Image: Ron Kirk
Michael Reynolds  /  EPA
Former Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk's nomination to be Barack Obama's U.S. trade representative now heads to the full Senate for approval.
updated 3/12/2009 3:37:12 PM ET 2009-03-12T19:37:12

The Senate Finance Committee has approved former Dallas mayor Ron Kirk to be the next U.S. trade representative, the person in charge of steering the country's trade policy.

Kirk's confirmation hit a bump last week when it was revealed that he, like some others nominated by President Barack Obama, had a problem with underpaid taxes.

But Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus declared the tax trouble an honest mistake, and endorsed Kirk as the best man for the job. He was approved by voice vote, which now moves his nomination forward to the full Senate.

As trade representative, Kirk must find a balance between business and farm groups supporting an expansion of free trade agreements and union and consumer groups who say past agreements have cost American jobs.

Kirk owes an estimated $10,000 in back taxes from earlier in the decade and has agreed to make his payments

The committee said the taxes arise from Kirk's handling of speaking fees that he donated to his alma mater, and for his deduction of the full cost of season tickets to the Dallas Mavericks professional basketball team.

Kirk routinely gave any speaking fees he earned to Austin College, the committee said, and did not list them on his tax returns.

Instead, the committee said he should have listed the fees as income, then claimed them as charitable donations. The estimated effect was to reduce Kirk's tax bill by an estimated $5,800, according to the committee report.

The disclosure made the former Dallas mayor the latest in a string of top-level Obama administration appointees found to have underpaid their taxes, following Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner and Tom Daschle, who withdrew as candidate for Health and Human Services secretary. Nancy Killefer, Obama's pick for chief performance officer, also bowed out amid tax problems.

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