Reluctant to Raise Taxes, Some States Push the Tax Man on Tougher Collection Enforcement
Dentist Frank Illuzzi was stunned when Vermont tax collectors began demanding a 6 percent sales tax on the value of toothbrushes and floss he hands out to patients. Senior care facility operator Jay Grimes was similarly surprised to get a $350,000 bill slapping a 9 percent restaurant tax on the meals served to residents in the dining room. Landscaper Richard “Buckwheat” Lowe got $18,000 in bills taxing him for the first time ever on the mulch he sells.
Vermont is among a handful of cash-strapped states getting more aggressive about collecting every tax owed — hiring more collectors, hounding scofflaws and exploiting corners of their tax laws that haven’t been enforced in years. It’s an effort to avoid what politicians from both parties are dead set against: raising taxes.
“You don’t want to raise taxes until you’re very sure the taxes that people are supposed to pay are being paid,” said Rep. Janet Ancel, chairwoman of Vermont’s House Ways and Means Committee.
Under adamant no-new-tax Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin, Vermont has added about 10 new tax compliance auditors and has stepped up efforts to scour records in rural areas, and add greater scrutiny to businesses ranging from auctioneers to Internet-based cloud-computing services.
But for all its aggressiveness, Vermont’s results have been mixed. The state reaped about $57 million during the 12 months that ended in June, up from about $50 million five years earlier — a net gain of $7 million. That’s a tiny fraction of the state’s $1.3 billion general fund, but it has helped lawmakers close a budget gap that at the beginning of this year was projected to be $46 million.
Other states have had much more success.