Government & Politics

Missouri Gov. Parson’s embattled department of revenue director resigning

Missouri Gov. Mike Parson speaks after being sworn in as the state’s 57th governor following the resignation of Eric Greitens Friday, June 1, 2018, in Jefferson City, Mo.
Missouri Gov. Mike Parson speaks after being sworn in as the state’s 57th governor following the resignation of Eric Greitens Friday, June 1, 2018, in Jefferson City, Mo. AP

After months of criticism by state lawmakers over how his agency handled tax code changes expected to reduce or eliminate refunds for thousands of Missouri taxpayers, Department of Revenue Director Joel Walters will resign.

Contacted by The Star Thursday afternoon, Gov. Mike Parson’s office would say only that an announcement about Walters’ future will be made Friday morning.

News of Walters’ departure comes a day after the Columbia Daily Tribune reported that records it obtained under Missouri’s Sunshine Law show the department drafted a press release late last year aimed at notifying taxpayers that they should increase their withholdings from paychecks to avoid a surprise tax bill in 2019.

However the release was never made public.

That revelation outraged lawmakers, who for months have been highly critical of the department for not doing enough to warn Missourians that they could be hit with an unexpected tax bill.

“We now know the Parson administration was aware of the looming tax bills last fall,” said House Minority Leader Crystal Quade, D-Springfield, “even drafting a news release warning Missourians, but chose not to release it close to the election.”

Parson has stuck by Walters through the criticism, releasing a statement last month accusing lawmakers who were investigating the tax issue of “political grandstanding.”

Yet the week after Parson publicly defended Walters and criticized lawmakers, Walters appeared to change his long running explanation for why Missourians were seeing smaller-than-expected tax refunds.

He had previously testified on numerous occasions that a 15-year-old error in state tax tables was discovered following implementation of federal tax cuts last year. That error, he explained, meant many workers didn’t withhold enough money from their paychecks throughout 2018.

Last month, however, during third hearing with a Missouri House oversight committee and 11th legislative hearing overall, Walters said there was no error.

Rep. Robert Ross, a Texas County Republican chairing the House oversight committee, told The Star last week that he’d lost all confidence in Walters.

“He’s been lying this whole time,” Ross said. “That’s the frustrating part. It’s hard to do our job and wrap our minds around all the issues when we don’t have confidence or trust in the department or the director. That’s frustrating.”

Earlier Thursday, Walters defended himself in an email to The Star that made no mention of his pending resignation.

“I stand behind the narrative I have repeatedly given,” he said.

Walters was appointed to his post last year by former Gov. Eric Greitens. Before coming to Missouri he was a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers and a global tax expert at Vodaphone. He holds an accounting degree from Gustavus Adolphus College, a law degree from the University of Minnesota and an LL.M. degree from Georgetown University. He is a CPA in Minnesota, New York and Washington, D.C.

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Jason Hancock is The Star’s lead political reporter, providing coverage of government and politics on both sides of the state line. A three-time National Headliner Award winner, he has written about politics for more than a decade for news organizations across the Midwest.