Missouri has been slower to pay taxpayers their state tax refunds under Gov. Eric Greitens, according to an audit released Monday.
The audit, which was conducted by Auditor Nicole Galloway, the only Democratic statewide official, found that the state also experienced significant delays during the last two years of Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon’s administration, but that the issue had worsened since Greitens, a Republican, took office in 2017.
“The administration is balancing its checkbook on the backs of individual taxpaying Missourians — that is simply unacceptable,” Galloway said in a statement. “Throughout this audit, my office received thousands of calls and e-mails from taxpayers who were rightfully frustrated because they were not receiving the money they were owed.”
Missouri law requires the state to pay interest to individual taxpayers on refunds that aren’t paid within 45 days and interest to corporate taxpayers on refunds that are not paid within 120 days.
The state had to pay more than $420,000 of interest on nearly 155,000 delayed income tax refunds in 2017, an increase of 86 percent over the previous year, according to Galloway’s office.
Galloway’s office found that the state does not have sufficient cash available in its general revenue fund to ensure that refunds are paid in a timely manner and that the refunds were delayed to cover other state expenses.
Galloway had initially faced resistance from the Greitens’ administration when she sought the records related to tax refunds. The administration handed over the records in April a day after Galloway issued a subpoena.
Greitens’ spokesman Parker Briden dismissed the audit and the fight over records as publicity stunts by Galloway, who will stand for election this year.
“This is another cheap ploy from a Democrat who is desperate for headlines,” Briden said in an email. “The only thing that is unprecedented is the Auditor actually taking an interest in this issue — she ignored it under the previous administration. We’re changing many flawed practices from the past, and this is one of them. As we address this long-standing institutional issue, we look forward to the Auditor’s vocal support (although we understand that politics must come first for her).
“Regarding the process of the audit, our administration provided everything that the Auditor was entitled to, which is why she had to withdraw her subpoena.”
Rep. Scott Fitzpatrick, a Shell Knob Republican who chairs the House budget committee, said he wasn’t surprised by the audit results.
Fitzpatrick said the overall cost of refunds has grown by nearly $200 million since 2015 and that “in the past few years the budgeting process of the state has been to budget down to zero, and if you do that it creates cash-flow problems.”
He blamed Nixon for not making more budget cuts before he left office in January 2017 for the cash-flow problems the state saw during tax season a few months later.
“These things don’t necessarily fix themselves in one year,” Fitzpatrick said, contending that Nixon had punted the issue to Greitens.
Fitzpatrick said he was hopeful that the state would be more timely in its refund payments this tax year because of budget moves made last session.
“We set aside a couple hundred million dollars to pay unexpected bills … and hopefully the result of that will be better cash-flow,” he said.