Will California Voters Approve $3.6 Billion Per Year in New Taxes?

VotedWith the 2018 general election a few weeks away, it’s time to review just how many tax increases are on state and local ballots in California. And while media attention focuses on the statewide tax measures, even bigger money is represented by the sum of hundreds of proposed local tax increases.

Every election cycle, the California Taxpayers Association (CalTax) produces a list of local tax and bond proposals. After every election, they provide information as to how many were approved by voters and how many failed. Using CalTax data, it can be seen that in November 2016, California’s local voters approved 181 bonds, mostly for school construction, totalling an incredible $32.3 billion. Annual payments on these bonds will cost California’s taxpayers an estimated $2.1 billion per year. At the same time, local voters approved 159 new tax measures, mostly increases to local sales taxes and parcel taxes, adding another $2.9 billion in annual payments.

If you add up all the voter approved new taxes in November 2016, state and local, you have to include not only $5 billion in new local taxes and payments on local bonds per year, you also have to add the voter approved statewide measures. That would include Prop. 51, adding yet another $9 billion in school bonds (estimated payments $585 million per year), and Prop. 55, the extension of the “temporary” increase to state income taxes on personal incomes over $250,000 per year (estimated collections, between $4 billion and $9 billion per year), and Prop. 56, the $2.00 tax increase per pack of cigarettes (estimated collections just over $1 billion per year).

Before turning to 2018, it’s important to also note that in 2016 the Democrats recovered their two-thirds majority in the state legislature, meaning they could pass new taxes without voter approval. And in 2017, that’s exactly what they did, adding twelve cents per gallon to the already high state taxes on gasoline and increasing vehicle registration fees. Voila, another $5.4 billion per year in taxes on Californians.

When considering how California’s proposed new taxes will fare with voters in November, history is a good indicator. In November 2016, ninety-four percent of local bond measures were passed by voters, and seventy-one percent of new local taxes were approved. Similarly, this past spring, in the primary elections of 2018, California’s voters approved eighty-three percent of local bond measures ($200 million per year in annual payments), and sixty-five percent of new local taxes ($228 million in new taxes per year). Statewide, Californians approved a $4 billion “water” bond (Prop. 68), which equates to another $260 million per year in annual payments.

Which brings us to November 2018. The table below shows 125 new local bonds are proposed. If they are all approved by voters, that will add another $1.2 billion in annual payments. In addition, 259 new local taxes are proposed, which if approved will total another $1.6 billion in annual payments. This time, along with the perennial hikes to sales taxes and parcel taxes, the other popular new mode of taxation is marijuana, with 73 of California’s cities and counties proposing to cash in on sales of recreational cannabis.

California’s Local Tax and Bond Proposals – November 2018

If historical trends apply this time, California’s voters will likely approve four-fifths (or more) of the local bond measures, and two-thirds (or more) of the local tax increases. This will equate to roughly $2 billion in new taxes and payments on bonds per year. And then there are the statewide initiatives.

On California’s November ballot there are four bond proposals, totaling $16.4 billion in additional borrowing. Prop. 1 issues $4 billion in bonds for housing programs and veterans’ home loans. Prop. 2 sells future revenue from the millionaire’s tax for $2 to guarantee $2 billion in bonds for homelessness prevention housing – that’s tax revenue that has to be made up somewhere else, so yes, it counts. Prop. 3 issues a whopping $8.9 billion in bonds for water-related infrastructure and environmental projects. And Prop. 4 issues $1.5 billion in bonds for children’s hospitals. Total payments on these bonds? Another $1.1 billion per year.

To summarize, in 2016, voters approved new taxes and payments on bonds (not including the $4 to $9 billion per year in “millionaire” taxes that were not new, but were continued by the passage of Prop. 56) totaling $6.5 billion per year. In the 2018 June primary, California’s voters approved another nearly $700 million in new taxes and payments on bonds. And this November, voters have the opportunity to approve (or reject), $3.6 billion per year in new taxes and bond payments.

For the children. For education. For safety. For safe drinking water. The list goes on, and the stories are compelling. But here’s the problem: Even if all of the 2018 tax and bond payments are approved, and those payments are added to the payments on new taxes and bonds already approved in Nov. 2016 and June 2018, the total is “only” $10 billion. Why “only”? Because the estimated payments on public employee pensions in California are estimated to increase from $31 billion in 2018 to $59 billion in 2024, and that is the “normal” scenario, not one reflecting the impact of a major correction in the value of stocks, bonds, and real estate.

