Advocacy

2019 Legislative Session Concludes

Updated Oct. 15, 2019

The 2019 legislative session concluded Sept. 14 and Oct. 13 was the last day for Gov. Newsom to act upon bills passed by the Legislature during the final weeks of the session. In the first year of session, of the more than 2,500 bills that were introduced, just over 1,000 reached the governor's desk this year, including 740 bills acted upon during the final month of session. Of those that reached his desk, the governor signed 870 and vetoed 172. The Legislature will be in interim recess until January, where they will begin the second year of the two-year session. You can view the legislation that was acted upon throughout this year online.

Governor Vetoes CalCPA Opposed Bill That Would Have Established Non-GAAP Accounting Standards: Gov. Newsom vetoed AB 1181 (Limón), a bill that CalCPA had opposed throughout the legislative process that sought to address concerns raised by the California Attorney General’s office that charitable organizations were overstating the fair value of certain non-cash contributions, namely pharmaceuticals, to inflate their efficiency ratings.

However, in doing so, AB 1181 would have created new accounting and fair value standards for charitable organizations that are inconsistent with generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP). While the underlying policy concerns related to valuation standards for charitable organizations is worth scrutinizing, CalCPA objected to new state specific accounting standards that deviate from uniform national accounting and valuation standards as outlined in the GAAP framework. Such a change would have put a CPA in a position of having to opine on non-GAAP financial records that follow a state accounting standard rather than following nationally recognized GAAP fair value standards.

Additionally, AB 1181 would have pre-empted a comprehensive national solution already under development with the Financial Accounting Standards Board and its Nonprofit Advisory Committee. A solution that fits within the GAAP framework would more effectively address the underlying concerns of valuation of pharmaceutical gifts-in-kind without the concerns and burdens of a vaguely defined state solution.

CalCPA worked with stakeholders including FASB, AICPA, the California Board of Accountancy, National Association of State Boards of Accountancy and nonprofits to oppose AB 1181. You can read the opposition letter online. The bill's veto is an important recognition of consistent accounting standards and the application of them by the CPA profession. Going forward, CalCPA will continue to work with the Legislature, California Attorney General, nonprofits, FASB and other stakeholders on addressing the underlying issue of gift-in-kind valuation through a comprehensive solution that is part of the GAAP framework.

Sales Tax on Services: With the threat of a tax on business services increasing—including the introduction of SB 522—CalCPA engaged with policy leaders to communicate the many adverse impacts of a services tax. These efforts included targeted district visits with legislators serving in key leadership positions. Grassroots efforts and engaged members helped stall the most recent legislative effort to tax business services. However, additional services tax proposals are expected to emerge in 2020. CalCPA will be ready if/when it does.

Tax Conformity: CalCPA worked with policy leaders on the importance of tax conformity, especially in light of the significant federal tax law changes. AB 91 made a number of those changes, including small-business accounting simplification and technical terminations of partnerships. The CalCPA Committee on Taxation will be working with the FTB on how those changes are implemented. 

Blocking the Expansion of the False Claims Act to Tax Matters: AB 1270 would have dramatically impacted how tax disputes are handled by expanding California’s False Claims Act to tax matters, including allowing for litigation from private attorneys. CalCPA worked with a coalition of other business groups to successfully block the bill from moving forward. You can read about those efforts in the October issue of California CPA.

AB 5, the Dynamex Bill, Carves Out CPAs: AB 5 would overhaul the tests for determining whether someone should be classified as an independent contractor or employee—a crosscutting change that will impact many businesses. However, CPAs were exempted from the new, stricter factors for determining employee classification. There are still many aspects of the new law that CPAs should be aware of for their firms and for their client. Read about some of those concerns in the October issue of California CPA.

Supporting the Extension of the California Board of Accountancy: Legislation authorizing the California Board of Accountancy set to “sunset” on Jan. 1, 2020. CalCPA worked with the CBA and the Legislature to extend the CBA’s operation to Jan. 1, 2024.

California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA): While the CCPA doesn’t take effect until Jan. 1, 2020, that hasn’t stopped the Legislature from making changes to one of the most robust privacy laws in the world before it even takes effect. A handful of bills were passed by the Legislature this year to make adjustments to the CCPA implementation and clarify the application of the new rules for certain businesses. Additionally the California Attorney General just released the first draft of the regulations that will govern the implementation and application of the Act. CPAs and their clients will need to know the ins and outs of this broad new law. You can stay on top of the winding path of the CCPA as it moves forward by checking out CalCPA’s Privacy Summit on Dec. 11

Unanimously Supported Bills Vetoed: Gov. Newsom also vetoed two other bills that CalCPA has supported: 
  • SB 598 (Moorlach) would have created the Open Financial Statement Commission to explore transitioning financial reporting by state and local agencies to a machine readable format. The governor's veto message stated that his objection was the cost of establishing a state commission, not the concept of moving toward a streamlined technology based financial reporting model for local governments.
  • AB 357 (Nazarian) related to the tax liability statute of limitations and would have clarified the collection period for interest, penalties or fees accrued with a tax liability. The governor's veto message objected to the potential revenue impact of the clarified rules. 

Both bills received unanimous support throughout the legislative process. CalCPA will continue to work with stakeholders to explore additional opportunities to incorporate the administrations concerns and move each policy forward in the coming years.



