Annual Report 2010-2011
Meeting Taxpayer Needs
The BOE is committed to helping all California businesses and individuals properly comply with the state’s complex and changing tax laws. The agency offers a full range of services tailored to the diverse needs of the state’s businesses—from 24-hour electronic services to personal assistance with tax compliance questions.
Resources and Assistance
Taxpayer Information Section: 800-400-7115
In fiscal year 2010-11, the Taxpayer Information Section received more than 685,000 calls from registered taxpayers and feepayers, tax practitioners, and the general public. Of these calls, 96 percent or 657,000 callers chose to speak to a "live" agent, an increase of more than 25,000 calls from the previous year. The remaining four percent of callers elected to use automated services, which included fax requests for selected forms and publications; a recording of sales and use tax rates; and an interactive seller’s permit verification system. The average wait time for this year improved to 108 seconds, which was a decrease of more than 32 percent from the previous year. In addition to handling calls, the Taxpayer Information Section also responded to over 20,000 emails, an increase of over nine percent from the previous year.
Expanded Online Services at www.boe.ca.gov
The BOE’s extensive website provides forms, publications, statutes, regulations, reports, tax news, meeting agendas, and special features for taxpayers, local governments, and the general public. The BOE continues to improve transparency and customer service by expanding the use of Internet-based services. With the continued success of the BOE Board meeting audio and video live streams, BOE expanded services to more internal and external audiences. Events such as Top Loser Wellness Campaign 2011 and the Health Education Sessions 2011 were streamed live over the BOE's intranet to employees. The Human Trafficking training session conducted for BOE, FTB, and EDD was filmed and then later posted to this site for employee education.
Taxpayers' Rights Advocate Office
Consistent with the California Taxpayers’ Bill of Rights, the Taxpayers' Rights Advocate facilitates resolution of taxpayer complaints or problems, monitors BOE programs for compliance with the Taxpayers’ Bill of Rights, recommends new or revised policies and procedures, ensures taxpayer educational materials are clear and understandable, and coordinates annual public hearings to allow taxpayers to express their concerns and suggestions directly to the Board Members. Business and Property Taxpayers’ Bill of Rights hearings were held in Culver City in June 2011 and in Sacramento in September 2011.
In 2010-11, the Taxpayers’ Rights Advocate Office worked closely with BOE employees to implement a number of its recommendations for improving taxpayer compliance, easing the burden of compliance, and facilitating uniform and fair administration of the law. This year’s accomplishments, involving staff and taxpayer education, and law and policy changes, are summarized in the Taxpayers' Rights Advocate's 2010-2011 Annual Report. The report, which is available on the BOE’s website, also describes project involvement, identifies work in process, contains examples of cases, and summarizes taxpayer contacts with the Taxpayers’ Rights Advocate Office in the property and business taxes areas.
Tax Appeals Assistance Program
The Tax Appeals Assistance Program, which began in 2005 and is managed by the Taxpayers’ Rights Advocate, makes available free legal assistance on appeals of less than $20,000 from law students to low-income individuals with certain types of income tax appeals and consumer use tax appeals. In 2010-11, the Taxpayers’ Rights Advocate Office expanded the Tax Appeals Assistance Program to assist individuals appealing BOE notices of cigarette and tobacco products licensing act violations. Since its inception, the Tax Appeals Assistance Program has grown from one law school with a few students instructed by one BOE tax counsel to five schools with over 40 students instructed by two BOE tax counsels. The cases completed in 2010-11 have fulfilled the purposes of the program, which are to educate and assist taxpayers in voluntarily complying with the law while minimizing their compliance burden and to enhance the preparation and quality of the appeals that come before the Board Members. More information about the program can be found in the Taxpayers' Rights Advocate's 2010-11 Annual Report. Contact information is available on the BOE website through the Taxpayers' Rights Advocate page.
As part of its commitment to serve all Californians, the BOE provides interpreter services in its offices and at Board hearings, when requested. The agency’s Equal Employment Opportunity Office maintains lists of bilingual employees available to assist taxpayers or members of the public who have limited English proficiency. Currently, the lists include 370 employees, who together have fluency in 37 languages and dialects including American Sign Language.
Publications, Special Notices, and Newsletters
In 2010-11 tax program and communications experts created and updated various publications, special notices, forms, posters, flyers, eblasts, online tutorials, and HTML documents. The agency continued to publish five tax newsletters that serve more than one million readers.
