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Spotlight on Sylvia Dion, State and Local Tax Firm Founder

May 6, 2022, 1:00 PM

Our Spotlight series highlights the careers and lives of tax professionals across the globe. This week’s focus is on Sylvia Dion, a certified public accountant who is the founder and managing partner of PrietoDion Consulting Partners LLC, a state and local tax (SALT) advisory firm.

Her firm helps U.S. and international clients understand and manage their multi-state tax obligations in sales, income, and franchise; payroll withholding; and unemployment insurance. She previously held leadership positions with EY and Grant Thornton and worked in the corporate tax departments of several high-tech, software, and manufacturing companies.

Dion, who describes herself as “a proud Mexican-American Latina,” says she tries to be a role model for younger Latinos who are considering a career in accounting, tax, or law. “Latinos are still so underrepresented in the accounting, tax, and law professions,” she says. The mother of a 24-year-old son and 20-year-old twins, she will be celebrating her 30th wedding anniversary this year.

What’s your official title and what does it mean? I’m the founder and managing Partner of PrietoDion Consulting Partners LLC, a state and local tax (SALT) advisory firm based in Massachusetts. I manage and oversee all aspects of running a small consulting firm of four professionals. And as such, I have many roles—managing the day-to-day operations, developing new business and providing tax advisory services.

Free time: book, audiobook, or podcast? Absolutely a book. I love seeing the written words on a page, being able to pause, reread, and form my own mental image of what I’m reading.

Tax is a huge subject. What’s your area of special interest? I specialize in state and local tax, which itself is a huge subject area. Every U.S. state has its own statutes, regulations, administrative policies, tax rates, and even within the same state, you’ll find different rules, nexus standards, registration requirements, etc., for the different tax types. As a great number of my clients are e-commerce retailers or providers of cloud accessed software and services or digital products—industries with some of the most complex state tax issues and developing state tax rules—there’s never a dull moment.

What’s the last movie or show that you watched and loved (DVD, Netflix, or in the theater)? Two series I recently watched and loved are “Bridgerton,” which takes place during England’s Regency era, and “La Cocinera de Castamar,” which takes place in 18th century Spain during the reign of King Philip. I’m drawn to historical fiction, especially when there’s steamy romance involved. And if it’s a Spanish-language series or film, like “La Cocinera de Castamar,” I’m more apt to watch and be drawn in.

What college did you attend and what did you study? I attended the University of Texas at El Paso, where I earned my bachelor of business administration with a major in accounting, and the University of Texas at Austin, where I earned my master’s in professional accounting with a specialization in federal taxation.

Go to pick-me-up: Coffee or tea? Coffee is definitely my “pick-me-up” drink, or should I say “wake-me-up” drink. Yes, I’m one of those folks who can’t function until I have that first cup of coffee. But I’m a huge tea drinker, too—and almost always have a big glass of iced tea on my desk. I pretty much have caffeine pulsing through my veins all day long.

What’s the best tax or financial advice that anyone ever gave you? I have to answer this in the context of best “career tax” advice. First, being encouraged to get involved in SALT very early in my tax career. I’ve been working in SALT since the late 1980s—way before most companies were concerned about their multistate obligations and before SALT became a separate practice area. In the late 1990s, I was a SALT senior manager in the Boston office of EY. I was asked by the lead SALT partner to head up EY’s New England area’s employment tax services practice. Not only did this give me exposure to yet another area of SALT—state payroll withholding and unemployment insurance—but it also really built my confidence as far as presenting to clients, public speaking and leading a practice area.

If you weren’t working in the tax profession, what would your dream job be? Without a doubt, it would have been a chef or restaurateur, even though I know these are grueling professions. Food and cooking are a huge passion of mine. I started cooking around age 11 and, during my teen years, thought I would pursue a career in the culinary arts. Of course, becoming a tax accountant won out—I guess I’m drawn to grueling professions. But I do love cooking; it helps me decompress and unwind. I find the entire process of planning what I’ll prepare, shopping for ingredients, and of course, the actual cooking, to be very relaxing.

If you had the opportunity to make one change in the tax world—an extra credit, a disallowed deduction, whatever—what would it be? More generous credits for lower- to middle-income parents who are paying for their children’s college education. When considering the cost of a college education, the credit amounts offered by the American Opportunities Tax Credit and the Lifetime Learning Credit are dismal. Most low-income parents, and even middle-income parents, aren’t able to put funds into college savings programs, such as a 529 plan, as often they’re living paycheck to paycheck. Even with scholarships and financial aid, earning a degree from the college of choice isn’t attainable for many talented students who might not have the financial means.

Favorite food, snack, or candy during tax season or other busy time? Dark chocolate peanut butter or almond butter cups. I have three different bags of these on my desk right now—and just decided I need to munch on a few as a I wrap up this Q&A.

What tax news or move made the most impact on your practice or clients this past year? I absolutely have to say the continuing evolution of the sales tax economic nexus and marketplace facilitator tax laws. Although it’s been over three years since South Dakota v. Wayfair, the repercussions are still being felt. Within the last year, we saw the last remaining states enact economic nexus and marketplace tax facilitator laws. When sales tax economic nexus laws came into existence, they were seen as an approach to finally level the playing field between online and brick-and-mortar retailers. But Wayfair, and the influx of economic nexus laws that followed, have impacted companies in many different industries, including manufacturing, wholesaling, software and digital goods vendors. You see the impact of economic nexus trickling into the local tax laws, such as in Alaska, which has no state level sales tax, but whose various cities have adopted economic nexus. Or in Chicago which, as of last July, is enforcing its own economic nexus threshold. I pretty much eat, sleep, and drink economic nexus these days.

If you received a big tax refund check right now, what would you do with it? Honestly, I’m torn, because there’s a part of me that would want to be practical and apply the refund to savings and necessities. But I must go with the less practical answer, which would be to spend the tax refund check on travel outside of the U.S. My daughter and I have been dreaming and plotting the trips we’d love to take—first a trip to Mexico City to visit family, then a trip to Europe. With clients in Spain, the U.K., and other parts of Europe, I would love to be able to combine a leisurely trip to Europe with visits to meet some of our lovely clients.

You can find Dion on LinkedIn or on Twitter at @SylviaDionCPA.

You can learn more about Dion’s firm on its website.

If you’d like to recommend a tax pro to be featured, send your suggestion to rbaker@bloombergindustry.com with the subject: Spotlight. Please include the following information: tax professional’s name, title, email address, and geographic area (city/state/country).

To contact the reporter on this story: Rebecca Baker in Washington at rbaker@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Kelly Phillips Erb at kerb@bloombergindustry.com