Governor Signs CBA Sunset Review Legislation

Updated Oct. 1, 2019

On Sept. 27 Gov. Newsom signed Assembly Bill 1521, which would extend the sunset date for the California Board of Accountancy from Jan. 1, 2020 to Jan. 1, 2024. The signing is the culmination of a comprehensive review and analysis of the CBA’s activities and programs by the Legislature.

In addition to extending the CBA for another four years, AB 1521 made a handful of other important changes necessary for the CBA to continue to effectively regulate the CPA profession and carry out their consumer protection mission. These include adjustments to licensing fees, clarifications of the use of criminal records during licensure process, and streamlining of communications by allowing for more electronic communications. 

CalCPA worked closely with the CBA and the Legislature throughout the sunset review process to support the continuation of the CBA as the regulator of the CPA profession in California. The CBA fills an important public interest role by ensuring consumers receive quality accounting services from licensees they can trust and that services provided by licensees are conducted in accordance with appropriate professional standards. 

The proficiency CPAs achieve through education, testing, experience, ethics and ultimately licensure is central to why the public can rely on CPAs and their services. Additionally, it is vital that the CBA continue to oversee the competency of CPAs and their adherence to statutes and rules, code of professional conduct, standards of practice and continuing education. Bad actors or unlicensed activity could easily impact financial markets, the economy and the financial wellbeing of consumers. 

The adjustment to the fee structure codifies a fee increase already adopted by the CBA and ensures the CBA has the resources needed to meet Legislative requirements for reserves and effectively meet their consumer protection directive. Further, these resources will aid in the CBA’s business modernization efforts to leverage technology to streamline and automate key systems that will expedite licensing, renewals and communications to licensees. 

The bill also clarifies how certain financial crimes are considered by the CBA as part of the licensure process and includes a requirement for applicants and licensees to provide an email address to the CBA to allow for more timely and streamlined communication of important CBA publications and alerts.

AB 1521 is an important piece of legislation necessary to support the CBA’s operations and continued effectiveness in regulating the CPA profession.



AB 5: Changes in the Gig Economy

Updated Sept. 26, 2019

California Passes Legislation to Overhaul Worker Status Rules

The Legislature sent AB 5 to the Governor’s desk toward the end of the legislative session, where it is expected to be signed. The so called “Dynamex” bill makes sweeping changes to the worker status rules related to when a worker is classified as an employee or an independent contractor. The resulting change in policy is a substantial shift in employment law that will impact nearly every business industry in California.

Politically, this bill was one of the most contested and lobbied bills of the year pitting business interests against organized labor with various professional groups seeking individual carve outs. Early in the legislative session it became clear that leadership in the Legislature and the Administration were supportive of AB 5 and it became of question of how broadly it would apply.

Codification of New ABC Test

AB 5 codifies the “ABC” test for employee status adopted in the CA Supreme Court’s 2018 decision in Dynamex v. Superior Court. The case set a new standard for determination of when a worker is an independent contractor. To qualify as an independent contractor an employer must prove: (A) the worker is free from control and direction of the hirer in connection with performing the work, both under contract and in fact; (B) the worker performs work outside the usual course of the hiring entity’s business; and (C) the worker customarily engages in an independently established trade, occupation, or business of the same nature as the work performed for the hirer. Further, AB 5 expanded the ABC test broadly to Labor, Unemployment Insurance and Wage Order laws. It also empowers the CA Attorney General and local government attorneys to pursue legal action against businesses suspected of misclassifying independent contractors.

Select Exemptions

AB 5 exempts many professions and occupations from the stricter ABC test and would instead fall under the prior rules. CPAs were include as one of the select professions exempted. Other professional exemptions include physicians, surgeons, dentists, podiatrists, veterinarians, psychologists, lawyers, architects, engineers, insurance brokers, securities broker-dealers, investment advisors, real estate agents, certain direct salespersons, commercial fishermen, and building contractors.

AB 5 also contains an exemption for certain professional services including: marketing, human resources administration, travel agents, graphic designers, grant writers, fine artists, enrolled agents, payment processing agents, photographers and photojournalists, freelance writers, editors or cartoonists, professionals providing cosmetic services like licensed barbers, manicurists, estheticians), tutors, and certain tow truck drivers.

What Next? Likely More Confusion and Additional Clean-up

Every company doing business in California will now need to carefully analyze their relationships with their workers and business vendors to evaluate compliance under the new rules. Misclassification of workers can result in significant legal and tax issues. This may require restructuring operations to make hire workers as employees or to make sure vendors comply with the new ABC test.

There are many significant questions about how to comply with the new law, who is really impacted, how it will all be enforced, and other implementation issues. There will almost certainly be additional clean-up legislation next year including professions and occupations that were not carved out in AB 5 seeking additional carve outs for themselves. Additionally, there will likely be litigation that will shape how the new law is interpreted. Politically, many large companies that depend on gig-workers like Uber, Lyft, Door Dash, and others may pursue a political solution through a referendum of the new bill.

What does it mean for CPAs?

