Democrat Malia Cohen, Republican Mark Burns compete for California State Board of Equalization District 2 seat

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San Francisco Board of Supervisors President Malia Cohen and real estate agent Mark Burns are running for the District 2 seat on the State Board of Equalization, which enforces taxes — including property and alcohol taxes.

Cohen, a Democrat, is running on a three-part platform — transparency, accountability and fairness — in order to keep big companies accountable and build trust with constituents, according to her campaign manager Lia Salaverry. Burns, a Republican, is running to reform the role of the Board of Equalization, decrease government size and protect and enhance Proposition 13, which limits property taxation.

Burns came in second in the primary race against Cohen and two other Democrats, which he said was in spite of the fact that he only raised about $10,000 in campaign funds. He said he owes this win to a good candidate statement and his Republican affiliation.

In his candidate statement, Burns said he wants to end the status quo that “more taxes will fix our problems” and make the state’s tax system “fairer for all.” He added in his statement that increased taxes have supported California’s increased spending and overcommitment by politicians.

“Having the experience and knowledge of real estate makes me the clear choice in being able to handle what’s going on in residential and commercial real estate in California,” Burns said.

Burns oversees school bonds on two Citizens’ Oversight Committees for school districts in Cupertino and Fremont, according to his website. He served as president of the board of directors for the Cupertino Chamber of Commerce — a nonprofit business organization — and developed a realtor program that donates money to schools.

Burns was also president of the Silicon Valley Realtors and Homeowner’s Political Action Committee, of which he was a trustee for more than 15 years, according to his website. Despite not being a career politician, he said he is a better fit for the position than Cohen.

“I think we’re two different people — (Cohen has) been on the San Francisco Supervisors Board for eight years, and she’s termed out,” Burns said.

Cohen has received numerous key endorsements, including from labor unions and the California Democratic Party as well as from elected officials such as current Board of Equalization member Fiona Ma, U.S. Sens. Kamala Harris and Dianne Feinstein and U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi.

Cohen oversees taxes, fees and real estate as chair of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors Budget and Finance Committee. As a member of the San Francisco County Transportation Authority, Cohen oversees $100 million in sales tax annually for transportation investments.

She was also president of the San Francisco Employees’ Retirement System, or SFERS. At SFERS, Cohen divested from fossil fuels and moved $100 million into a fossil fuel-free fund.

According to Salaverry, Cohen has been a “champion for working people,” challenging special-interest groups and fighting for a $15 minimum wage, women’s rights and affordable housing. She added that Cohen’s experience in public office makes her more qualified than Burns for the Board of Equalization position.

“I don’t think (Burns is) an extremely viable candidate,” Salaverry said. “I don’t think he’s raised the amount of money to run a statewide campaign and get the word out to voters.”

During her tenure on the Board of Supervisors, Cohen took on Big Soda by passing the sugar-sweetened beverage tax, which resulted in more than $21 million in tax revenue for San Francisco. She later challenged Big Tobacco by passing legislation banning flavored tobacco products in San Francisco.

Founded in 1879, the California State Board of Equalization used to be responsible for taxes on other items, including tobacco and cannabis, but underwent several reforms that limited its authority, according to Salaverry.

“It’s an interesting position,” Salaverry said. “It’s literally written in the California Constitution that this entity should exist, but essentially the Board (of Equalization) is the state’s tax force.”

Alyssa Bernardino is the lead city government reporter. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @alybernardino.