Until very recently, Maryland was one of only a handful of states that still lacked a Taxpayer Advocate dedicated to providing state-level advocacy to assist those with tax issues unable to be addressed or resolved via normal channels. On May 8, 2023, Governor Wes Moore signed House Bill (HB) 707 into law creating a Taxpayer Advocate Division within the Office of the Comptroller. As stated in the bill, the purpose of the Taxpayer Advocate Division is “to assist taxpayers and their representatives in resolving certain taxpayer problems and complaints and represent taxpayers’ interests in certain matters.”1 The head of the Division will be the Taxpayer Advocate, who will be selected by the Comptroller. This development is widely appreciated among both taxpayers and tax professionals, who anticipate a more expedient, efficient, and equitable process for a variety of tax matters.
The role of Maryland’s Taxpayer Advocate is, in part, inspired by the IRS’s Taxpayer Advocate Service (TAS) and the role of the IRS’s taxpayer advocate. According to TAS, its goal, as an independent organization within the IRS, is to ensure that all taxpayers are treated fairly. Additionally, it strives to make sure taxpayers understand their rights in relation to the IRS. Moreover, it provides recommendations to Congress about changes to the IRS to prevent future issues.
Professor Beverly Winstead, of the University of Maryland School of Law’s Low Income Taxpayer Clinic, testified on March 14, 2023, before the Appropriations Committee of the Maryland House of Delegates. She remarked that not all issues can be solved through normal IRS channels. Having access to TAS has proved to be an invaluable resource in many of her cases. Tax practitioners often indicate that TAS can be very helpful at getting taxpayers the support they need.
According to HB707, the Maryland Taxpayer Advocate, and the Taxpayer Advocate Division, will have similar roles and responsibilities to that of TAS. Specifically, the Taxpayer Advocate is directed to assist taxpayers in resolving issues with the Comptroller’s Office. The Taxpayer Advocate Division is also directed to provide services to taxpayers whose issues are not resolved using ordinary channels within the Comptroller's Office.
Much like TAS, the Maryland Taxpayer Advocate is directed to help “resolve systemic problems experienced by taxpayers.”2 In order to help bring systemic issues to the attention of the public and the comptroller, the Taxpayer Advocate will compile data on the types of taxpayer complaints. Additionally, the Taxpayer Advocate will survey taxpayers each year to evaluate the quality of services provided by the Comptroller’s Office. The Taxpayer Advocate Division is also tasked with establishing an online portal that will allow taxpayers to interact directly with the Division.
Without a Taxpayer Advocate, Maryland taxpayers could only handle tax issues through normal dispute channels. Professor Janice Shih, of the University of Baltimore School of Law’s Low Income Taxpayer Clinic, noted in witness testimony, before the Appropriations Committee, that interactions with the Comptroller’s Office were often determined by who answered the call. Taxpayers did not have an independent office to turn to when their tax issues became stalled in the ordinary tax channels. In a system that relies on voluntary tax compliance, a taxpayer advocate may be one of the most effective means of reducing numerous taxpayer compliance barriers and increasing equity throughout the process.
The legislation requires the Taxpayer Advocate to have “a background in customer service and tax law” as well as “experience representing individual taxpayers.” Maryland taxpayers have been in need of a Taxpayer Advocate. With the creation of the Maryland Taxpayer Advocate and the Taxpayer Advocate Division of the Comptroller’s Office, Maryland taxpayers should have better resources available to help them with their tax issues. HB707 goes into effect on July 1, 2023. At that time, Maryland Comptroller Brooke Lierman will be tasked with hiring the first, of hopefully many, Taxpayer Advocates to come. If you need any guidance on this topic contact our team today at (410) 497-5947 or you can schedule a confidential consultation.