldt State University.
Career: Auditor at Board of Equalization since 1985; sales agent for Hughes Air West, TWA and Republic Airlines (nine years in airline industry).
Family: Wife, Heidi; sons, Devin, Justin and Derek.
You think our other legislative districts are large? Try this oneIf you think it's strange that Lodi and Morgan Hill are in the same congressional district, check out the boundaries of the 2nd Board of Equalization District.
It clearly gives communities like Weed and Ontario something in common.
The Board of Equalization consists of only four districts — hence the crazy boundaries. In addition to Lodi and Galt, the district follows all of Interstate 5 to the Oregon border except for Yolo and Colusa counties. Going south, it goes down to part of Los Angeles County, Ventura County and parts of Santa Barbara and San Bernardino counties.
The state controller is a fifth voting member.
Source: California Board of Equalization