Comptroller comments on tax deadbeats

Comptroller Peter Franchot

Comptroller Peter Franchot

CAMBRIDGE — Comptroller Peter Franchot recently announced the names of the top 25 businesses and 20 individuals collectively owing $12.7 million in unpaid taxes, penalties and interest to the State of Maryland. The Comptroller’s Office publishes the top scofflaws on the agency’s website in a public attempt to get those on the list to pay what they owe as part of the Caught in the Web program. The Banner talked to Comptroller Franchot recently and asked about the effectiveness of such a strategy.

“We listed the top 25 business and 20 individuals who owe the state the most money,” said Comptroller Franchot, talking about the list of tax evaders posted at marylandtaxes.gov. “And these are businesses and individuals who we have continually communicated with and (told them) they owe substantial amounts of money. They generally lawyer up and have all sorts of legal representation and drag their feet and delay and come up with reasons why they won’t do the right thing and pay their taxes. And finally, we have reached a point where we are so frustrated that we simply publish their names with the amounts.”

We asked if his office finds that they are dealing with the same scofflaws every year. “Well no, these are people that we’ve been in touch with, and have been attempting to reach resolution with for a long time, and we’ve tried every other legal remedy that we have,” said the comptroller. “Garnishing wages and going to court and doing this and that. And so I say they’re not unsophisticated people. They have a lot of resources, and they’ve managed to keep us at arm’s length. But when you owe us $267,000, that’s more than a lot of people will ever make.”

Mr. Franchot commented that it might seem extreme, but publishing names appears to make things happen. “We find that that’s a very effective way to get their attention and most of them, as I said, are people that have resources and they don’t like to have their friends and family commenting to them that they are on a list of tax deadbeats. So they tend to settle up.

“Once we reach the end of the line where there’s nothing else we can do, we publish their names publicly. We do it once a year, and it has a very positive impact from a taxpayer perspective, because they tend to settle up with us, and it’s the only fair thing to do, because everyone else pays their taxes on time, and it’s on the honor system. We can’t honor everybody, but for these particular individuals and businesses, we find this to be entirely appropriate. We’re not harassing them. We’re just saying, ‘Look, guys, you gotta stop telling us to jump in the water. You got to fish or cut bait here.’ And so that’s what we put out yesterday. I think we’ll, within a couple of months, we’ll have a majority of them settling up with us.”

WE asked about the tax season aas a whole. “Knock on wood—don’t want to jinx us—but it’s going very well and we’ve returned more than two billion dollars in refunds. We’ll probably be, by the end of the year, be up around three billion. And that, combined with the federal tax cut, which put about three billion dollars of disposable spending in consumer pockets, that’s a real shot in the arm for retail. So we assume that it’s going to be a good year this calendar year, 2018, for small businesses in Maryland.”

Paul Clipper is the editor of the Dorchester Banner. He can be reached at pclipper@newszap.com.

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