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Stacked deck: Oft-critiqued State Board of Equalization leaves those in tax disputes with risky, expensive options

When it comes to the process of challenging taxes, California stands alone. Tax experts across the state point to a combination of factors - most notably a lack of political will - that explain why California now ranks as the worst state in the country to contest taxes. While other states in recent years have removed quasi-judicial powers previously held by tax administering boards, California's 136-year-old State Board of Equalization, or SBOE, remains entrenched as the only body in the country that tasks elected officials with hearing challenges to taxes they administer.


Tax dispute rulings by the California SBOE are not binding and appeals go before superior court judges. Bradley R. Marsh, a shareholder at Greenberg Traurig LLP, said he has had "plenty of clients" shy away from the state's first chance at independent appeal because the pay-to-play requirement was too expensive and risky, choosing to pay the tax rather than risk added interest and court costs.

When a client does pay, Marsh said he spends the majority of his energy educating the judge on complex tax law.

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