UPDATED: Senate panel withholds recommendation for Marx

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(Updated to include coments from Democrat Sen. Tom Holland)

The Senate Tax Committee on Thursday decided not to recommend Gov. Laura Kelly’s nominee to the Kansas Board of Tax Appeals after a senator became angry over an email she said was inappropriately circulated by the governor’s office.

The Tax Committee sent Robin Marx’s nomination to the full Senate without recommendation, potentially putting the appointment to the board at risk.

The Marx nomination was damaged Thursday when Republican Sen. Molly Baumgardner rebuked the governor’s appointments director for distributing an email sent to her in support of Marx to other members of the tax committee.

“I think it is quite chilling that correspondence that is sent to me with regard to a recomendation for a position that we are to vote on is then shared by the office of the governor’s director of appointments to all committee members,” Baumgardner said.

“To be clear, it is grossly inappropriate and an absolute breach of professionalism to have the director of appointments for the governor of this state to take a piece of email that was sent to me…and to send it to my committee chair and my committee members.”

Baumgardner called the distribution of the email “unprofessional” and “absolutely uacceptable.”

“I will never condone the appointment of someone whereby this little fancy business was used via technology,” she said.

A spokesman for the governor declined comment.

Democratic state Sen. Ethan Corson said he understood Baumgardner’s frustration but didn’t think she should take her anger out on Marx.

“I just don’t feel it’s appropriate to take it out on the nominee, who I am very confident had nothing to do with the transgression the senator is upset about.”

Marx’s nomination has been scrutinized because of questions raised by the Kansas Chamber of Commerce about whether he has a conflict.

Democratic state Sen. Tom Holland criticized the chamber’s lobbyist, Eric Stafford, for not disclosing that he represented members who had business before the Board of Tax Appeals.

“He really did this nominee a massive disservice,” Holland said of Stafford.

“Whether you support his nomination or not,” Holland said, “the point is Mr. Marx got screwed on this deal because Mr. Stafford never had to completely answer that packet he gave us and that will always cast doubt in the committee’s mind – and rightly so – was Mr. Marx the man to do the job.”

Holland said he plans to call out Stafford on the Senate floor when Marx’s nomination comes up for a vote.

He also said he planned to introduce a bill that would require lobbyists to disclose if they were representing an issue that could be affected by an outstanding court case.

Marx, an appraiser for 45 years at one of the most established appraisal firms in the Midwest, is facing questions about whether he has a conflict for his part in the debate over whether big-box retail stores should be appraised as if they were vacant, or “dark.”

The so-called dark store debate is an emerging issue in Kansas and across the country as local governments push back against the idea of appraising retail properties as if they were vacant, saying it would cost them millions and shift the tax burden to homeowners.

Marx has said — and reiterated Tuesday — that occupied big-box stores should not be valued like vacant big-box stores.

“There’s nothing in the law that says for me to make that hypothetical assumption, but if the courts say to do so, I am absolutely prepared to take that approach,” Marx told the committee during a sometimes-contentious hearing.

Marx said he wasn’t trying to make law on the board, but he said there’s nothing in the statute that says he must assume the property is vacant when it’s appraised.

“There’s nothing in the statutes that I’m aware of that say, ‘Oh, assume that it’s dark,’” he said. “That’s not the law.”