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Governor picks acting director of Revenue

Governor picks acting director of Revenue

March 15th, 2019 in Local News

State Revenue Director Joel Walters has resigned, effective next Friday, and then Ken Zellers will become the Missouri Revenue Department's acting director, Gov. Mike Parson announced Friday morning.

Walters was named Revenue director two years ago by former-Gov. Eric Greitens, and submitted his resignation to Parson on Thursday after weeks of criticism from lawmakers and others over allegations the department failed to warn taxpayers they might be owing the state money instead of getting refunds, or getting smaller refunds than expected.

State Rep. Rudy Veit, R-Wardsville, is a member of the House Special Committee on Oversight, which had been asking Walters and other department officials about that issue.

He told the News Tribune on Friday he was frustrated with Walters' answers: "When we are told that (it was) an error in withholding charts that caused this problem, and we go months from the time of that announcement until now, to be told it's not (the tables) — someone's going to have to explain that to me, because we have spent many hours and made very few steps."

Parson's news release made no mention of that controversy.

"I appreciate Joel Walters' willingness to devote two years of service to the state of Missouri," the governor said in the release.

"His leadership and transformative vision helped to turn around the Department of Revenue, leading to increased customer service, identifying efficiencies that led to significant budget savings, and implementing a number of conservative reforms that helped improve and streamline services for Missouri taxpayers."

In the governor's news release, Walters said: "I appreciate the opportunity of working alongside Gov. Parson and his administration.

"They are doing fantastic things for the citizens of Missouri, and I am extremely proud that I have played a part in that success."

Walters' resignation letter to Parson gave no specific reason for his decision to leave — but he noted, as he approaches serving two years as director, he has "concluded that it is time for me to leave the service of the state of Missouri."

But the Missouri Democratic Party said, in a Friday news release, Walters "is now taking the fall for the (Parson) administration's debacle."

Lauren Gepford, the party's executive director, said: "Lawmakers must now get to the bottom of whether the administration has been truthful about their revenue projections as they finish work on the budget."

As of Thursday, Missouri government's tax revenues were down by more than $333 million, compared to this same time a year ago — and individual income tax revenues were down by $463 million.

State budgeters have said they expect most of the difference to be made up next month, when Missourians file their tax returns.

The federal government's 2017 tax law changes — that went into effect on Jan. 1, 2018 — are at the heart of the problem, since Missouri's income taxes are tied to the federal taxes.

But Walters originally told the House special committee that, because of the federal changes, the department had discovered an at-least 15-year-old error in its tax tables that didn't account correctly for the federal tax deduction.

Then, this month, Walters said another check of the tax tables found there had not been any error.

On Wednesday, the Columbia Daily Tribune reported the department had drafted a news release in September telling taxpayers to adjust their W-4s — the form that tells an employer how much tax money should be withheld from a paycheck — to improve their chances of getting a refund.

But that release never was issued.

Critics said that release was withheld so its information wouldn't affect the November election results.

Zellers wasn't available Friday for an interview.

He currently is the department's chief operating officer, and came to state government in September 2017 following a career with Anheuser-Busch InBev, where he held numerous roles in senior management.

His most recent job with the global consumer products company — which employs more than 200,000 people worldwide and generates $60 billion in annual sales — was as the Global Quality director, responsible for improving the overall customer/consumer experience by collecting and analyzing relevant global call center data.

As Revenue's COO, Zellers was responsible for all DOR "operational aspects," including the Tax; Motor Vehicle and Driver License; and Administration divisions.

He also was assigned to oversee what the department said in a 2017 news release was a transformation "in terms of organizational design, infrastructure, performance assessment and culture."

Parson said Friday: "I have full confidence that the Department of Revenue will continue providing excellent service to the people of Missouri.

"Our administration will build off the positive reforms made within the department and ensure Missourians continue to benefit from historical tax cuts made at the federal and state level."

The Associated Press contributed some information used in this story.


This story was updated at 10:30 p.m. March 15, 2019, with additional details, comments and a photo.