New Secretary of the Louisiana Department of Revenue Kimberly Robinson Talks Priorities With Bloomberg BNA

The Bloomberg BNA Tax Management Weekly State Tax Report filters through current state developments and analyzes those critical to multistate tax planning.

Kimberly Robinson will serve as the new secretary of the Louisiana Department of Revenue when Governor-Elect John Bel Edwards (D) takes office Jan. 11. In this interview, Bloomberg BNA correspondent Nushin Huq discusses Robinson's new role at the department and her potential impact on issues the state is facing.

Interview by Nushin Huq

Kimberly Robinson, a partner at Jones Walker LLP, has been with the firm's state and local tax team since 2008. Prior to joining the firm, Robinson served as special counsel for the office of the governor, where she provided legal counsel to Gov. Kathleen Blanco (D) and served as a liaison to the Departments of Revenue and Economic Development. Robinson also worked for six years in the Louisiana Department of Revenue, serving as assistant secretary for the office of legal affairs and confidential assistant to the secretary.

Bloomberg BNA:

You have a little over a month before you start your new position as secretary of the Louisiana Department of Revenue. What are you doing right now to prepare for the new role?

Kimberly Robinson:

I am currently meeting with the department's leadership team to get a briefing on everything that's been going on in their respective groups at the department: what the issues are that are coming up that I'll be facing when I walk in the door, getting an understanding of the current structure of the department, which is structured slightly differently than when I left there 10 years ago, getting a briefing on what the different divisions do, who the directors are, the assistant directors, what the department has going as it relates to filing season starting next year, individual income tax filing season, as well as some background on implementation of some of the changes that were made during the 2015 session because those are still underway to a degree. I've also been meeting with external stakeholders in the department, such as the legislative fiscal office, the division of administration, the house and senate fiscal staff, to get an understanding of current tax collections and the interplay between department activities and responsibilities and their work.

Bloomberg BNA:

Have all the forms related to changes made by the Legislature in 2015 been updated?

Robinson:

They've all been updated, and the forms for the 2015 tax year are ready to go. I'm just making sure I'm up to date on the changes that have been implemented and how those are going to affect our tax filings.

Bloomberg BNA:

Please explain the role of the secretary of the Department of Revenue, especially to people who might not be from Louisiana.

Robinson:

In a lot of states, the secretary is actually called the commissioner. So the roles are very similar in most states, except states like California that bifurcates out the tax collection responsibility. In general, the secretary is the head of the Department of Revenue, and the department is responsible for tax administration and collection. Think of the secretary as your chief executive officer, so to speak. The department is divided into specific areas of responsibility. So there's an area of responsibility of processing of returns, there's a collection responsibility, there's a voluntary compliance responsibility, an audit function and a policy division that makes sure we get the word out to taxpayers and provide guidance to them on how to properly apply the tax laws.

Bloomberg BNA:

Louisiana is in a challenging position right now. There's immediate deficits that must be addressed, as well as possible structural tax changes. As secretary of the Department of Revenue, what can you do in your position to address these issues?

Robinson:

I'll continue addressing tax administration and voluntary compliance as well as making sure the tax laws that we are administering are correct and they are implemented in a way that the Legislature intended when they enacted them.

Bloomberg BNA:

This summer, the Legislature passed a number of bills related to tax law. The Department of Revenue put out guidance as well as new forms based on those laws. In one form in particular, which reflected changes due to H.B. 624, your former firm disagreed with the department's interpretation of the Legislature's intent. As the new secretary of revenue, are you able to give new guidance? If so, are you planning to give new guidance regarding that law or any of the other laws?

Robinson:

I think that the department will continue to be in the position of providing guidance to taxpayers on the legislative changes that took place in 2015 as well as any other changes that may come out of any upcoming legislative sessions. The department has put out its position on this issue and at this point all policy of the department will be evaluated to ensure they are compliant with the laws enacted, but I have no plans on addressing [H.B. 624] in particular.

Bloomberg BNA:

You've been active in both public service and in the private tax law sector, but this is a new role for you. What opportunities does this role open in terms of making changes in Louisiana tax structure?

Robinson:

This is definitely a unique position, and I think I step into this position with certain advantages. Having been at the department before, I have experience with how it operates. I also have my experiences from the private sector with the role that I've had here at Jones Walker in both client representation and firm leadership. I have the unique perspective of being able to see the issues from both sides. There's sometimes perception between the department and the taxpayer that neither side understands the other. So I will have that advantage of having been on both sides and going back into the public sector to really make a difference in the administration of tax law. There's been a lot of talk about the complexity of the state's tax system—there's many recommendations out—and to be in the position to implement or be involved in the implementation possibly of some of those structural changes to the system should be fabulous.

Bloomberg BNA:

What are your primary goals in your new role?

Robinson:

To continue the work of the Department of Revenue, to administer the laws of the state of Louisiana and ensure that our tax structure is stable, that there's ease of compliance, and that it's viewed as fair and equitable.

Bloomberg BNA:

Has the Governor-elect given any indication on when the special session, which will probably address fiscal issues, will be held?

Robinson:

The governor has indicated that the special session will be taking place after Mardi Gras this year. Mardi Gras is Tuesday, Feb. 9.

Bloomberg BNA:

When a special session is held, what will be your role?

Robinson:

I think that the secretary of the Department of Revenue is generally very involved in the legislative process when tax issues are being considered. The department will be in the position to provide analysis of the legislative instrument, provide fiscal note information on the matters being considered and provide testimony as needed to explain what a particular legislative instrument does or does not do.