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Embattled revenue director Walters resigns, Zellers named acting director

UPDATE: Gov. Parson’s office announce Friday that Joel Walters is resigning, effect Mar. 22. Revenue Dept. Chief Operating Officer Ken Zellers will become acting director then.

 

Earlier story:

(Missourinet) While the governor’s office hasn’t confirmed it, Missouri House Republican leaders say embattled state Department of Revenue (DOR) Director Joel Walters is resigning.

The resignation was first reported Thursday afternoon by the “Columbia Tribune.”

House Speaker Elijah Haahr, R-Springfield, and other top House Republicans issued statements on Thursday evening, with Haahr saying that Walters’ resignation “is an important step forward.” Speaker Haahr also says DOR “has much more work to do to regain the trust of the public.”

Governor Mike Parson’s spokeswoman, Kelli Jones, e-mailed Missourinet Thursday evening to say that their office will make a formal statement via press release on Friday morning.

The news comes a day after Missourinet reported that Walters had been called to testify before a bipartisan House oversight committee for a fourth time, due to a tax withholding issue that’s impacting some people’s returns.

House Special Committee on Government Oversight Chairman Robert Ross, R-Yukon, told Missourinet after Wednesday’s hearing that Walters had failed to provide him with data he requested.

“The real frustration comes in the department not being forthright with the taxpayers, not being forthright with legislators and this committee in providing the information that I’d asked for,” Ross said Wednesday.

House Special Committee on Government Oversight Chairman Robert Ross (right) speaks on March 13, 2019 (photo courtesy of Tim Bommel at House Communications)

Speaker Haahr’s statement says that without the bipartisan House oversight committee’s hearings and investigation, “the people would never have known the truth about the mistakes made” by DOR.

House Majority Floor Leader Rob Vescovo, R-Arnold, has also issued a statement, which reads, in part: “I’m proud of the oversight committee for standing up for the hard-working families who may end up with a surprise tax bill this April because the department failed to do its job.”

Ross was visibly frustrated with Walters at the start of Wednesday’s hearing at the Statehouse in Jefferson City. After the hearing, Ross told us he’s frustrated with Director Walters and the department.

“With dealing with this agency that has a pattern, a history, a track record of simply not providing the data that we as representatives of the people need for the answers that our constituents are looking for,” says Ross.

Ross had requested that Walters provide him a sampling of the DOR data of taxpayers who’ve seen the largest swing, under the withholding issue. Ross told the audience during Wednesday’s hearing that Walters’ response was not what he requested.

Ross says he’s spoken to some Missouri taxpayers, who are state employees, who received about an $800 refund last year, but owed about $800 this year.

Walters has also been blasted by Democratic lawmakers, including House Minority Leader Crystal Quade, D-Springfield, who’s been raising concerns about the tax issue since December. That’s when she pre-filed legislation aimed at addressing it.

She spoke to the Capitol Press Corps Thursday afternoon, regarding the 2019 session’s midway point. Quade puts some of the blame on Governor Parson’s administration.

“We now know that the Parson administration was well aware of the looming tax bills last fall,” Quade tells reporters. “Even drafted a news release warning Missourians, but chose not to release it because it didn’t want to talk about the issue that close to the (November) elections.”

Quade is calling on Governor Parson to “take full responsibility for his administration’s failures.”

DOR has testified that the average state refund is down about $78, while the average tax due is up about $65.

The department has created a dedicated phone line to answer questions from taxpayers. That number is (573) 522-0967.

(This story was last updated at 8:58 a.m. Friday.)

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