AB 5 will have a massive impact for all businesses in how they classify their workers and the resulting tax implications. The fact that CPAs were carved out from the new rules puts the profession in a more favorable position compared to others. Without a carve-out, the relationship between a CPA and their clients could have been significantly altered. However, as businesses themselves, CPAs will still need to analyze and follow the new laws to make sure any independent contractors they use are appropriately classified. As advisors, CPAs will likely be on the front lines working with clients to sort through worker classifications and the ramifications of those decisions.

In the end, AB 5 is a major shift in employment law that will be impactful across the board and there are many unanswered questions issues that will need to be sorted out. However, despite all the uncertainty, the CPA profession is in a better position than most.


CalCPA on Capitol Hill

Updated May 24, 2019

CalCPA members visited California Congressional members in Washington, D.C. to discuss issues impacting the accounting profession. The visits on Capitol Hill, which were part of the AICPA Spring Council meeting, are one of the best ways to educate our leaders about the issues important to the accounting profession and the taxpayers they represent.

CalCPA representatives on AICPA Council include Jeremy Dillard, Tim Good, Kathy Johnson, Okorie Ramsey, Thomas Bennett, Teresa Mason, Laura Ross, Bob Reynolds, Corey Stigile, Charlotte Wall, Andy Mintzer, Ed Jordan, Johanna Sweaney Salt, Jennifer Ziegler, Michael Cole, Lewis Sharpstone and Joseph Forlenza. Other members not on AICPA Council who participated included David George and Andy Armanino.

At the top of the profession’s list of issues discussed include modernizing the IRS taxpayer services, changing the trigger that allows the IRS to grant deadline extensions when natural disasters occur, the growing importance of taxation of the digital economy and a Congressional resolution relating to the fiscal state of the nation.

A Practitioner Services Division within the IRS is one of the best ways to improve taxpayers services. By consolidating existing IRS units into the new division, the IRS would be better positioned to efficiently and effectively answer tax preparer questions and solve their clients’ issues. Currently, the programs are spread throughout the IRS and the operating systems for the programs do not easily communicate or integrate or even have access to the same taxpayer information.

Congress can also help taxpayers by enacting legislation that would give the IRS the authority to postpone deadlines when a governor declares a state of emergency for a disaster. Rather than waiting for federal disaster declaration, which often takes weeks after the actual disaster, this would allow the IRS to provide relief to disaster victims in a timely manner. CalCPA and the AICPA have long worked for a set of permanent disaster relief tax provisions, and enactment of this new legislation would provide more timely assistance and certainty to tax preparers and taxpayers.

Finally, Congressional members were asked to support a resolution calling for the Government Accountability Office Comptroller General to make a presentation to a joint session of the House and Senate Budget Committees on the GAO’s auditor’s report of the U.S. government’s financial statements. This financial report would not provide policy recommendations, but instead provide Congress and the American people financial transparency.

In addition to the actionable items, the CalCPA delegation discussed the complex and unique tax challenges presented to governments and tax authorities around the world by the advancement of technology and the digital economy.


Wayfair Implementation

Updated Nov. 2, 2018

In South Dakota v. Wayfair, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a South Dakota law requiring remote sellers to pay sales tax if in the prior calendar year their gross revenue from sales exceeded $100,000 or they made more than 200 separate sales transactions. In doing so, the Supreme Court’s decision overturned a long-standing precedent that physical presence was required for sales tax collection.

The decision impacts states, taxpayers and tax practitioners across the country by allowing for a new standard of substantial nexus for remote sales tax collection. States are re-examining their own tax policy in light of Wayfair and exploring what changes might be necessary to incorporate the new interpretation. Taxpayers and tax practitioners are following closely as the potential implementation of a new standard for when sales tax is due means a number of changes may be needed to comply with new tax obligations. 

The California Legislature and California Department of Tax and Fee Administration both recently held informational meetings on Wayfair implementation in California. Also, the Assembly Revenue and Taxation Committee and the Senate Governance and Finance Committee held a joint hearing to assess the Wayfair decision and what it means for California tax policy. You view a recording of the hearing online, as well as review materials from the hearing.

Of note for tax practitioners, it appears the CDTFA intends to issue a notice to remote sellers by the end of 2018 that the reinterpretation of nexus under the Wayfair decision may mean they are obligated to collect and remit sales tax to California.

Similarly, the Legislature has expressed an interest to further address the Wayfair decisions and California’s current tax laws on this topic when it reconvenes in 2019. Legislative action could explore a different standard than the South Dakota law, timing of implementation and other aspects of the administration and compliance of the new law.


Governor Signs Legislation Making CPA Mobility Permanent

Updated Sept. 18, 2018

The mobility program, which was established in 2012 and was set to expire at the end of this year, conformed California’s CPA practice privilege provisions to those of the rest of the nation and eased the burdens of interstate practice for CPAs. SB 795 makes the current mobility program permanent.

Since businesses, taxpayers and other clients of CPAs are financially and geographically diverse, the practice of CPAs regularly extends across state lines. The streamlined mobility process allows CPAs to timely serve clients across state lines without costly delays. Consumer protection components are also embedded into the program as only CPAs licensed by states with substantially equivalent licensing requirements and enforcement standards are allowed to provide services to their clients in California under the mobility program. 

The program requires firms providing audits, reviews and compilations to entities headquartered in California to register with the CBA. Additionally, all out-of-state CPAs providing any services in California are subject to full disciplinary authority of the CBA.
 
