Working from the Other Side of the Table - After 23 Years with the State

State and Local Tax

By Cathleen Condrac

After working as a hearing officer with the Pennsylvania Department of Revenue for more than 23 years, I was invited to join the Schneider Downs State and Local Tax (SALT) team in 2010 when the Pittsburgh Board of Appeals closed its satellite office.

You may ask, “So what’s it like being on the other side?” As you can imagine, working in public accounting is very different from state employment.

Amazingly, I was still hired after I outright told my prospective boss that it would be impossible for me to learn any other state tax, since it had taken me 23 years to just keep up with Pennsylvania tax. Fortunately, he just laughed. (He was right, though, it wasn’t nearly as hard as I thought it would be.)

However, after more than two years in public accounting, it astonished me how much of an eye-opener it was to see the world from the opposite side. I have come to realize that when the tax accountants around here say “audit,” they do not mean a state sales tax audit. At the Board of Appeals, I reviewed a multitude of complex sales tax petitions (especially sales tax audits). However, reviewing arguments is much different than preparing the arguments, and I now have a much deeper respect for the expertise required to complete this task.

Contacting the Department of Revenue as a non-state employee has been interesting, too. I am still intimately familiar with the antiquated computer system that the agent on the other end of the telephone is accessing; the action codes the agent is perusing; the comments the agent is attempting to find; and the imbedded notice dates that are sometimes followed by suppression dates. It occurs to me frequently that I should, somehow, still have access to this information – it would be much quicker!

Finally, I give much credit to my fellow SALT colleagues, whom I had known for many years before joining the firm. They have sat across the table from me representing multiple clients before the Board for various appeals. I am truly grateful for the extraordinary patience they have shown in helping me transition from a seasoned tax appeals hearing officer to an experienced tax consultant. We truly have an extremely talented and diverse SALT team, of which I am privileged to be a member. Did you know we have one of the largest SALT groups with more than 100 years of combined experience?

I still frequently refer to clients as “taxpayers” and projects as “cases” and shareholders as “Board Members.” In the end, part of me will always be a hearing officer. As I see it, I am still serving the taxpayer…just from the other side of the table.

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This advice is not intended or written to be used for, and it cannot be used for, the purpose of avoiding any federal tax penalties that may be imposed, or for promoting, marketing or recommending to another person, any tax related matter.

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