At our invitation, Commonwealth of Massachusetts Department of Revenue Commissioner Mark Nunnelly came out to Western New England University and gave a fantastic presentation to those who attended.
I cannot refrain of commenting on what I believe to be a poor turnout. The Chamber of Commerce invited the Commissioner to come out to speak in Western Massachusetts for fifteen years, and nothing ever materialized. We decided to make an attempt, having learned that Commissioner Nunnelly is a very approachable person (along with his Chief of Staff, Mike Rybicki, who used to work for Mayor Bloomberg in NYC), and were successful. Yet, with this seemingly once in a generation opportunity for one on one with the Commissioner (and the Chamber of Commerce picked up on our invite and participated), only 45 people attended, mostly friends of ours, amplifying the disconnect between Western Massachusetts and Boston. And if any state agency (in the United States!) needed to hear concerns of the people, it’s the Massachusetts Department of Revenue.
Commissioner Nunnelly has arrived just in the nick of time. I asked two simple questions, and he is already working on both. The abatement/appeal system, the fortuitous CA-6, will change. I believe they will separate the amended return function from an abatement request. That system is clearly overloaded. The other is the use of certified mail for time sensitive information. In addition, they will be implementing a new tax management system from a company that claims to have “never been hacked.” Now that’s a challenge for a backroom secret society at MIT, no doubt!
Why “in the nick of time?” We recently completed a sales tax case before the Commonwealth. We negotiated a $50,000 tax bill down to $16,000. We were happy, the client was happy, and everything was roses. Of course, we paid the settlement right away. Enter the Commonwealth and their method of calculating accrued interest. First, the appeals officer indicated interest would be about $10,000 (we calculated about $2,000, which proved to be correct). Then they began sending separate bills for each of the thirty months in the audit period. That’s right, 30 separate bills were en route. We immediately jumped on the phone with problem resolution, got an aggregate interest figure, and had the client pay it. Ironically, the new answer seems to be, “it’s the system and we can’t stop it.”
However, when we got the “correct” interest figure from Problem Resolution, the officer refused to send us the calculation, or even a fax expressly stating the amount due. Keep in mind this is the Problem Resolution Office. We had to take her word for it over the phone. Our cover letter contained a duplicate copy for the officer to stamp and return to us, acknowledging receipt for our records. That cover letter stated that “stamping this letter acknowledges that you provided us with the interest figure, refusing to put it in wiring despite our request,” etc. Well, she refused to acknowledge the copy of the letter and return it to us. We received the certified receipt but she never had the courtesy to acknowledge our letter. We were 100% dependent upon her calculation, with a client that was at his wits end and did not wish to pursue. This is a policy closer to how closely knit inner city lotteries are run, not a taxing agency. It was a disgrace to this practitioner.
Perhaps it’s an internal battle between the status quo regime, and a Commissioner that is going to fix it, almost like a battle of wills. It seems like the Massachusetts Department of Revenue is currently rudderless, heading for the rocks, just as the Commissioner caught the steering wheel. I truly believe his arrival is that timely. One thing is for certain. If anyone is up to the task at hand, it’s Commissioner Nunnelly. Godspeed to our new friend.