Since the program was first put into place, the CBA engaged in a detailed implementation and evaluation process, which increased consumer access to licensee information online and eased regulatory blocks for CPAs serving clients. The most substantial aspect of the CBA’s work is the detailed process by which it reviewed and made a determination that the enforcement practices of all other licensing jurisdictions meet, or exceed, the CBA’s own enforcement practices.
 
With the current CPA mobility program now permanent, CPAs will continue to be able to serve a wide spectrum of businesses and individuals working in a borderless economy as efficiently and effectively as possible, while also maintaining seamless, uniform consumer protection.
 
A key to getting this bill through the Legislature and signed by the governor was the efforts of CalCPA members. For years, mobility was a key talking point for CalCPA members when they met with policy leaders. As recently as January, CalCPA members were urging legislators to support SB 795 to make the program permanent. These efforts helped SB 795 receive positive support throughout the legislative process.

2018 Legislative Wrap Up

Updated: Sept. 6, 2018

The California Legislature adjourned the 2017-2018 session at the end of August after taking action on a number of public policy issues. Over the last few weeks major issues, including consumer data privacy, tax policy, business regulations and wildfire relief, were all on the docket. Some significant pieces of legislation that CalCPA has been following are:

(SB 993) Sales Tax on Business Services: In the last part of May, Senate Bill 993 (Hertzberg) was heard in the Senate Committee on Governance and Finance. Despite claiming to limit revenue volatility by enacting a new 3% sales tax on business services and reducing the sales tax on goods by 2%, this measure would have a disastrous effect on the profession and California businesses.

Due to immense opposition from the affected industries, the chair of the Senate Governance and Finance Committee, Senator Mike McGuire and Senator Bob Hertzberg, the bill’s author, indicated that there would not be a vote on the bill. Instead, they were to include this proposal and the associated discussion as the first installment in a series of additional informational hearings on the topic of broader tax reform.

While the immediate threat of this bill has subsided, the broader issue of tax reform and sales tax on services will continue to be a discussion topic. CalCPA will continue to stay on top of this issue and make sure the profession has a seat on the table as subsequent discussions occur. 

(SB 795) CPA Mobility: Following the release of the CBA’s favorable report on the implementation and operation of the current individual CPA mobility program, this bill makes the program permanent. It received broad bipartisan support, and with no opposition, passed to the Legislature and is expected to be signed by Governor Brown.

(SB 227/AB 2217) Charitable Contributions: With the passage of the new federal tax system, many high tax states are still trying to figure out how to best manage the impact on their taxpayers, California is no exception. Specifically, the cap on state and local tax (SALT) deductions inspired the creation of Senate Bill 227 (de Leon) and Assembly Bill 2217 (Burke) which aimed to circumnavigate federal requirements. Both bills would have established a state charitable contribution program for taxpayers to meet their tax obligations as a workaround for the new cap on state and local tax deductions put in place by the new federal tax laws.

Both bills stalled in the Legislature and failed to garner the votes necessary to move to the Governor’s desk. Jurisdictions like NY, NJ and other high-income states have passed similar bills; however, the IRS recently released draft regulations that put these programs into question by limiting how these contributions would be treated as deductions. The regulations state that if a taxpayer receives a benefit for having made a charitable contribution, then that taxpayer must reduce the amount claimed as a charitable deduction on their federal return. However, if the credit is under 15%, then the taxpayer would receive the full deduction. We expect similar ideas to be proposed in 2019 that take into account the IRS regulations and could take the form of either standalone legislation or be included into a broader state tax reform and conformity package.


Action Needed: SB 993 (Hertzberg) Sales Tax on Services

Updated: May 17, 2018

The Senate Governance & Finance Committee met May 16 to hear SB 993 as a special order agenda item. However, before the bill was heard, the committee chair and Sen. Hertzberg, the bill’s author, indicated that there would not be a vote on the bill. Rather, they would present the bill, take testimony, open it to the committee for discussion and treat this as the first in a series of additional hearings on the topic of a services tax and broader tax reform. 

Another hearing is scheduled for June 13 to discuss additional specifics and stakeholder input. 

At this point, it does not appear there will be a vote on a services tax anytime soon, but it does increase the discussion of comprehensive tax reform and how a services tax would fit into that. It was a wide ranging conversation and there were a number of business groups, industries and professions—including CalCPA—that testified in opposition to the bill as written.
 
If you are interested, you can watch the hearing online. (The discussion begins at 1 hour 46 minutes).

Thank you to all of you that made phone calls, sent letters and encouraged your colleagues to do the same. All those efforts made a difference. It is a success that CalCPA was able to work with other stakeholders and engage our grassroots on such short notice. These efforts raised enough issues and concerns to stall any swift actions to jam this proposal through the Legislature.

While the immediate threat of this bill has subsided, the broader issue of tax reform and sales tax on services will continue to be a discussion topic. CalCPA will continue to stay on top of this issue and make sure the profession has a seat on the table as subsequent discussions occur. 




