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Our Opinion: Greitens, Revenue let down Missourians

Our Opinion: Greitens, Revenue let down Missourians

January 10th, 2018 by News Tribune in Opinion

We're disappointed in Gov. Eric Greitens and the Missouri Department of Revenue for dragging their feet on income tax refunds. But that pales in comparison to our continued disappointment in Greitens' complete lack of transparency for the Missourians he has pledged to serve.

Auditor Nicole Galloway on Monday released an audit showing Missouri delayed paying income tax refunds last year largely because it was short on cash.

The Associated Press reported the audit of the state's management of taxpayer refunds was released despite what Galloway called unprecedented attempts by the Greitens administration to obstruct it.

The state was late in issuing refunds to at least 555,000 individual taxpayers last fiscal year, Galloway said. On nearly 155,000 of those refunds, the state was so late that it paid more than $420,000 in interest.

That's up from the roughly 485,000 refunds issued past the 45-day deadline in the previous fiscal year, when Democrat Jay Nixon was governor. Those delayed payments included 83,000 that cost the state $306,000 in interest, the audit said.

Galloway's office contrasted the recent delays to the 2008 fiscal year, when the state paid out 80 percent of refunds by mid-April. State law has required interest payments if refunds are not issued within 45 days of filing since 2015. Before that, the state had 90 days to issue refunds without owing interest.

"It is a challenge that has spanned two administrations," Galloway said at a news conference in Jefferson City. "Until the state's cash flow problems are addressed and individual taxpaying Missourians are paid first, it will continue to be a challenge."

Galloway, a Democrat, showed that it's a bipartisan problem — it had existed under the Nixon administration and now exists under the Greitens' administration.

Still, the governor's office responded not by arguing facts or talking about solutions, but by feigning to be the victim of a partisan attack. The governor's office called the audit a politically motivated "cheap ploy from a Democrat who is desperate for headlines."

Galloway, who was appointed to the office in 2015 after the death of Auditor Tom Schweich, is running for election this year. An opposition group complains she hasn't complied with their Sunshine Law requests for her office's text messages and emails, and they've filed a lawsuit.

The auditor's office, in turn, says they are complying. We hope that's true. Just as we expect transparency from the governor, we expect it from state agencies, including the auditor's office.

The most disconcerting aspect of the audit is Galloway's claim that Greitens went to "extraordinary lengths" to disrupt the audit. She cited delays in responses and communication, a refusal by administration officials to discuss the audit and even a refusal to confirm that all relevant information was provided.

"My conclusion is that the administration didn't want Missourians to know why their tax refunds were late," Galloway told The AP.

Missourians deserve their tax refunds in a reasonable time, or a timely explanation when those refunds are running late — and they absolutely deserve more openness from their governor.