Ask the Advocate September 2020 Tax News

Advisory Board meeting update

Susan Maples, Taxpayers' Rights Advocate.

Susan Maples, CPA
Taxpayers’ Rights Advocate
Follow me on Twitter

August is usually when many of us are able to get away from the office for a well-deserved vacation. There is still time before the extended filing deadline and for those of us with school age children, there are usually a few weeks left before the new school year begins. For me and my staff, August is also when we begin preparing for our annual meetings. One of these meetings is our Executive Officer’s Advisory Board which traditionally meets here at FTB’s main campus.

However, like many other events this year, we weren’t able to have an in-person meeting. Instead, we had our first ever virtual Advisory Board meeting in mid-August. While meeting in person with the Advisory Board members is preferable, we were still able to gain some valuable insights from them by meeting virtually. Hearing from those outside our agency regarding FTB’s programs and processes is very helpful and leads to a better overall FTB experience for taxpayers and tax professionals.

This year’s meeting began with an update on FTB’s relief efforts due to COVID-19 followed by a legislative update and then a presentation detailing some changes to FTB’s Strategic Plan. Some of the proposed changes came about from Advisory Board members’ input. This month, I want to let you know about a few key points from both the COVID-19 and Legislative updates.

With regard to COVID-19 relief, FTB realized early on that all California taxpayers would be impacted by the pandemic. Nearly all relief FTB provided was automatic. One process that did require taxpayers to contact us was if they wanted to cancel a previously scheduled April 15 tax return payment now that the payment due date had been moved back. Once FTB determined the potential number of requests for payment cancellations that might come in, we quickly established a dedicated line for these calls and moved staff to this new contact center, allowing us to answer calls timely and cancel these payments. My staff followed up with a few taxpayers who had initially contacted my office directly about cancelling payments and what we heard back was that the process went smoothly and they felt the wait times for the contact center were reasonable.

Another form of relief for California taxpayers discussed at the meeting was that provided by our Accounts Receivable Management (ARM) Division. Again, much of what FTB did was done automatically; we stopped issuing levies, liens and collection calls were not made. Now that the moratorium on collection activity ended (July 15, 2020), FTB’s ARM staff continues to work with taxpayers to provide relief when warranted. ARM staff are able to delay, modify, and release levies, establish installment agreements, allow for skipped payments, abate penalties, and if necessary put taxpayers into hardship status. Even when someone cannot meet their tax obligations, it is very important that they maintain contact with FTB to work towards a solution and not move into involuntary collection.

As part of their update, FTB’s Legislative Services Bureau (LSB) discussed what is commonly known as the Conformity Report. The formal title of this report is the Summary of Federal Tax Changes and is required by law to be submitted to the Legislature annually.  Once the Report has been provided to the Legislature, it is made available on our public website. The 2019 Summary of Federal Tax Changes came in two parts with more than 350 pages when combined.  For 2020, FTB’s LSB is working a new online format in table form, which will make it easier to search the Report for the information you need. I have seen a prototype of the online report, I was impressed with the new functionalities and I think you will be too. We will let you know about the updated version of the Report once it becomes available.

Overall, the 2020 meeting went well, especially considering this was the first virtual Advisory Board meeting. I know that everyone would have liked to have met in person, just as my staff and wish we were able to interact with you at the many events, conferences, and speeches we normally attend. I remain optimistic and hopeful that we will be able to return to some semblance of normalcy soon and look forward to seeing you again when they do.