Tax amnesty a costly proposition
by Adam Lang
December 17, 2009
THE TAX AMNESTY first proposed by Councilwoman Joan Krajewski and City Controller Alan Butkovitz is wending its way through Council.
I publicly criticized this idea when Krajewski initially proposed it on Aug. 31 and their idea hasn't gotten any better with age. In fact, it has now added more than $12 million in costs for taxpayers.
Their plan is that if people with unpaid taxes come in and pay all of the principal, they will get fees and half of the interest waived. In other words, if you had the means to pay your taxes and you just simply chose not to, City Hall would cut you a break.
The people Krajewski wants to give tax amnesty to are the people the city should be going after because they apparently have the money to pay the taxes they owe.
This plan is a representation of the tax problems that have plagued the city for decades. City Hall treats paying taxes as a voluntary action or as a way to return political favors. They either offer amnesties as they did back in 1986, let powerful people abuse the Board of Revision of Taxes by fudging property assessments or lets City Council modify political friends' tax liabilities, as in the Chris Wright case or Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell and her office staffer.
If City Hall does go forward with this, they should make sure all of the applicants' names are in the public record so the press and voters can check the names against campaign donations.
The solution to the city's tax collection problem isn't to ask nicely for the money every 20 years (and spend $13 million doing it). The solution is to let people know taxes are to be paid by everyone, equitably and fairly.
City Hall should do the following:
* Pursue timely enforcement of tax collections. The best way for people to know tax collections are serious is to start actively enforcing the laws against tax evaders. It also allows the city to reach people before the fees and interest start seriously adding up.
* Stop letting City Council staff be involved with tax bill issues. People should be dealing directly with the BRT, not through their councilperson. This will help eliminate political favoritism and coercion.
* Implement a balanced property assessment system for taxation based on real world numbers. Taxation should be open, transparent and understandable.
* Make it easier for businesses to pay their taxes. The IRS found that most of the people they audit had problems because of tax law confusion and difficulties, not because of malicious tax avoidance. Reform the system so that it is easy and understandable so that resources can be concentrated on those who won't pay taxes.
The commentary was originally published in The Philadelphia Daily News on December 17, 2009.