Editorial: State scores huge victory for fairness

Effort to collect debts owed to the state of Louisiana appear to be paying off.

Earlier this week, the state announced

that a tax amnesty plan that ended on last week had reached its goal of

collecting

$200 million. That’s a big relief for state lawmakers and state

agencies because the money had already been plugged into the

2013-2014 state budget. Had the amnesty program not reached the

goal, state agencies would have faced mid-year budget cuts.

Now, anything that the state collects above $200 million is lagniappe.

‘‘We expect that number to grow as we receive and process applications and payments submitted in the final days and hours

of the amnesty program,’’ said state Department of Revenue Secretary Tim Barfield.

The amnesty program allowed individuals and companies that owed the state taxes to pay up without any penalties and with half

the interest charge waived.

In January, the new Office of Debt Recovery will open as an arm of the Revenue Department. Barfield said it may take a year

for the office to become fully operational.

The Debt Recovery Office will have a variety of options available to help it collect debt, including suspending drivers, hunting

and fishing licenses, garnishing income tax returns and even seizing money from bank accounts.

Earlier this year, it was estimated that state agencies were owed $1.2 billion. Those debts ranged from income taxes to student

loans to environmental monitoring fees.

State lawmakers have made other stabs at collecting the debt. State Treasurer John Kennedy advocated at one time selling the

debt but the pennies-on-the-dollar return soured many legislators on the idea.

Other lawmakers worried that too many poor residents might get caught up in the debt collection dragnet.

State Reps. Chris Broadwater, R-Hammond, and Ted James, D-Baton Rouge, finally were able to push a bill through the state

Legislature that created the Debt Recovery Office.

It’s a victory for fairness, not only for state agencies that should reap additional revenue from the collection process,

but for the majority of residents who faithfully pay the state what they owe.

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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.