Hey tax cheats, now’s your time

PHILADELPHIA. For roughly 1.2 million tax scofflaws who owe taxes in Pennsylvania, the clock is ticking.

Gov. Ed Rendell announced a 54-day tax amnesty program yesterday that would allow delinquents to avoid penalties and pay half the interest on back taxes if they pay in full by June 18. Of the $2.1 billion owed, the cash-strapped state hopes to recoup $190 million to go toward the current year’s budget.

After the amnesty program ends, officials said they will aggressively target deadbeats by prioritizing them for audits, adding a 5-percent penalty and expanding the list which is published online.

Revenue Department spokeswoman Stephanie Weyant said publicly shaming delinquents by releasing their names has been effective.

“It’s been very effective in collecting from businesses that previously didn’t respond to the department,” Weyant said.

Rendell and the Legislature based the program on New Jersey’s amnesty initiative, which captured more than $700 million last year. Most of the delinquents are businesses who owe Pennsylvania corporate, employer withholding and sales taxes. Income tax delinquents account for roughly 33 percent of the total.

“Our message is, ‘Find us before we find you,'” Rendell said during a news conference.

He noted that the amnesty is not a “free ride” for those who deliberately cheat the system. “Tax delinquents will still pay more than they would have if they’d paid their taxes on time,” he said.

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