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California governor Jerry Brown is in a mood for spending. As Jon Ortiz and Dale Kasler note in the Sacramento Bee, his 2016-17 budget includes “a $1.5 billion infrastructure plan that would also remodel a portion of the Capitol.” The governor has “proposed transferring $1.5 billion from the state’s general fund to a new State Office Infrastructure Fund. First up would be a new $530 million, 650,000-square-foot office building for the Natural Resources Agency.” The plan also includes $226 million to replace a vacant state building in Sacramento. Brown’s largesse, however, fails to include any money for repairs to the state Board of Equalization (BOE) headquarters in downtown Sacramento, and therein lies a story.
As we noted, the BOE headquarters has been dubbed a “Terror Tower,” with good reason. The 24-story building has been plagued with mold, leaking windows, bursting pipes, falling glass and even traces of toxic substances. Unfortunately, the statute of limitation on defective construction ran out in 2002. In its first 21 years the tower consumed some $60 million, and the cost to fix current problems is $30 million. One assemblyman wanted a new facility costing $500 million, plus debt on the ramshackle BOE building, now in the range of $70 million and not due to be paid off until 2021. So in typical government style the money pit gets deeper, all for a bloated bureaucracy of dubious utility.
The Board of Equalization dates from 1879 and its mandate was to ensure that property tax assessments were uniform across all California counties. The BOE no longer “equalizes” anything but collects a variety of taxes and fees. As an elected body the BOE provides a comfy landing spot for termed-out politicians. They represent government to the public and create new ways to shake down taxpayers. Twenty years ago in 1996 the BOE attempted to tax editorial cartoons as though they were works of art purchased in an art gallery. The proposed “laugh tax” made California a national joke, so no surprise that even the board’s headquarters is a money pit. Government waste, fraud and abuse are always worse than politicians let on. And when taxpayers calculate the cost of government, don’t forget to include the maintenance.