Hilderbran Calls for Texas Taxpayer Bill of Rights

October 17, 2013

Will Use Executive Action, Pass Legislation to Implement

KERRVILLE, TX – Texas Comptroller candidate and House Ways and Means chairman Harvey Hilderbran (R-Kerrville) said today that implementing a comprehensive Texas Taxpayer Bill of Rights, with the ultimate goal of permanently protecting it by constitutional amendment, will be his highest priority if elected Comptroller of Public Accounts next year.

“Texas needs a Taxpayer Bill of Rights—and one that ultimately is preserved in the Texas Constitution—so that these important rights cannot be changed on a whim,” Hilderbran said.

Hilderbran noted that past Comptrollers have endorsed the concept of a Taxpayer Bill of Rights.  Former Comptroller Bob Bullock was the first to recognize its benefit to Texas Taxpayers, and, in 1994, Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn put in place some provisions through an executive order that ultimately became an agency rule.  But a comprehensive Texas Taxpayer Bill of Rights has never been codified.

“Those were important, initial commitments, but we need to take the next step and elevate the Texas Taxpayer Bill of Rights from a set of agency guidelines to true constitutional rights of all Texans,” said Hilderbran.

Hilderbran predicted the Legislature would embrace the issue and that voters would overwhelmingly approve it.

“Fairness is the goal here.  We need to balance the playing field in favor of taxpayers from the all-too-powerful state when it comes to tax disputes.  Texas Taxpayers just need a Comptroller committed to making this a high priority and getting it accomplished,” he said.

Hilderbran said the Texas Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights should cover basic equity and fairness principles that affect a taxpayer’s dealings with the State.

“Taxpayers are the underdog in our current system.  There are many inequities, but we can correct most of them—ultimately making fair treatment permanent through a constitutional Taxpayer Bill of Rights,” he said.  He said such a Texas Taxpayer Bill of Rights amendment should put an end to these inequitable and unfair practices, and mean that the State would:

  • Stop cheating taxpayers on interest payments.  Texas taxpayers deserve parity in the way interest is applied to tax refund claims and assessments. “The State today treats its money as being more valuable than a taxpayer’s money.  If a Texas taxpayer underpays taxes, the State charges interest on the unpaid tax at a significantly higher rate than the rate it pays when the State has to refund money to a taxpayer,” Hilderbran said.
  • Stop collecting tax assessments until appeals are final.  Texas taxpayers deserve their day in court before they have to pay.  “Texas Taxpayers can be faced with losing their businesses when hit with large tax assessments that may not be correct.  Under the State’s “Pay to Play Scheme,” the State begins enforcement and collection actions before you can even get to the courthouse.  I’ll put an end to this decades-old unfair practice,” Hilderbran said.
  • Quit making taxpayers wait to get their money back.  The Texas economy is strong and getting stronger and taxpayers shouldn’t have to wait for their tax refunds.  “I’ll make sure Texas Taxpayers have a right to timely refunds.  When I’m Comptroller, says Hilderbran, if you overpay your taxes, I’ll make sure you get them back without a long wait.”
  • Stop making taxpayers guess what the law is.  Texas taxpayers should have the right to accurate tax guidance when needed.  “Taxpayers just want to know the correct way to report taxes, but the rules that are in place today almost guarantee that, in many instances, they get no guidance at all,” Hilderbran said.
  • End lopsided dispute and appeal processes.  Texas taxpayers deserve a truly fair and impartial forum for settling tax disputes. “From start to finish, the process today gives the State advantages that the taxpayer does not get,” said Hilderbran.  “Worst of all, if a taxpayer actually wins a tax dispute before an administrative law judge, the Comptroller can still—and  and often does–reverse the judge’s decision.  Even Illinois has a better system than Texas for resolving tax disputes and I think that is shameful”

The seven points of Hilderbran’s proposal are:

  1. AUDIT FAIRNESS: If the IRS opens a federal audit, any subsequent state audit will be limited in scope and time only to that which the IRS is investigating.
  2. SIMPLIFY REFUND PROCESS: If a federal audit uncovers facts that conclude a taxpayer is due a refund from the state, the state should make it easier for the taxpayer to obtain that refund.
  3. ADJUDICATION BEFORE PAYMENT: If a legal tax protest is underway, a taxpayer does not have to pay the full tax amount until it is adjudicated.
  4. EXTEND PROTEST PERIOD: The time requirement to file a tax protest will increase to 90 days from 30 days.
  5. INTEREST RATE PARITY: Taxpayers should receive the same interest rate on refunds due as the state charges taxpayers when collecting deficient taxes.
  6. DEFINED TIME PERIOD: The statute of limitations on tax audits will be limited and cannot be continually extended.
  7. MADE PERMANENT: Once passed and implemented, this Taxpayers’ Bill of Rights should be offered as a Constitutional Amendment and left to the voters to make permanent.