Missouri Governor Mike Parson does not dispute that the Department of Revenue under his administration unlawfully made changes to taxpayer withholdings in January 2019 that will result in over-withholding for the majority of individual Missouri taxpayers. Further, he does not dispute that his administration made this unlawful change without the proper public review process and has not yet admitted or explained this to the public. What’s worse is this change over-corrected for previous errors the department made in March and October 2018 to under-withhold taxpayer earnings. As a result, Missouri taxpayers are expected to pay an additional $134 million when they file their returns and there will be $232 million less in tax refunds issued this year, according to Missouri State Auditor Nicole Galloway.
A spokesperson for Parson was contacted by The American and asked to counter these claims that were made by Galloway in a new audit report and at a press conference in St. Louis on Tuesday, April 2. Rather than address the alarming substance of her report, Parson’s spokesperson responded, “We’re not interested in engaging with someone that prioritizes partisan politics and scare tactics over the long-term benefits of federal and state income tax cuts.”
In fact, nothing in Galloway’s report relates to the Republican obsession with tax cuts. She simply reported on gross mismanagement of a routine but crucial function of state government: how the government withholds taxes from taxpayers’ paychecks. To be sure, Galloway reported her findings with a sense of outrage, but it was not outrage at tax cuts. Rather, it was outrage at arrogance in government and the refusal to come clean to taxpayers regarding the mismanagement of their money.
"For more than six months, this administration failed to communicate with Missourians on how changes to withholdings would affect their bank account,” Galloway said. “Then, despite bipartisan calls for answers, they attempted to downplay the issues. Taxpayers deserve honesty from the administration. Instead, the Department of Revenue continues to operate in secrecy."
Clearly, Parson is aware that a major mistake was made. Less than a week after he received Galloway’s draft report, the governor announced the Department of Revenue director's resignation. However, no mention of withholding errors was mentioned. Further, Galloway said that the department now is being run by someone who held a senior position in the department when it made these errors and the unlawful, secret change. That calls into question what, if any, reforms are being made to a department that clearly has been managed badly – and with at best indifference to citizens.
Galloway is correct that state legislators’ concern about being bypassed in the rule-changing process (which is the law the Parson administration broke) is bi-partisan. Certainly, Galloway is correct in her emphasis that she is protecting the interests of all taxpayers. Your political affiliation is beside the point when you get a notice from the government informing you that you owe far more in state taxes than you expected and you were not given the information that would have helped you to prepare for that.
But then, Parson is not wrong in scenting an element of “partisan politics and scare tactics” in Galloway’s handling of the audit report, regardless of the great value in its factual findings and warnings. As Missouri’s only statewide-elected Democrat – who won’t stand for reelection in 2020, when the governor’s seat will next come before voters – Galloway arguably has the best chance among Missouri Democrats of beating Parson, who has never been elected governor. Her leadership and watchdog skills as auditor benefit all Missourians, but the pointed way she called out the governor does have a feel of “partisan politics and scare tactics.” She is saying: Here is one Democrat not afraid to take on this governor. To that extent, her “scare tactics” are not directed toward voters regarding tax cuts, as Parson nonsensically claimed. It’s you she is trying to scare, governor.