Money is fungible. When more tax revenues go to pension funds, vital publicly funded programs are either defunded or new taxes are imposed to keep them alive. Similarly, when more tax revenues go to pension funds, maintenance projects that might have been funded using operating budgets, suddenly become capital projects requiring debt financing.

Californians may expect a deluge of new tax and bond proposals for many years to come.

$132 Billion in New Taxes/Fees Proposed by CA Legislators … So Far

As the Legislature nears the June 15 deadline for sending a budget bill to the governor, the California Taxpayers Association released “Tax Watch,” a report detailing $132 billion in new taxes and fees that have been introduced by lawmakers so far during this legislative session.

The report includes every bill introduced so far this session that would impose or authorize higher taxes, fees or tax-like “fees” estimated by state officials to generate $5 million or more per year in net revenue.

State revenue increased more than $10 billion this year under our existing tax structure, but that hasn’t stopped some lawmakers from asking for even more. With tax revenue surpassing expectations, and the state’s rainy day fund now in place to help weather future storms, this is not the time to be proposing $132 billion in new tax and fee increases. 

The most expensive proposal for taxpayers is Senate Bill 8 (Hertzberg), which would extend the sales and use tax to cover services (including veterinary services, auto repairs, gardening and music lessons).

The State Board of Equalization, which administers the sales and use tax, estimates that this change alone would cost taxpayers $122.6 billion every year, on top of all existing taxes.

To prepare “Tax Watch,” CalTax reviewed every bill introduced or amended from December 1, 2014, to May 29, 2015. In cases where two or more bills proposed similar increases (for example, four bills proposed taxes on marijuana), the cost was counted only once for purposes of calculating the total amount of taxes and fees proposed during this session.

resident of the California Taxpayers’ Association

Originally published by Fox and Hounds Daily

CA Tax Board Delays Refunding Taxpayers’ Money

California’s Franchise Tax Board is taking too long to complete audits and resolve taxpayers’ refund claims, protests and appeals, costing businesses hundreds of millions of dollars, according to the California Taxpayers Association.

Gina Rodriquez, vice president of state tax policy for CalTax, voiced her concerns last week at the FTB’s annual Taxpayers’ Bill of Rights hearing. The Bill of Rights, which was enacted by the state Legislature in 1988, spells out the rules and procedures for tax audits and taxpayer protests and appeals of those audits. The protest is the first step in the audit appeal process.

The FTB has consistently shortchanged taxpayers by not following its own guidelines, according to Rodriquez. “CalTax brought this to your attention last year,” she told the tax board. “However, the FTB seems to have fallen a bit short in addressing our concerns. I want to go through this with you again this year.

“Taxpayers’ liabilities should be determined within a reasonable timeframe. Once determined, any overpayment should be returned to them as quickly as possible. The FTB’s high compliance backlog seems to violate the spirit of the Taxpayers’ Bill of Rights. The FTB must do more to avoid any conflict between protecting revenue and providing due process to taxpayers.”

FTB guidelines require the agency to resolve tax protests in two years. But in 2013 it was taking FTB auditors nearly twice as long, 44 months, to close out protest cases, according to Rodriquez.

Report

The 2014 annual report to the Legislature by the FTB’s Taxpayers’ Rights Advocate Steve Sims has also noted the problem. “For the past several years, I have raised concerns about the additional time and resources required for taxpayers to protest an assessment,” said Sims in the report.

“I am pleased that the focused efforts by our Legal and Audit Divisions to resolve older protests resulted in a 200 percent increase in the number of cases resolved, and an overall reduction of 12 percent in the total number of protest inventory cases. Yet, for the business-entity, docketed protests resolved by our Legal Division for FY 2013/14, only 47 percent of the tax at issue was sustained. This once again raises concern about the number of revisions to assessments that occur once a business entity taxpayer elects to file a protest.”

The FTB has also fallen short in responding in a timely manner to taxpayers’ claims for refunds, said Rodriquez.

“The FTB has in its inventory more than 500 refund claims that are more than three years old,” she said. “This is an unacceptable number, as it means hundreds of millions of dollars – and maybe more, we don’t have a real good handle on the dollar amount – [withheld from] the taxpayers’ working capital, stifling economic advancement.”

