MADERA – On Wednesday, July 15, Board of Equalization Vice-Chairman and District 1 member George Runner participated in two Town Hall meetings in the City of Madera, hosted by Madera County Supervisor Rick Farinelli.
The two events, while intended for different audiences, focused on taxes and the state of the California economy.
The first Town Hall was directed at Madera’s business community and hosted in cooperation with the Madera County Economic Development Commission. On the table were many of the state’s economic development programs, such as “Cal Competes,” a corporate tax credit program designed to encourage businesses to stay or expand in California.
The presentation was given by Jason Rancadore, Assistant Deputy Director at the California Office of Business and Economic Development (CalBIS). Rancadore told the audience that while many of these incentives have been complicated to apply for in the past, CalBIS has made great strides to make applications simple and free to the applicant.
Runner discussed how his office at the Board of Equalization operates to help make navigating California’s complex tax system easier.
“I encourage anyone with tax questions to contact me. No matter your tax question, one of my staff will help you,” Runner said, explaining his pro-taxpayer policies. “When California tax policy isn’t clear, I side on the side of the taxpayer.”
He also didn’t shy away from criticizing California’s legislature for policies that complicate and confuse the state’s business community by oscillating politically between business attraction and repulsion.
“On one hand, the State passes taxes and regulations that push businesses to move outside the state, and then when the State sees businesses leaving, they panic and legislate credits and incentives to try and keep people from leaving,” Runner said.
He also had strong criticisms of the way the state manages and spends the tax dollars they do receive.
At a District 3 Town Hall meeting that same evening, Supervisor Farinelli gave a dire update on the state of County and state roads and fire protection, noting that service is declining rapidly in both areas.
Runner, who as a State Senator was a strong opponent of increasing taxes, was critical of the way the Legislature prioritizes its spending, often times underfunding essential services like roads, fire, police, and schools, then manipulating voters to support tax increases to pay for those shortfalls, he said. He encouraged the audience to be critical of the proposals to raise road and fire taxes, and to demand that their legislators spend their tax dollars efficiently.
One of the State’s programs that draws Runner’s ire is the $150 “Rural Fire Fee” imposed on residents in Cal Fire’s State Responsibility Areas. The fee was passed in 2011 to create a supplemental revenue source to fund rural fire service during a period where the State was experiencing revenue shortfalls.
Though Runner’s agency is charged with collecting the fee, he has been a long-time critic, calling it “an illegal tax” for its method of passage. Runner believes the Governor and the Legislature simply called it a fee in order to avoid the 2/3 majority required to protect taxpayers, and is even championing the lawsuit filed by the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association to have the fee repealed. He says he opposes it even more, now that the State maintains it in spite of running a surplus.
Runner encouraged the audience, if they are impacted by this fee, to fight back – but to do so legally.
“My advice? Pay your bill, then appeal it. But make sure you pay first – the fines are not worth it. But also don’t forget to appeal it. Even if this lawsuit is successful, you won’t get reimbursed unless you have an appeal on file.”
Appeals can be filed on www.calfirefee.com.