Technology to target people owing back taxes

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(Host) State government is taking advantage of new technology to go after people who owe back taxes.

The Department of Taxes has updated its computer system. Now, it can cross-check other government databases against its own to make sure people have paid what they owe the state.

VPR’s Ross Sneyd reports:

(Sneyd) State government maintains a lot of files on taxpayers. But those documents are seldom shared among different agencies.

That’s partly out of concern for maintaining individuals’ privacy.

But it’s also been because the state’s information technology systems haven’t been very good at cross-referencing data.

That’s changed.

The Internal Revenue Service has certified the state’s data network, which gives the Tax Department access to additional information.

Tax Commissioner Tom Pelham says that means his staff can compare employment records or professional license applications with tax returns.

(Pelham) "We can get a database of, for example, teachers who are going to be applying for recertification, or payroll records from the Human Resources Department on state employees, or lists from the secretary of state, and be able to commingle that information with our tax information to kind of sift through information to find individuals that might not be in compliance."

(Sneyd) The Tax Department has stepped up its collections efforts for the past three years and has just recently added the ability to mine databases.

Pelham says the amount the state has billed in delinquent taxes has grown 23% over three years to $128 million. Collections have gone up $14% to $52 million.

Governor Jim Douglas says he supports the Tax Department initiative.

He says it’s a sign that Vermont has improved from last in the nation four years ago in its use of computer technology in state government.

(Douglas) "We’re now, according to the last report, up to 41st and making real progress in using computer technology and automation more successfully more than we ever have. We’ve done it in our Human Services Agency, in the Natural Resources Agency, the secretary of state’s office, and now with the Tax Department. So we’re making real strides to enforce the law and ensure that taxpayers pay what they owe."

(Sneyd) Pelham says the Tax Department will take advantage of other government databases in the future to collect back taxes.

He says he’s eying state Labor Department records next.

For VPR News, I’m Ross Sneyd.

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