Action Needed: SB 993 (Hertzberg) Sales Tax on Services

Updated: May 11, 2018

SB 993 (Hertzberg), which would impose a sales tax on business services, including professional services provided by CPAs, has been scheduled to be heard in the Senate Governance and Finance Committee on May 16, 2018

This is a significant issue that CalCPA has been engaged in fighting against and we need your help in opposing this legislation. We urge you to call, fax or email Sen. Hertzberg and the senators who sit on the Senate Governance and Finance Committee expressing your opposition to SB 993. We ask that you act by May 15 so the senators have time to read and listen to your comments. 

In an already challenging business climate, SB 993 would impose a massive new tax that will needlessly complicate an already complex state tax code and add a substantial new tax burden to California businesses and consumers without any corresponding benefit. You can read the language of SB 993 online, as well as CalCPA’s formal opposition letter.

This is your opportunity to express to Sen. Hertzberg and the members of Senate Governance and Finance Committee, the detrimental impact a services tax would have on your business and clients. Sen. Hertzberg and the members of the committee need to hear directly from those who would feel the weight of this tax. The voice of 44,000 members cannot go unnoticed and will be an invaluable tool as we continue to oppose SB 993. 

We have provided a letter template that you can send as is or add your personal remarks. Personalizing the letter to highlight the direct impact to you and your clients is encouraged to maximize its effectiveness.

At the top of the letter we ask that you insert your letterhead, the appropriate date, the first and last name of the senator, and their room number. After “Dear,” insert the name of the senator. At the bottom, please sign the letter followed by the printing of your name and your address.

If you are a constituent of one of the senators, we encourage you highlight this point. 

Thank you for your help in making the voice of the profession heard. 


CalCPA Letter Opposing Tax on Services Proposal (SB 993)

Earlier this year, CalCPA alerted members to SB 993 (Hertzberg), which would impose a sales tax on the purchase of certain business services—including accounting, legal, and consulting. While the bill still lacks many specifics and has not been scheduled for a hearing, CalCPA has proactively sent a letter to reiterate the CPA profession’s opposition to this proposal and ongoing concerns with proposals for a sales tax on services.

CalCPA’s letter disputes the bill’s claim that the new federal tax laws warrant a massive new business services tax and would actually exasperate many of the current challenges taxpayers will be working through to navigate the new tax laws. The letter also reiterates the core concerns of a services tax, including the massive and costly administrative challenges for the state and taxpayers; the added tax burden to California consumers; the competitive disadvantage to California businesses; and the disproportionate harm to small and medium sized businesses.

This letter follows the instrumental efforts of CalCPA members who laid the groundwork for advocating against this issue. In January hundreds of CalCPA members came to Sacramento to participate in CPA CPA Day at the Capitol to meet with legislators and discuss issues of importance for the CPA profession, including the reoccurring discussion of a tax on services. By underlining the profession’s concerns, CalCPA can derail SB 993 early and head off any future discussions of a tax on services.

CalCPA will continue to keep members informed as this issue develops and will be active in communicating to the Legislature the significant concerns with this proposal.


Legislative Alert: Updated Feb. 7, 2018

Tax on services continues to be a topic of discussion in the state Legislature. A recently introduced bill, SB 993 (Hertzberg), would impose a sales tax on the purchase of certain business services—including accounting, legal, consulting and other services. The tax rate is not specified in the legislation and certain types of services would be exempted, including health care, education and child care services, and interest and insurance payments subject to the gross premiums tax. Business with gross receipts of less $100,000 in the previous four quarters would also be exempt.

The revenue from the taxes would go toward programs for middle- and low-income Californians, as well as infrastructure and education. The specifics of these programs or how they would accomplish this is unclear.

This proposal is being characterized as a way to mitigate negative impacts of the newly enacted federal tax laws and broaden California’s tax base. Additionally, the bill's author argues that the proposal would offset the reduced tax rates businesses received as a result of the federal tax changes, and that they would still be able to deduct the new services tax from their federal taxes.

Sen. Hertzberg has introduced similar far-reaching tax on services proposals over the last three years, all of which ultimately died in the Legislature when they failed to meet legislative deadlines. As with the previous bills, SB 993 lacks specifics and raises many questions and concerns about such a complex and drastic shift in the tax burden.

The grassroots efforts of CalCPA members continue to be instrumental as tax on services proposals continue to be discussed in the Legislature. In expectation for a tax on services bill to resurface, more than 200 CalCPA members attended CPA Day at the Capitol last month to reiterate concerns with sales tax on services. Members discussed the increased cost for business to comply with the law, the competitive disadvantage for California providers, the disproportionally negative impact on small business and the costly administrative burden, among other major challenges with imposing a tax on accounting services. You can see the talking points on tax on services that CalCPA members delivered to the Legislature online.

CalCPA will continue to keep members informed as this issue develops and will be active in communicating to members of the Legislature the significant concerns with this proposal.


Legislative Alert: Updated Oct. 2, 2017

As with most legislation that makes a major policy change in a short time, a clean-up bill is often needed to address unintended consequences, clarify intent and other technical changes. CalCPA was actively involved in raising a concern following passage earlier this summer of AB 102, which distributed much of the Board of Equalization duties to two new state agencies: the California Department of Tax and Fee Administration (CDTFA) and the Office of Tax Appeals (OTA).