Three new newsletters were developed in 2010: the Special Taxes and Fees Newsletter (replacing the Environmental Fees Newsletter); the Special Taxes and Fees Cigarette and Tobacco Products Newsletter (replacing the Excise Taxes Newsletter); and the Motor Carrier Section Newsletter (replacing the Fuel Taxes Newsletter).
Beginning with the September 2010 Tax Information Bulletin, BOE began printing this publication in-house. Printing this newsletter in-house saves the agency $8,964 per year.
New and Revised Publications
Capitalizing on the talent of our Graphic Design Unit staff and collaborating with the Sales and Use Tax Department’s tax program experts, we posted our first tax fact publication to the BOE website in HTML format in April 2011. Publication 127, Organized Camps, is easy to navigate and accessible in accordance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Reading the publication online in HTML format, the user can choose a font size and a window width so the text is easy to read and the paragraphs are laid out to match the user’s preference.
Three publications were developed in collaboration with the Executive Projects and Services Section:
- Publication 200, BOE Vision Statement, is a poster exhibited in the Headquarter’s lobby to inform visitors and agency staff that the core values the BOE embraces are fairness, effectiveness, and efficiency. As a trusted partner to the citizens of California, the BOE must provide taxpayers easy and convenient processes when interacting with us.
- Publication 382, Strategic Plan (2010-2015), explains how the BOE is preparing the agency for the future by developing its staff to move into positions of leadership. The BOE will also initiate the process of replacing its mainframe legacy systems with the technology of the future, which will create a stable yet responsive and flexible technology infrastructure. The true spirit driving the BOE of the future is embodied in the Plan’s Vision Statement.
- New publication 416B, State Board of Equalization 3-Year Business Plan Fiscal Year 2010-2013, offers objectives, potential measures of success, and the key deliverables for each goal outlined in the Strategic Plan.
The publication 67 series, Property Statement Reporting Instructions, was updated and posted to the website. The BOE no longer prints these publications and they are now available online only, saving $1,805 in printing costs.
The BOE developed new publication 206, Human Trafficking, in collaboration with Board Member Horton’s office. The BOE also launched a new, statewide human trafficking initiative that trained BOE, FTB, and EDD investigators to recognize the signs of human trafficking. Addressed by the BOE in its recent initiative, this publication discusses the governmental issue of preventing human trafficking.
In 2010-2011, the Sales and Use Tax Department revised two publications that address the purpose of and procedures used in the Statewide Compliance and Outreach Program (SCOP). Publication 164, Statewide Compliance and Outreach Program, is provided to businesses when visited by SCOP representatives. Publication 165, Statewide Compliance and Outreach Program, is a condensed version of publication 164, used as a mail insert with a letter sent to business locations in selected ZIP codes prior to visits by SCOP representatives.
For a full list of publications and newsletters, see the Appendix.
In 2010-11, the ePublishing Section worked closely with BOE program staff to convert the Business Taxes Law Guides (BTLG) and the Property Taxes Law Guides (PTLG) to the HTML (Hyper Text Markup Language) format. Highlights of converting the law guides to HTML are:
- Real time updates (no need to wait for the once yearly hardcopy updates because the online version is updated as laws, regulations, and annotations are approved.) The online version is currently the most accurate version.
- The online version of the annotations link to actual Legal Opinions on the subject (if available).
- Metadata was added for better online search results.
- Accessible to the visually impaired (straight text files are easiest to read by screen readers).
- Eliminate paper and plastic binders/dividers, consistent with the BOE’s environmental stewardship.
Electronic Transition Plan
The BOE continued to market its electronic filing program by developing new outreach materials for taxpayers. In collaboration with the eServices Team and the Outreach Services Division, new logos, posters, flyers, mail inserts, banners, and email blasts were developed to educate taxpayers about the many BOE electronic service options.
Translated Forms and Publications
The BOE is committed to the education of all California taxpayers and feepayers, including non-English speakers, to help them understand tax laws and to improve voluntary compliance.
To promote tax compliance and better serve the needs of California’s diverse business community, the BOE has information in 23 languages and has many documents translated in Chinese, Korean, Spanish, and Vietnamese; our core, or most commonly requested languages. The BOE translated 11 new publications this year—three in Chinese, two in Korean, one in Spanish, two in Vietnamese, one in Arabic, one in Punjabi, and one in Thai. In addition, we processed revisions for 28 publications, many of which required major changes in wording and design.
