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Editorial: Tax amnesty program could backfire

Last Modified: Thursday, October 03, 2013 5:28 PM

Buoyed by success three years ago, the state of Louisiana has opened another amnesty program for individuals and companies that owe back taxes.

Begun last month, the amnesty window will be open until Friday, Nov. 22.

The state hopes to collect via the Louisiana Tax Amnesty 2013: A Fresh Start program $200 million of the estimated $2.5 billion it says it is owed. That includes $1.4 billion in delinquent taxes and $1.1 billion that has been held up in disputed audits or litigation.

The program waives any penalties that taxpayers may have owed on delinquent or disputed taxes. However, they must pay off the outstanding tax bill, plus half the interest that’s been assessed.

The state will accept payments in cash, personal or business checks, credit cards, auto debits, money orders or bank wires.

The Department of Revenue’s outreach includes 443,000 letters addressed to taxpayers the agency’s records indicate are behind on their taxes. The department is also sending a recorded telephone message sent to eligible taxpayers whose phone numbers are in LDR’s database.

More information can be found at the state Department of Revenue’s website . The website suffered some delay issues first day the program was launched, Monday, Sept. 23, but department officials say those have been cleared up.

‘‘We have worked to make this process very simple and easy to use,’’ said the Secretary of the Revenue Department, Tim Barfield. ‘‘We want to make certain that this direct benefit to taxpayers will be a way to help them and their families without jumping through a lot of hoops or going through red tape.’’

The state has offered a carrot. Taxpayers who lost their driver’s, hunting or other licenses because of their delinquent tax status can get them back when they pay up.

The Jindal administration is betting the amnesty program will bring in $200 million. That assumption is based, somewhat, on a similar 2010 program that collected $482 million of overdue taxes.

But the attorney for the Department of Revenue, Jason Decuir, admits the administration is unsure how much money will be reaped.

‘‘It worked well here in the past,’’ he said. ... Having it so soon after the last one ... is $200 million a reasonable amount to be thinking about? We don’t know that.’’

Nevertheless, the Jindal administration plugged the $200 million figure into this year’s budget. Other agencies, particularly higher education and public hospitals, are hoping the program succeeds. If it falls short, they will face mid-year budget cuts.

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This editorial was written by a member of the American Press Editorial Board. Its content reflects the collaborative opinion of the Board, whose members include Bobby Dower, Mike Jones, Jim Beam, Crystal Stevenson and Donna Price.

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