We are well aware that California government seems always to be looking to its long-suffering taxpayers for more revenue, but the following strikes us as beyond the pale — even for California. The state imposes numerous taxes and fees, and assesses some property values, but, occasionally, a court will rule these levies illegal. However, recovering the money the state illegally took from you is another matter.
As Board of Equalization Member George Runner explained in a FlashReport column last week, it can be difficult, if not impossible, to get back money paid to the state in illegal taxes. And even when taxpayers are successful, they must hack through a jungle of costly and time-consuming red tape.
“Currently, taxpayers are only eligible to receive refunds if they have exhausted all of their ‘administrative appeals remedies,’ even if the tax they paid is later declared illegal or unconstitutional,” Runner explained.
“The time period to file a refund claim is different for each tax and fee program, ranging anywhere from 30 days to several years,” he said. “That’s right; your state government will keep any and all money it illegally took from you, unless you have already jumped through several confusing administrative hoops — even hoops that you were never aware of.”
To remedy this preposterous process, identical bills have been introduced by Assemblyman Donald Wagner, R-Irvine (Assembly Bill 2510), and state Sen. Steve Knight, R-Palmdale (Senate Bill 1327). The legislation would require the government to automatically refund any taxes, fees, assessments or surcharges, with interest, deemed illegal by a final court decision. It additionally gives taxpayers up until one year following a court decision to file a refund claim with the Franchise Tax Board or Board of Equalization.
This strikes us as an uncontroversial and necessary reform, and we hope the Legislature will speedily adopt it accordingly. If someone takes your stuff illegally and is caught with it, you should be able to get your stuff back without jumping through bureaucratic hoops. The same should apply to government.