The BOE continues to concentrate its efforts around the redesigned multilingual webpages showcasing Spanish, Chinese, Vietnamese, and Korean but also providing information in other languages. Translating and updating webpages, seminars and voice-over tutorials in Spanish, Chinese, Vietnamese, and Korean continue to be a priority. This wealth of new information enables taxpayers to find information about the BOE, easily access translated forms and publications, find sales and use tax classes taught in multiple languages, view eFile tutorials, view online seminars, and get multilingual assistance.
Taxpayer and Public Outreach
The BOE is dedicated to educating taxpayers about services the BOE provides. The BOE joins with federal, state, and local agencies in sponsoring all-day tax events to bring tax compliance information to taxpayers and tax practitioners throughout the state. The BOE also conducts full-day, multi-agency nonprofit seminars, and continues outreach efforts to business groups by coordinating speakers for programs presented to professional societies, industry and trade groups, governmental organizations, and local schools statewide.
As part of the BOE’s education and outreach, upon request from taxpayers or feepayers, audit staff will make appointments to visit businesses and meet with individuals to discuss applicable tax or fee programs, and to determine if they are applying the law correctly to their business transactions. The BOE also offers a number of other outreach opportunities to assist the public. These include conducting workshops on how to efile, disseminating material on special taxes and fees, and providing up-to-date information through the media.
Classes, Seminars, and Presentations
Online Educational and Learning Products
BOE offers a variety of online educational products as a cost-effective way for taxpayers to learn about their tax and fee obligations. The topics include information for business owners as well as nonprofit and faith-based organizations, efiling, and taxpayer appeals.
These informational videos provide taxpayers with the same information received at an educational seminar or small business fair, but in a self-paced environment that is conveniently accessible 24 hours a day. These educational and learning products can be found on our website on the Outreach & Events page.
Sales and Use Tax Classes
In 2010-11, BOE staff conducted 289 Basic Sales and Use Tax and Tax Return Preparation classes throughout the state. These classes provided education and information to more than 4,500 California taxpayers. The classes are offered in English and Spanish statewide as well as in Chinese (Mandarin and Cantonese) and Vietnamese in limited areas. Information on classes can be found at www.boe.ca.gov under the quick link, Outreach & Events, and then under In-Person Seminars.
Online Tutorial for Sales and Use Tax
As an alternative to attending an instructor-led Basic Sales and Use Tax Class, an online tutorial is available in English, Spanish, Chinese, Korean, and Vietnamese. The tutorial provides taxpayers the same information as the instructor-led class but in a self-paced environment. It can be found on our website under the quick link, Outreach & Events, and then under Online Seminars.
Small Business Seminars/Events
In 2010-11, the BOE joined with federal, state, and local agencies in sponsoring 19 free, one-stop shop tax/business events, bringing important tax compliance information to over 4,200 taxpayers and tax practitioners throughout the state. Attendees obtained individual assistance and materials at tax agency booths and attended classes on common tax subjects.
Nonprofit Educational Seminars
In a collaborative effort focused on meeting the unique tax education needs of the state’s nonprofit sector, the BOE provided six full-day, multiagency nonprofit seminars for approximately 1,300 participants throughout California. The events brought together BOE sales and use tax and property tax experts as well as representatives of the AG, the EDD, the FTB, and the IRS. Participants were able to attend presentations and receive individualized tax advice.
Taxpayer Educational Consultation Program
During their first year of business, taxpayers, upon request, can receive individualized tax information, education, and assistance through the Educational Consultation Program offered by the Sales and Use Tax Department. The consultations are provided at no cost to the taxpayer and normally last no more than one day. In this fiscal year, the BOE auditors performed over 300 educational consultations. Taxpayers participating in the program were very satisfied with the professionalism and courtesy extended by the BOE audit staff. They also were appreciative of the information and service provided.
Statewide Compliance and Outreach Program (SCOP)
SCOP representatives conduct door-to-door visits to nonresidential businesses and also contact businesses by telephone. Prior to visiting a business area, letters are mailed to taxpayers and cities providing them advance notice of the upcoming SCOP visits. During this fiscal year, approximately 90,670 businesses were visited or contacted by one of the seven SCOP teams located throughout the state. SCOP representatives visit businesses to:
- Provide business owners with the opportunity to ask any questions they may have;
- Educate business owners, as needed, regarding their tax responsibilities;
- Ensure businesses have the required state tax and fee permits they need;
- Confirm businesses have a city or county business license, if one is required;
- Verify and update, if necessary, BOE account information; and
- Review business operations compared to returns filed to provide guidance on proper reporting.