The primary responsibility of the OTA, which takes effect Jan. 1, is to hear taxpayer appeals of assessments from the CDTFA and the FTB, and AB 102 established a panel of administrative law judges that would oversee and issue decisions on each appeal. At issue is whether the new OTA is the functional equivalent of a “tax, district or federal court,” and whether the services rendered by a CPA on behalf of a client in such a forum would constitute advocacy services that would potentially impair the CPA’s obligation to be independent related to attest services.

As a result of these concerns, CalCPA worked closely with the governor’s office and legislative leadership to address the issues through amendments to a budget trailer bill that would make technical and clarifying changes to the OTA structure. The product of these efforts, AB 131 was amended and passed just before the end of the legislative session mid-September, and Gov. Brown signed AB 131 into law.

The technical and clarifying changes within AB 131 make clear that an appeal before the OTA is an administrative proceeding and would not in itself threaten to impair a CPA’s independence. The changes further align the structure and operation of the OTA with the Legislature’s overarching intent for a taxpayer to be represented by a broad spectrum of individuals, including CPAs, at every stage of an appeal before the OTA.

Specifically, the statute makes it clear that “taxpayers continue to be able to choose to be represented by certified public accountants and others at every stage of the hearings and proceedings before a tax appeals panel, as was previously the case in matters before the BOE prior to the transfer of duties.”

Additionally, AB 131 includes a mechanism for a taxpayer to request a closed hearing before the OTA. One of the objective criteria for requesting such a hearing is that it is necessary to ensure that an authorized person, including a CPA, may represent the taxpayer.

These adjustments will help shape the forthcoming regulatory structure of the OTA and greatly improve the ability of CPAs who may be representing an audit client in tax matters before the OTA in the same fashion that they did before the BOE. 

Given the fast moving and politically charged reforms to the BOE, getting clean-up legislation to make significant adjustments to the OTA structure that maintains the ability for a large number of CPAs to continue to represent clients on tax appeals is a big advocacy success. 

Recently, the Governor appointed Kristen Kane, 34, of Sacramento, to be chief counsel in the Office of Tax Appeals, where she will serve as acting director. She most recently served as deputy director of the California Competes Tax Credit Program at the Governor's Office of Business and Economic Development (GO-Biz) since 2016 and as tax counsel at the California Franchise Tax Board from 2010 to 2016.

OTA is looking to hire three administrative law judges to serve on the panel and hear appeals cases. The qualifications include being a member of the California State Bar and having tax law experience. These cases would cover all areas of tax law, from sales and use taxes to income taxes. All three positions are located in Sacramento, but hearings could be across California. More information is available online.

Additionally, as the CDTFA takes shape and implements the duties previously belonging to the BOE, we encourage you to regularly check its website


Legislative Alert: Updated Aug. 16, 2017

September marks the last month of the first year in the two-year legislative cycle. Legislators return back to Sacramento after summer recess to debate and vote on pending legislation. With September 15th being the last day for bills to be passed and sent to the Governor this year, it is safe to assume there will be many long days as bills are debated late into the night. Even though this has already been a year packed full of major policy change and government reorganization, it is not uncommon to see new policy initiatives appear in the final days.

A long used procedural process, known as gut-and-amend, allows legislators to “gut” the entire contents of a bill, minus the bill number, and “amend” the bill with entirely new content and policy. This allows the legislator to create a new bill without having to start at the beginning of the process. Mainly used during the last weeks of the legislative calendar, this practice is often used for clean-up language to legislation passed earlier in the year, or to pass major policy quickly and without much debate, or transparency. With the passage of Proposition 54 in 2016, it is now required that any proposed amendments to bills be available to the public for 72 hours before they are voted on. While this limits the ability to move these bills quickly and allow greater transparency for public comment, it is still uncertain how much this will stop the practice of the gut-and-amend.

One relevant example for the end of this session relates to the recent Board of Equalization reforms. As with all major public policy changes, it is safe to assume we will see clean-up language in the form of a “gut-and-amend.” CalCPA continues to work with Legislative leaders and the administration to ensure that CPA’s would continue to be able to represent taxpayers in front of the newly minted Office of Tax Appeals as they did before the BOE.

CPAs and Cannabis

The recent legalization of the recreational use of cannabis has brought a set of new challenges to California. Throughout the year, the State Treasurer’s Office, legislative committees, independent research organizations and industry representatives, have held meetings and informational sessions to discuss the administrative and policy challenges to the implementation of Prop. 64, which legalized the recreational use of cannabis. Much of the discussion focuses on how the state can allow an industry to operate that is still federally illegal. Policy leaders are working hard to develop the oversight structure for those in the industry to properly track and report their business transactions and finances

Specifically, Treasurer Chiang has lead meetings of the Cannabis Banking Working Group, which includes stakeholders from the cannabis industry, tax regulators, local governments, and the banking industry. The working group discussed a number of issues surrounding the regulation of cannabis in California, particularly the challenges resulting from the lack of reliable banking. The group is expected to release a final report and recommendations later this Fall. Specifically to the CPA profession, in July Lori Ajax, Chief of the California Bureau of Medical Cannabis Regulation, spoke to the California Board of Accountancy (CBA) at its July meeting where she gave remarks on the bureaus efforts to create a regulatory framework to oversee the cultivation, distribution, and sale of medical and recreational use cannabis.

