Restructuring splits up Tax Commission’s duties

JACKSON – Mississippians no longer will appeal decisions on how much they owe in state taxes to the same entity that collects the revenue.
On Thursday, the start of the new fiscal year, the Mississippi Department of Revenue was created to collect state revenue.
On the same day, the Board of Tax Appeals was enacted to rule on disputes on the amount of taxes owed.
The two government agencies will take over the functions performed for the past 94 years by the Mississippi Tax Commission. Rep. Harvey Moss, D-Corinth, said that under Tax Commission system, it was least an appearance of a conflict for the agency that collected the revenue to hear appeals in disputes about how much revenue the state was collecting.
Said Kathy Waterbury, communications director for the Department of Revenue and previously for the Tax Commission: “To remove the ‘conflict of interest’ cloud, this reorganization created an independent Board of Tax Appeals to hear the second and final level of administrative appeal so that the taxpayer would be assured of an impartial hearing of his case.”
Literally scores of bills passed during the 2010 session of the Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Haley Barbour took effect Thursday. The bill splitting up the duties of the state Tax Commission was actually passed in the 2009 session, but legislators delayed enactment for a year to give the Tax Commission staff time to make the change.
“The old setup looked like a conflict-of-interest-type situation,” said Moss, a member of the Ways and Means Committee, which is where state tax law originates. “I have heard that through the years. Not a lot, but by some. A lot of times it is just the appearance of a conflict that causes trouble. Hopefully this will make people feel better. If it does, it will be worth it. Our intent was good.”
According to Waterbury, the Department of Revenue will perform the same functions as the old Tax Commission: collecting taxes; issuing titles, such as for automobiles; ensuring fair property appraisals; overseeing local option laws and overseeing aspects of the state’s liquor laws.
Ed Morgan, who was chair of the Tax Commission, was appointed by the governor for a six-year term as commissioner of revenue.
If a person has a dispute with the Department of Revenue, such as a disagreement with an audit or with a penalty imposed for filing late, the first course of action under the old law and now is to file a complaint with the staff of the Tax Commission, or the new Department of Revenue.
Under the old law, that staff ruling could be appealed to the full three-member Tax Commission, chaired by the same person who oversaw the staff. Now the three-person Board of Tax Appeals will have no ties to the Department of Revenue.
The ruling of the board can be challenged in a court of law, under both the old and new laws.
Janet Mann of Jackson, a former Division of Medicaid official, was appointed by Barbour as the first chair of the Board of Tax Appeals.
Her approval by the state Senate during the 2010 session was controversial because of revelations that her partner in a health care business she previously owned had been convicted on charges of illegally procuring government contracts.
The two former members of the Tax Commission – James Wilkinson of Corinth and Marcus Martin of Laurel – will serve on the new board through June 2014. The governor will appoint their replacements.
Mann’s term runs for six years.

Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal

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