CalTax doesn’t know how many hundreds of millions of dollars in potential refunds are being tied up by the FTB’s delays because “the FTB does not have a complete picture of its refund claim inventory,” said Rodriquez. “[FTB] staff is unable to tell CalTax whether the inventory has increased since the 2008 enactment of the Large Corporate Underpayment Penalty, also known as the LCUP.

“The 20 percent LCUP is quite punitive. So punitive, in fact, that taxpayers are forced to file their original returns with an overpayment to avoid the imposition of the penalty. Then they subsequently have to file refund claims for legitimate issues. The LCUP does ultimately increase government and taxpayer costs due to the increased workloads in the returns. The legislative purpose in enacting the LCUP in the 2008 budget negotiations was to raise revenue. And I ask: Has that goal been reached?”

No interest

Adding insult to injury, the FTB does not pay interest on the refunds, potentially allowing the state to use the money for years, itself accruing interest, without any compensation to the taxpayers.

Noting the IRS resolves federal tax refund claims much quicker, Rodriquez asked, “Why can’t the FTB have a dedicated staff to work those refund claims? We know we have a problem; let’s address it with some resources.”

FTB is also dragging its heels on audits, according to CalTax.

“Delayed audits have led to unfair audit practices,” said Rodriquez. “FTB is not completing many multi-state and high-level audits in a timely manner. In addition, CalTax members have reported a growing trend among auditors not to process overpayment issues before the audit closes. Some auditors request that taxpayers file a claim for a refund to address the overpayment issue for the same year that it’s under audit. This not only violates the published audit guidelines, but it worsens the high [backlog] inventory problem we have with refund claims.”

In addition, the FTB is taking too long to resolve appeals, she said. “Taxpayers deserve to have their appeals heard within a reasonable time frame. As years pass with a pending appeal, interest accrues, the audit file becomes stale, taxpayers die, key witnesses move on or become unavailable. Additionally, taxpayers lack any guidance for the years subsequent to the years under appeal.”

Concerns

Sims acknowledged CalTax’s concerns, but said the FTB is working to improve its performance, despite not having enough staff members. “[M]any of those issues have been raised in my annual report to the Legislature,” he said. “But I also want to talk to the effort the department has made in terms of trying to fix some of the problems. I’ve been working with our audit and legal division on this issue for more than the two or three years it’s been raised – more like five years. And I do want to say a lot has been done in terms of improving the process.

“One of problems regarding the protest inventory – she’s correct, it’s taking too long, in my opinion. But at the same time, they have reduced the volume of protests. I don’t know that we would have been able to do both at the same time because of the limited resources. Resources are somewhat limited. There is a resource issue that really needs to be addressed.”

Another reason for tax disputes taking longer to resolve is that they tend to be more complex than in prior years. “Taxpayers are becoming a lot more sophisticated,” he said. “The issues that are getting filed on these claims, they are full-blown audit-type issues. They require experienced resources. The department has taken certain steps to involve attorneys in the process a lot earlier to try to assist in handling these types of issues.”

Issues

Board Member Jerome Horton would like more information on the causes of the delays. “Why don’t we set up a meeting so I can have an opportunity to take a look at these in a little more detail,” he said. “I would like to have the department delineate those items that are systemic, those that are institutional and then those that are resource-type issues. If we are having a resource issue, we should consider requesting additional resources to be able to address those.”

A tax concern was also raised by Lynn Freer, president of Spidell Publishing, which provides publications and seminars for tax professionals. She said California tax law differs from federal tax law concerning the Affordable Care Act, which she dubbed “the Accountants’ Crying Act.” That lack of conformity can complicate taxes for self-employed filers who receive an insurance premium credit in 2014 only to find out they have to pay the credit back in 2015 because their income turned out to be too high to qualify for the credit.

“There are all sorts of technical issues involved,” said Freer. “So we would like to request guidance. We would like a rapid resolution. But one step further, it would be nice to have conformity. If we were to automatically conform to federal law, it would be much easier for these taxpayers. Unfortunately, folks who are involved in this premium credit are typically going to be lower-income taxpayers. They are least able to afford to pay folks to figure these things out, or least able to handle problems when they arise later.”

The FTB board did not respond to her request for Obamacare tax clarification.

This article was originally published by CalWatchdog.com

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