Ewald resigning as tax commissioner

2013-09-30T12:40:00Z 2013-09-30T20:13:15Z Ewald resigning as tax commissionerBy JoANNE YOUNG / Lincoln Journal Star JournalStar.com

Nebraska Tax Commissioner Doug Ewald has resigned and is leaving state government, Gov. Dave Heineman announced Monday.

Ewald will leave in mid-October to be a managing director of  state and local tax practice at KPMG, an audit, tax and advisory firm in Omaha.

Ewald, 50, has been tax commissioner for seven years, responsible for daily operation of the Department of Revenue.

"It was a tough decision," he said. "I've got seven years invested here, obviously, but I got a fantastic offer, right position, right firm, that I just couldn't pass it up. I don't know if it would be there a year from now."

The tax commissioner position traditionally turns over with new governors. Heineman has one year left on his term.

“Doug has been instrumental in helping move the department forward though the enhanced use of technology,” Heineman said in a news release.

Sen. Galen Hadley, chairman of the Legislature's Revenue Committee and the Tax Modernization Committee, said the state would miss Ewald.

"I very much enjoyed working with Doug. (He had the) highest integrity and really was a help to the Legislature in all the things we've been doing the last four or five years," Hadley said.

During his tenure, Ewald said, the department has created an open-door environment and resolved a significant number of legal disputes while being more transparent with taxpayers.

Ewald has been instrumental in streamlining the agency, Heineman said, emphasizing the ease and added security of electronic payments and opportunities to e-file tax statements. Nebraska leads the nation in electronic filing of tax returns.

The state is in the middle of tax reform discussions, with the  Tax Modernization Committee conducting hearings across the state on what might change. In three hearings in central and western Nebraska, much of the discussion has centered around property tax relief.

"I think there's going to be some heavy lifting that is going to need to take place in the next session," Ewald said. "I just hope everybody is willing to do some sort of tax reform instead of just flat-out tax relief."

His recommendation is to broaden the sales tax base by taxing more consumer services, not taxing one business for something it buys from another. Taxing more services would make the  system more in tune with the current economy, Ewald said.

Taxes could be applied to discretionary services such as dry cleaning, day spas, lawn care, nail salons -- "those things where you could actually make your sales tax more progressive and focus on the higher-end individual," Ewald said.

Besides broadening the tax base, he would tap into the state's rainy day fund to try to make the biggest step forward for the state.

Hadley said Ewald's leaving would not have a big effect on the tax reform that is underway, because the committee mostly has been working closely with   Revenue Department staff, which is knowledgeable and up to date.

Ewald was appointed by Heineman in November 2006. Before coming to the Department of Revenue, he had a 19-year career in private-sector accounting and business planning. Ewald’s last day will be Oct. 18.

Heineman's deputy communications director, Sue Roush, said the procedure for replacing Ewald had not yet been determined.

Reach JoAnne Young at 402-473-7228 or jyoung@journalstar.com -- You can follow JoAnne's tweets at twitter.com/ljslegislature.

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