Understanding the need for CPAs in this emerging industry, the CalCPA Education Foundation hosted the 2017 California Cannabis Industry Symposium in August. Leaders in the CPA profession, state agency officials and industry representatives presented and discussed topics which included the history of the cannabis industry in California, the former and current regulatory structure, taking on a cannabis industry client, federal and California income tax issues, and other pertinent topics. Board of Equalization Member Fiona Ma was the keynote speaker and gave her perspective on the industry and the role CPAs can play as it grows.

While still many uncertainties still exist. This emerging industry presents the opportunity for CalCPA members to gain new clientele in an exciting and dynamic industry, and CalCPA wants to make sure you have the information and knowledge you need to be successful.


Legislative Alert: Updated July 11, 2017

With the Legislature on summer recess, Sacramento is gearing up for it's final sprint of the 2017 legislative year. Hundreds of bills will be heard an voted on in August. all leading up to the September deadline. CalCPA has positioned itself, through the integral help of its grassroots efforts, to be the voice for CPAs in all matters relating to the profession. We will work diligently to ensure that CPAs are heard and fairly represented as legislation continues to be developed.

BOE Reform

Over the last few weeks, the governor, legislative leaders and members of the State Board of Equalization have addressed significant issues identified in a Department of Finance audit report of the BOE—particularly the inappropriate misallocation of staff and revenue. Recently, the governor’s office and legislative leaders reached a deal that would remove the BOE of all its responsibilities except for those constitutionally assigned to it.

AB 102, known as the “Taxpayer Transparency and Fairness Act of 2017,” was introduced as part of the budget process and passed by the Legislature in just a few days. Under the bill, the BOE retains its state constitutional duties of reviewing and adjusting property tax assessments; setting the rate for gas taxes; and handling assessment of taxes on pipelines, insurance companies and alcoholic beverages. Elected BOE members and the State Controller will continue to oversee these areas.

The bill also moves former BOE duties into two new state agencies, also created under this bill:

  • The California Department of Tax and Fee Administration: The CDTFA will handle most of the taxes and fees previously collected by the BOE, including sales and use tax. Taxpayer and fee payer account information services and deadlines remain as they were until further notice. This new department under the governor’s office would include much of the current BOE staff that handles tax processing duties, including outreach and technical resources for practitioners. It will also include many of the same regulations and processes from the BOE. The CDTFA took effect July 1, 2017, and on July 10, Gov. Brown announced the appointment of Nicholas Maduros as director. The position requires Senate confirmation. Maduros, a Democrat, of Bethesda, Maryland, most recently served as chief of staff at the U.S. Small Business Administration from 2014–17.  
  • The Office of Tax Appeals: The OTA will hear appeals from taxpayers who challenge assessments of income tax, sales tax or special taxes and fees. The new independent office would be headed by a director appointed by the governor to oversee the administrative processes of the appeals. Each appeal would be heard by a panel of three administrative law judges from the office of administrative hearings. The judges would need to have a level of tax expertise and will issue a written opinion after each appeal. A taxpayer would still be able to appeal a decision to a superior court should they chose. The new process also allows for a broad spectrum of individuals, including CPAs, to represent a taxpayer. The OTA will start hearing appeals Jan. 1, 2018; however, tax and fee payers who wish to file an appeal and receive a decision prior to Dec. 31, 2017 should follow the current BOE process. Appeals filed on or after Jan. 1, 2018, for programs statutorily required and under the administration of the newly created CDTFA, will be filed with the OTA. That process will be announced at a later date.

As the proposal was discussed and introduced, CalCPA provided comments to the governor and legislative leaders. CPAs advise millions of taxpayers on tax related matters, assist them with compliance responsibilities and represent them before tax regulators. For the CPA profession, and the taxpayers they represent, the preservation of an equitable process for CPAs to assist taxpayers by appealing tax disputes to a truly independent tax adjudicating body is significant.

CPAs should continue to be able to assist their clients in making their case and receive a final decision after an often lengthy tax protest, just as they are able to do before the current BOE. Further, CPAs should continue to receive reasonable guidance and assistance on navigating complex tax laws on behalf of their clients.

Once the proposal was released, CalCPA raised concerns specific to the CPA profession and its ability to represent clients before the OTA as they did before the BOE. The concerns focused on ensuring that the appeals process is appropriately insulated from politicization and that the new appeals process does not in itself preclude a CPA from representing a client due to independence or the practice of law issues that may arise due to the new appeals venue.

Specifically, CalCPA’s comments focused on:

  1. Preservation of a truly independent and objective tax adjudicating body. The language does attempt to preserve this with the new office of tax appeals. However, the current language does have some holes and raises some questions about how the panel of administrative law judges would be selected, where they would come from and how much influence the new director of tax appeals would have over the process. This has the risk of politicizing the process.  
  1. CPAs are allowed to practice/represent clients in the new process just as they had previously. The language states that accountants can represent clients in an appeal. However, there is the potential issue of a CPA being considered representing a client in court or independence for firms that also provide attest services to a client. This is a uniquely new appeals process that could develop in a way that was more akin to a legal proceeding than a tax administration hearing. Without specifics about the rules of conduct, how the new appeals process would work or a thorough analysis of these yet to be determined rules against existing professional standards and federal rules, we cannot be certain that a CPA can appropriately represent a client without running into independence issues. This is an issue that could prevent a number of CPAs and CPA firms from engaging in the appeals process. 

