REPRESENTATION WITHOUT TAXATION
On January 13th I paid my usual quarterly estimated Federal and Rhode Island State income tax bills. While I can’t say I ever enjoy this chore the fact that some of my money is helping local education, funding basic infrastructure maintenance, aiding area libraries and, yes, providing a safety net for the state’s most vulnerable citizens lessens my angst. This year I wondered how many in the state are not playing by the same rules.
The state of Rhode Island Division of Taxation periodically publishes two lists, one of the top 100 business tax delinquents and a second of the top 100 individual tax delinquents.
The lists are very concerning.
The highest amount owed by a business is a healthy $4,284,022 down to a low of
$20,518. The total owed by these 100 firms is $17,534,358.
On the individual list the range is from $1,596,115 to $48,844. The total due from these 100 individual tax avoiders is $13,819,125.
While the amounts owed from these two lists seems large the grand total of all income taxes in arrears, called receivables by the Division of Taxation, is a whopping
$114,588,642! In fairness the Department of Revenue, under which the Division of Taxation operates, collected nearly $3,000,000,000 for the fiscal year ending on June 30th, 2016, so receivables are only .038%. But, in a time of budget austerity collecting it could certainly help the state coffers.
I have to assume that some of the children of these tax delinquents attend, will attend or have attended area schools. I’m also quite certain these same folks occasionally drive on our state highways and may, sometimes, use some form of government services. My simple question asks, is this fair? Isn’t this, to twist an historic rallying cry, representation without taxation?
Other than the shame of being seen on these rarely read public lists, what are the consequences of ignoring your civic duty to pay your taxes?
According to a spokesperson from the Department of Revenue there are some mechanisms in place to assist the state in collecting funds. An “offset” program will automatically deduct any future years’ tax refund to pay down debts, although how many of these individuals this affects is questionable. A “block” program prevents delinquents from receiving a drivers license , from registering a vehicle or obtaining certain professional licenses. In some instances wages may be garnered. Liens may also be placed on properties, although that is more difficult with the 24 individuals who no longer live in Rhode Island. Not surprisingly many have moved to warmer climes; North Carolina, Georgia and Florida being leading destinations.
The state also has a tax tip line (401-574-TIPS) for the public to inform the Division of Taxation of any fraud they may observe.
While these programs recoup some funds it would seem more effective tools must be devised and utilized. Frequent, more public, publications of the list would be a start. Currently the lists only appear within the Division of Taxation’s web site. How about twice a year publication in the state’s various newspapers? Shame is a powerful weapon.
Although there are criminal penalties for tax avoidance charges seem to be rarely pursued and mostly for business fraud, not mere avoidance. Perhaps the Attorney General and the State Police should take a more active, aggressive stance?
Now, I can sympathize with people who through no fault of their own; illness, job loss or other factors, have had their budgets busted. However, the people on these delinquents lists have, for the most part, just decided to not pay their fair share.
My wife and I retired in 2011 so our tax burdens are certainly lower these days. Still, looking back on our last eight years of employment from 2003 thru 2010 we paid nearly $100,000 in state income taxes.
The top name on the 100 individual group, who owes $1,596,115, is listed as now living in Boca Raton, Florida. I’ve lived a life of few resentments. I resent this.
Representation without taxation, it is quite the gig if you can get it. If you have no conscience.
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