Since 2006, Cook has served as the chief staff member at BF&R, which hears and decides appeals of business and personal state tax matters from the Department of Revenue. Cook, a graduate of the University of Notre Dame Law School, had previously worked for 13 years in Treasury’s office of legal counsel, during which time she served as designee to BF&R by four treasurers.
“Jacqueline Cook’s experience makes her the ideal choice to oversee the Board of Finance and Revenue during this significant transition,” McCord said. “She is not only familiar with the duties and responsibilities of the board in all its detail, but she helped identify many issues that we addressed in the redesign of the agency.”
The state treasurer has long been the ex-officio chair of BF&R. With Treasury leading the recent bipartisan reform effort in consultation with business, legal and tax accounting professionals, Pennsylvania enacted pro-taxpayer legislation (Act 52 of 2013) last July to alter the composition of the board to provide greater independence and modernize its operation. Cook provided critical input to the process.
The law reduced the number of board members from six to three, removing the Secretary of Revenue and two other gubernatorial administration officials from the body to provide greater independence. Their presence, especially in the case of the Revenue Secretary, was regarded as an essential flaw because they were hearing appeals of decisions made by the administration’s Revenue Department. The board had been criticized for its prior lack of independence and fairness, and for lack of transparency in making its decisions and the reasoning behind them publicly accessible. The auditor general and attorney general had also been statutory board members.
Under the new law, the governor will appoint two full-time members to six-year terms, subject to confirmation by the state Senate. Each of those appointees must be either a certified public accountant or lawyer and possess at least 10 years of experience with state tax law.
The treasurer remains ahead the board as its third member, but can appoint a designee as chairperson.
“I’m pleased to be able to name such a highly qualified woman to be the first appointed chair of the updated and taxpayer-friendly BF&R,” McCord said of Cook.
Cook earned an undergraduate degree in accounting from the University of Scranton, then concentrated on corporate law and taxation at Notre Dame Law School. She also studied international business at Notre Dame’s London Law Centre.
From 1993 through 2006, while employed as a staff lawyer at the state Treasury, she served as the designee to BF&R for Treasurers Catherine Baker Knoll, Barbara Hafer, Robert P. Casey Jr. and Robin Wiessmann. During that time, she voted on approximately 50,000 state tax appeal cases.
In 2006, the six-member board voted unanimously to hire her as secretary – the lead staff member. There she managed several dozen employees and improved the efficiency of processing state tax appeal cases despite a 43 percent reduction in staff due to budgetary cuts.
After McCord took office in 2009, she aided his drive to increase the transparency of the board, including publishing decisions for the first time. The board gained legal authority to publicize its decisions decades ago, but until McCord became treasurer, it had never made tax appeal opinions public. McCord and Cook also implemented a BF&R newsletter, Matters of Appeal.
Under Act 52, the new board will be required to publish all opinions after redacting confidential information, and to provide specific information on how decisions were reached, thus equipping taxpayers with necessary knowledge about the tax consequences of financial and business decisions.
Board decisions and other useful information related to tax appeals will now be posted on BF&R’s redesigned web site, which resides under the Pennsylvania Treasury site at http://www.patreasury.gov/bfr.html. The web site will have a more user-friendly layout, additional resources and enhanced research tools, including opinions available on searchable databases.
Governor Tom Corbett has appointed David Kraus and R. Scott Shearer to the other two board positions. They are awaiting Senate confirmation. Kraus is chief counsel to the Department of Revenue. Shearer is a partner specializing in Pennsylvania state tax at the law firm Keefer Wood Allen and Rahal, LLP.
For more information, visit http://www.patreasury.gov.
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