Metro

State tax chief Mark Nunnelly to lead new technology agency

Governor Charlie Baker, who for most of the past year skirted state law by allowing his revenue commissioner Mark E. Nunnelly to serve on paid corporate boards, has moved Nunnelly to a new position in his administration.

Baker announced Tuesday that Nunnelly will take over a newly created post, executive director of MassIT, the state’s technology office, on April 4. He will report to the governor.

The move follows some controversy over Nunnelly’s appointment to head the state Department of Revenue. The law establishing the commissioner’s position prohibits a commissioner from holding paid positions in the private sector.

Mark E. Nunnelly.
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In making the announcement Tuesday, Baker said Nunnelly will be taking over a new agency that will deliver a top priority for his administration: beefed up information technology that will give the state the ability to provide efficient and fiscally responsible services.

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Nunnelly will carry out the administration’s plans to streamline how residents interact with state agencies, “from improving licensing, to answering the latest questions on healthcare services, and help filing taxes,’’ according to the governor’s announcement.

A spokesman for the governor said Nunnelly was especially qualified for the job. “As the governor’s special adviser for technology and innovation competitiveness, Mark has led a comprehensive review of the state’s IT infrastructure over the past year,” said Tim Buckley.

Administration officials said this year that Nunnelly, a wealthy venture capitalist who served as commissioner without taking a salary, had resigned from his positions on the boards, which included those of Dunkin’ Brands Group and Genpact Ltd., a Bermuda-based information technology services firm.

Nunnelly’s presence on private boards created awkward questions for Baker in November when the Globe reported that the House, at the administration’s behest, quietly inserted language in a budget bill that would lift the prohibition on the revenue commissioner from participating in outside business activities.

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Baker’s proposal was stopped in the Senate.

Baker never fully explained why the law did not apply to Nunnelly or why the administration was seeking the language change.

Instead, he cited the state ethics laws that Nunnelly followed when he disclosed to the Ethics Commission his holdings and his membership on three corporate boards that paid him about $300,000 a year.

The governor’s aides also said they had no written documents from the commission to back up their claim that commission found Nunnelly’s activities were proper.

But Baker would not address the specific law that banned a commissioner from holding corporate positions, a law that the Ethics Commission does not oversee.

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Ethics experts, including Common Cause Massachusetts, say the law is aimed at setting a higher ethical bar for revenue commissioners than for most state officials because of the sensitivity of the department’s mission. The commissioner makes frequent decision interpreting tax laws that have large impact on corporations.

On Tuesday, a spokesman for the state Democratic Party suggested that the episode reflected poorly on the governor. “How can working families trust Baker after he got caught trying to change a state law so his millionaire friend could be revenue commissioner while making money off business he’s supposed to regulate?” Pat Beaudry said in a statement.

Frank Phillips can be reached at phillips@globe.com.