Education and Networking

As you likely know, education is something I am very passionate about.  It is part of my business in the Sales Tax Institute.  But this isn’t the only place I teach.  One organization that I strongly support is the Council on State Taxation (COST).  And they have been supportive of us too!

About 15 years ago, COST decided to develop a week-long Basics School.  The school would provide fundamentals in state tax concepts that apply to all disciplines – income, sales/use and property tax.  This would be about half the week.  The other half of the week, the students would select a track – Income Tax Administration & Compliance, Sales Tax Administration & Compliance or SALT Concepts (theory for both income and sales/use).  As you might guess, they asked if I would help develop the Sales Tax Admin & Compliance day.  Of course I agreed!  This is a great complement to our Basics of Sales and Use Tax class and we’ve had several students attend for a bit more dedicated sales tax training.

Last week, the 14th annual COST Basics School was held!  Helping me since year 1 was Tony Chirico from Covidian.  Tony is on the COST board and although he used to have sales tax responsibility, he no longer does.  But, he is a valuable member of our team for which we are grateful.  He brings the corporate insight and has so much audit experience that he can weave into every discussion.  Carolynn Kranz from Industry Sales Tax Solutions joined the team 10 years ago.  If you don’t know Carolynn – she offers a great database on the taxability of computer and related items.  She also provides sales tax advisory services through her law firm.  She also has a wealth of experience to share with the team.  And she is a member of the Sales Tax Institute faculty too!

This year’s class was great!  We had a real mix of industries and the vast majority of them had less than one year of sales tax experience which is perfect for this class.   We got into some great discussions and had fun doing our exercises – particularly the registration exercise where Doug Lindholm (COST President & Executive Director) plays Tax Director and our SALT Basics Game Show.  It was a close competition between the two teams!

A little history about the COST Basics class:

  • It started in 2004 and until 2011 one of the Big 4 used the school to train their staff and held firm-wide SALT meetings in conjunction with the school
  • The first school was held in Dallas but then Georgia Tech Conference Center has been our home.  Last year we returned to Dallas and we’ll now be alternating between Atlanta and Dallas
  • When the school was first taught, the students were sent home with a 6” binder of materials (and had to carry that around with them!)  Today they are all issued I-Pads with the materials loaded.  In 2012, electronic materials started with Kindles and one year they used Google Nexus 7 devices.  Much more environmental and easier to carry!
  • The most memorable networking event was a tour of the Dallas Cowboy stadium.  Other networking events have been sporting events, shopping trips and trivia nights
  • The most memorable school – that would be 2015 when Atlanta had their blizzard.  This year really demonstrates what COST is all about.  Faculty that were at the school (and stranded!) pitched in to help on topics that weren’t theirs to teach.  Others called in and did their presentations via conference call with a COST staff member running the computer in the classroom.  Local students that couldn’t make it home at night bunked with other students.  It was a great show of how much of a team the entire school faculty is – and how inclusive everyone feels.

I talked to Karen Galdamez who is the Director, National Meetings at COST.  She’s been there a long time and is our go to person!  What she enjoys most about not only the Basics School but her job is that nothing is the same.  Even though the same meeting/school occurs each year – they are all different.  The people change – even though many of the Basics school faculty return each year.  What she dreads is all the CLE administration!  We chatted about how COST might want to try to take a leadership role in trying to simplify this.  Wouldn’t that be great!  The biggest change over the last 14 years of the school has been technology.  Everything has changed – how people register, how COST communicates with them, how they send out materials and manage memberships.  They need much less lead time to prepare for a school since they don’t have to print all the materials.  But ironically, it is still about the same number of boxes since they must ship all the iPads!

I do love doing this class every year – not just because of the opportunity to help new sales tax professionals grow in their career.  But, it’s the networking!  Running in the parallel track is the Income Tax Admin class.  They too have had almost the same team for the last 14 years.  We all look forward to catching up and chatting about what is happening in the state tax world.  And of course – the COST Team – not just Doug, but Chuck, Steve, and Karen really make the class a success.  Many of the other COST staff help facilitate and it is always great to catch up with them.

While I was there last week, I took the opportunity to chat with Doug about COST and the role it plays in the state tax community.  Doug is in his second role at COST.  Years ago, he was the Legislative Director.  He rejoined COST as President and Executive Director in 2000.   During his leadership, the COST staff has grown from 5 to 15 people and they have greatly expanded their educational offerings.  The Basics school is just one of their programs.  They also offer an Intermediate/Advanced Income Tax and Sales Tax School, Sales Tax & Income Tax Conferences, a Property Tax Workshop, Regional Meetings, an Annual Meeting that brings government and taxpayers together as well as international programs with CPA Canada.  They are exploring a program on US Taxes for European Companies this fall. But of all these, Doug’s favorite program is the Basics School.  He loves seeing the passion that the instructors have for the material they teach and how they help ignite the same passion in the students.  And like Karen’s thoughts, every year there is something new in the school since tax laws are always changing.

What Doug likes the most about his job is his team – the people he gets to work with.  The COST Staff as well as his Board of Directors.  The entire team is dedicated and pitches in to get things done.  There is a constant challenge balancing all the issues – especially since they have members on both sides of ‘certain’ issues.  But one issue that everyone was behind is what he is most proud of and that is the effort to get states to adopt independent tax courts.  There have been a core group of people working on this effort with COST including Paul Frankel, Craig Fields, Bruce Ely and Garland Allen.  We all owe them gratitude for their efforts.

Where would Doug like to see COST going next?  He believes the organization sits at the cross roads of Government Affairs and Tax.  These two groups need to better coordinate their efforts.  Tax professionals have a lot of expertise and can help build the case for efforts of their Government Affairs team using quantitative data.  Doug would like to work to strengthen these ties.  After all, state tax is really an opportunity for experiments in economic policy.  Different states can try different approaches while others watch to see what will happen.  We’ve seen that, haven’t we?  Certainly, the various new nexus standards fall into this approach.

Why do I support COST?  Doug and I are on the same page on this one.  COST can help turbo charge a SALT professional’s career.  Starting with COST Basics and progressing through their programs, the educational opportunities are vast.  I learn something from every program I go to!  They have an amazing group of dedicated members and supporters that are willing to share their knowledge.  Plus, they are a network of people that are always willing to help.  Between their member-only audit sessions at conferences, to their Forums where members can post questions, to friendships built, COST is a place for your entire career.  I’ve met some of the smartest, most helpful and fun people in my professional life through COST.  Being a member of COST is well worth the “cost”!

Thanks to COST for all the opportunities they’ve given me (including the opportunity to speak at their conferences for almost 20 years including next month in San Antonio!) and for your friendship and support.  There aren’t many organizations that promote their speakers and their expertise the way COST does.

Posted on February 2, 2017
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About the Author:

Diane L. Yetter

Founder of the Sales Tax Institute

Diane L. Yetter is a strategist, advisor, speaker, and author in the field of sales and use tax. She is president and founder of YETTER Tax and founder of the Sales Tax Institute. You can find Diane on LinkedIn and Twitter.