The visits are intended to educate business owners and help keep our tax system fair by verifying that all business owners are properly permitted and licensed.
The Outreach Services Division continued its efforts to reach out to business groups by coordinating speakers for more than 100 programs presented to professional societies, industry and trade groups, governmental organizations, and local schools statewide. Staff members are available to provide bilingual seminars for business owners in Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Spanish, Thai, and Vietnamese.
The BOE's Communications Office issued 156 news releases on 50 topics in 2010-11, and made daily contacts with print, radio, and television reporters, responding to more than 675 media inquiries. The official BOE spokesperson was quoted in newspapers across the state and nation, and BOE programs were featured in news and consumer reports broadcasts on television and radio. The Communications Office also facilitated coverage of new BOE programs and regulatory issues.
In 2011 the BOE and the FTB cooperated on a helpful video, California Tax Tip: Use Tax, to help taxpayers understand their use tax obligation.
In 2011, the BOE won a number of awards from the California State Information Officers Council (SiOC) in recognition of excellence in state government communications. The BOE won Gold Awards for publication 306, Annual Report Quadfold and the Media Resources Webpage, a Silver Award for the two new mobile applications introduced, and Honorable Mentions for the use tax media campaign, Find Your Board Member website, and the Under the Influence of Recession: BOE Answers the Question, Do People Drink More During an Economic Downturn? news release.
To ensure quality service while meeting the requirements of the Taxpayers’ Bill of Rights, the BOE managers and supervisors evaluate the public contact skills of the BOE employees. Each employee performance report and annual review must include the supervisor’s comments regarding the employee’s public contacts, whether those contacts are made in person, in writing, or by telephone. The evaluations are strictly based on public contact skills and the Taxpayers' Rights Advocate confirms that the BOE does not evaluate individual offices or employees based on the amount of revenue they assess or collect.
During a Sales and Use Tax Department audit, field auditors are expected to adhere to the highest ethical and professional standards, and to conduct themselves in a professional manner. The auditors are also expected to administer the Sales and Use Tax Law in a fair and uniform manner. Following an audit, taxpayers are sent an audit survey from the respective District Principal Auditor and are encouraged to provide their comments by completing and returning the audit survey form to BOE Headquarters in Sacramento. The audit surveys are reviewed and returned to the district of the account. Taxpayer responses to the survey provide valuable information on the effectiveness of the audit program and help the BOE improve procedures to better serve the business community and taxpayers.
The Sales and Use Tax Department has another survey, entitled How Are We Doing?, which is available in each BOE field office, included in mail-in registration packets, mailed with taxpayer correspondence, and available on the BOE website. The survey is designed to capture taxpayer feedback on the quality of customer service and help the BOE improve the overall level of service. In 2010-11, the Sales and Use Tax Department received nearly 38,000 survey responses, of which over 99.5 percent of the respondents were pleased with the overall process and services provided by BOE staff.
The Sales and Use Tax Department’s SCOP introduced their own survey entitled Statewide Compliance and Outreach Program Survey—How Are We Doing?, in January 2010.This survey is provided to taxpayers during visits by the SCOP representatives but is also available on the BOE website. In fiscal year 2010-11, the Sales and Use Tax Department received more than 4,000 SCOP survey responses; of this figure, over 99 percent of the respondents were pleased with the quality of public service under this program. However, when taxpayers express dissatisfaction, make complaints, or raise an issue regarding an employee or service, the BOE makes every attempt to contact the individual and address the issues raised. After a review by Sacramento Headquarters staff, issues brought forward by taxpayers or feepayers on the surveys are sent to the respective District Administrator for further investigation or resolution. BOE staff members work closely with the Taxpayers’ Rights Advocate Office to help taxpayers who have not been able to resolve matters through the normal channels.
Overall, the BOE finds that taxpayers are satisfied with the quality and efficiency of the service they receive and the professionalism and courtesy extended to them by BOE staff. The agency receives many unsolicited letters each year from taxpayers who write to thank staff members for their assistance.