There's a growing movement among the states to publicly humilate business owners and taxpayers who fall behind in payments to the taxman
Humiliation appears to be working in getting Pennsylvanians to pay their taxes.
The Pennsylvania Department of Revenue announced this week it has collected $25 million in back taxes after it posted names of delinquents taxpayers on the Internet.
The program of public shame is in its first year, but it's paying off big dividends, as several hundred business owner and individuals have coughed up money the state claims they owe.
You would think the threat of losing your property or heading off the jail was incentive enough to pay the taxman.
Since the list was posted in April 2006, 141 of the 321 businesses that have appeared on the tax delinquent list have been removed from the site because they either paid their taxes in full or committed to a deferred payment plan. The list now includes a total of 258 businesses that owe sales and/or employer withholding taxes.
"The tax delinquent Web site has proven to be an effective tool to collect unpaid taxes from businesses that previously ignored Revenue Department efforts," Department of Revenue Secretary Thomas W. Wolf said in a press release. "Businesses collect sales and employer withholding taxes from their customers and employees. It's unfair for some businesses to keep that money."
Seventy-eight new names have been added to the list this month, according to Department of Revenue officials.
Among the 78 new delinquent taxpayers added to the list are: Robert E. Jackson Jr. dba Jackson's Automotive, Camp Hill, Cumberland County, who owes $197,817.39; Hometown Pizza Laundromat and Car Wash, Rockwood, Somerset County ($13,858.26); Sean P. Higgins dba Keystone Acoustics, Ottsville, Bucks County ($45,092.82); Acumark Inc., Pittston, Luzerne County ($129.711.93); Joseph C. McKnight dba McKnight's Auction, Mercer, Mercer County ($40,793.86); and David McHenry dba McHenry's Garage, Marysville, Perry County ($9,988.53).
Businesses and individuals listed on the Web site are contacted by the department and given one final chance to make payment arrangements before appearing on the list, Wolf said.
The prospect of appearing on the list has helped convince delinquent taxpayers to pay $25.05 million and enter into deferred payment plans for an additional $17.54 million in previously unpaid taxes, according to the Department of Revenue.
Other states have found that the threat of public exposure can be a powerful tax collection incentive. At least 20 other states, including Maryland, New Jersey and Virginia, use Internet lists to help collect unpaid taxes.
Information on the Web site is public as a result of a lien filed by the Revenue Department. The liens are recorded in the county prothonotary's office where the person lives or does business. The amounts listed on the Web site represent the original liens. The current amount of tax due may differ from the amount listed on the site because of partial payments and/or the accrual of additional interest since the tax lien was filed.
The Web site is updated monthly, and delinquent taxpayers who resolve their tax liabilities are removed from the site each month, according to Wolf's release.
Tony Phyrillas is a leading conservative political columnist and blogger based in Pennsylvania. He is a veteran journalist with 25 years experience as a reporter, editor and columnist for several newspapers. Phyrillas received recognition for column writing in 2010 from the Associated Press Managing Editors, in 2007 from Suburban Newspapers of America and in 2006 from the Society of Professional Journalists, Keystone Chapter. A graduate of Penn State University, Phyrillas is the city editor and political columnist for The Mercury, a two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning daily newspaper in Pottstown, Pa. In addition to The Mercury website (www.pottsmerc.com), his columns are featured on more than a dozen political websites and blogs. Phyrillas is a frequent guest (and occasional host) on talk radio and has been a panelist on the "Journalists Roundtable" public affairs TV program on the Pennsylvania Cable Network (PCN). Phyrillas was named one of the '10 Leading Greek-American Bloggers in the World' in 2007 by Odyssey: The World of Greece magazine. BlogNetNews.com ranked Phyrillas the Most Influential Political Blogger in Pennsylvania for three consecutive years (2007-2010). You can follow Phyrillas on Twitter @TonyPhyrillas