Both of these points were recognized by the governor’s office and the Legislature. They expressed that the intent was not create a new process that might preclude CPAs from practicing before the new OTA. After the bills passed, both houses adopted a letter to the file to clarify intent and direction related to these reforms. Due in part to the concerns raise publicly by CalCPA, the letters included parts specific to these concerns. This provides a basis to engage and address issues that may come up as the OTA takes shape. Further it is a recognition that the preservation of an equitable process for CPAs to assist taxpayers by appealing tax disputes to a truly independent tax adjudicating body as they have before the current BOE is a significant issue.

CalCPA will continue to work with the governor’s office and the Legislature to ensure CPAs’ interests are represented as this transition takes place.

Tax on Services

Tax on services continues to be a topic of discussion in the Legislature. SB 640 (Hertzberg) proposes to enact a sales tax on services—including those provided by CPAs. While this bill has stalled for this year and never was amended with specifics of how such a complex shift in the tax burden would be accomplished, the introduction of this legislation keeps the issue on the radar within the public policy arena—particularly as tax reform conversations heat up at both the state and federal level. Similar far-reaching tax on services proposals have been introduced in the past. In 2015 and 2016 Sen. Hertzberg introduced SB 8 and SB 1445. Both bills ultimately died in the Legislature when they failed to meet legislative deadlines. Without specifics, these proposals have been characterized as a way to broaden California’s tax base to address a volatile stream of tax revenue. Yet, it would also impose an extremely complex shift in the tax burden to raise billions in new tax revenues.

While the legislation has not moved forward, it will continue to be a marker for future efforts. A tax on service will likely be part of the discussion for a future comprehensive tax reform effort. This conversation could increase should a significant state budget gaps emerge from federal changes to state funding for healthcare coverage or tax policy. A tax on services proposal could be just one piece of larger reform to broaden the tax base and stabilize the state budget.

Financial Literacy

Legislators on both sides of the aisle that agree California needs to place a greater emphasis on teaching financial literacy in our classrooms. Through the CalCPA Institute, CalCPA continues to partner with legislators to help meet the financial literacy needs of Californians. It is encouraging to see legislators take this matter seriously and propose legislation that aims on educating our youth with this vital information.

Assembly Bill 858 (Dababneh) would establish the California Financial Literacy Initiative as a program for improving financial literacy by offering instructional materials for teachers and parents to provide high-quality financial literacy education for K-12 students.

Senate Bill 583 (Stone) seeks to provide a model curriculum in financial literacy for students grades 9-12. Once approved and adopted by the Superintendent of Public Instruction, it would be posted for use on a voluntary basis by educators. 

Federal-State Tensions

As expected, much of the first few months of the legislative session has been marked by public battles between the Trump administration and Democratic leaders in California. With a commitment by President Trump and a Republican majority in both houses in Congress, legislation is already moving through Congress that focuses on repealing and replacing the ACA. While we wait to see what the final version of the federal health legislation looks like when it heads to the President’s desk, the Democrat majority in the state has committed to preserving, or even expanding, the current health care system and has proposed numerous pieces of legislation that do just that. Similar divergence in policy agendas for immigration, education, and environmental regulations, have further divided leaders in Washington and California. The lack of cooperation between the state and Washington continues to overshadow the legislative session as legislators keep a watchful eye on the new administration.

Occupational Licensing

The Little Hoover Commission recently released a study on “occupational licensing” focusing on the “impact of occupational licensing on upward mobility and opportunities for entrepreneurship and innovation for Californians, particularly those of modest means.” The report noted that while occupational licensing provides many benefits to consumers, it also presents a number of negative impacts to consumers and individuals who are prevented from practicing due to licensure requirements. The report particularly discusses these impacts for former offenders, military spouses, veterans and foreign-trained workers. The report offers recommendations to address the identified concerns, including changes to how California licenses occupations and governs its regulatory process. While the Little Hoover Commission study is focused on licensing of occupations rather than professions, there is a concern that the study and resulting recommendations could lead to proposals that may alter general state licensing practices in California, including those of CPAs.

Proposed CPE Changes Advance

The CBA has approved draft regulatory framework to incorporate new CPE delivery methods, nano-learning and blended learning. The framework also will allow for partial CPE credit in as little as 1/5 increments. CBA staff will now bring back final language and begin the regulatory process, which can take 12-14 months before it is completed. The proposed language largely follows the same framework for current CPE delivery methods.

Among the most significant of the proposed changes was the addition of nano-learning and blended learning, two new delivery methods for CPE programs. Nano-learning is defined as a tutorial program that focuses on a single learning subject in a 10-minute timeframe. Blended learning is a format that incorporates multiple learning platforms within the same program.

The draft regulatory language would specifically:

  • Allow for Nano CPE, but exclude the ethics, fraud and regulatory review requirements from the nano. They did not opt for a cap on the number of hours that can be earned through nano.
  • Allow for blended CPE as a new method of delivery.
  • Allow for 1/5 increments of hours after the first full hour for all methods of delivery.
CalCPA continues to work closely with the CBA as the language is refined to make sure that California CPAs have the flexibility and options to meet their obligations for continuing education.

Check out Capitol Track for more information on these important issues.