I often feel as though I'm constantly complaining about poor transparency practices in the administration of our tax systems at both the federal and state levels. In my defense, there are a lot of nontransparent practices to complain about.
But finally, here is some good news to report. On June 1, 2015, Texas adopted several new practices regarding comptroller decisions that will improve the transparency of the state’s tax system by making decisions from hearings before the State Office of Administrative Hearings more accessible.
In a letter dated May 21, 2015, Glenn Hegar, the Texas comptroller of public accounts, announced the following changes:
-all comptroller decisions will be added to the State Tax Automated Research (STAR) system and will be indexed, including decisions that were accessible but had not previously been added to the STAR system;
-new comptroller decisions will include and incorporate the proposal for decision drafted by the administrative law judge and will clearly identify changes made before release of the decisions to the parties; and
-a monthly list of all documents added to the STAR system will be provided to subscribers of the comptroller’s newsletter Tax Policy News.
That is good news for taxpayers in Texas on several fronts. First, the availability of decisions that were previously not accessible from the STAR system may give taxpayers and practitioners additional guidance.
Second, being able to quickly identify changes made by the comptroller to the ALJ’s proposal for decision will provide clarity and increase accountability for the comptroller. That being said, the fact that the comptroller is able to change ALJ proposals for decision remains a point of contention. Even if the ALJ rules for the taxpayer, the comptroller has the final call and can change the ALJ’s ruling.
Overall, I applaud Texas for taking a step forward to improve the transparency of its tax system.