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State tax amnesty program strikes gold

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A two-month-long program to shake some coins out of errant taxpayers has produced far more money than anticipated.

Department of Revenue spokesman Sean Laux said Tuesday agency officials had tallied more than $46 million in payments from an amnesty program when the window closed Monday night. That’s more than three times as much as lawmakers assumed they would get when the approved the effort earlier this year.

And Laux said that may not be the last word.

He said mail that arrived before the deadline is still being opened and processed. That could put the tally of the “found” money at more than $50 million.

Lawmakers created the program as part of the plan to balance the current $9.1 billion spending plan.

In essence, taxpayers who owe money to the state — or perhaps just “forgot” to file returns — were told they could get right by coming forward and paying what they owe. More to the point, the state would forgo not just the interest owed but penalties that can add up to 25 percent of what is owed.

They budgeted anticipated income at $15 million. That is in line with a similar amnesty plan approved in 2011 which raised $13 million.

So why did this program generate so much more?

“It’s hard to speculate,” Laux said. But he said some of that could be due to the generosity of the plan.

He said prior amnesty programs forgave penalties but only part of the interest. This one simply allowed taxpayers to cough up what they would have owed had they paid it on time, and not a nickel more.

And there was something else.

Prior amnesty programs were aimed at people who had not filed tax returns or those whose returns were in the process of being audited. This one expanded that to also include — and prove relief for — taxpayers whose accounts had already been audited and turned over for collection.

Laux acknowledged that raises the question of whether the state would’ve gotten the money from those taxpayers anyway, along with the interest and penalties.

“Generally, the department is fairly successful on our enforcement programs,” he said.

“Certainly, the amnesty program accelerates the collection of delinquencies,” Laux continued. “So it’s possible we would have got the money at some point.”

Not everyone was entitled to such relief.

The program specifically excluded anyone with a prior conviction for tax fraud. And amnesty was not available to anyone in cases where the department already was pursuing a criminal case.

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