- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 29, 2009

RICHMOND | Virginia is encouraging businesses and people delinquent on their state taxes to pay up without penalty in an amnesty program that officials hope will bring an estimated $48 million to the cash-strapped state.

The Department of Taxation’s “Get Square on Back Taxes” campaign allows tax evaders and delayers to do the right thing and settle their debts with the state, said Gov. Tim Kaine, who helped launch the program Monday at an outdoor gathering of state employees from the tax department.

Mr. Kaine said the program gives people who are late on their state taxes a strong financial incentive to fulfill their obligations and improve their credit ratings, as well as help Virginia’s general fund, which supports education, public safety and other basic programs.

Qualifying businesses or individual taxpayers who settle with the Department of Taxation between Oct. 7 and Dec. 5 can escape a 20 percent late-payment penalty and waive half the interest they owe. The tax department is sending 550,000 notices by mail to households and businesses with delinquent tax bills and notifying them how much they potentially can save under the amnesty plan.

The campaign features a smiling square, as officials are being encouraging rather than threatening in their approach to collecting delinquent tax payments during tough economic times. The tax department has set up a Web site and a call center to handle amnesty inquiries, and has added 35 to 40 temporary staffers to handle increased customer service and mail duties during the two-month period.

The program can apply to any outstanding tax bills that are at least 90 days old, tax department spokeswoman Ginny Slaughter said. The average delinquent Virginia tax bill is $2,315.

Mr. Kaine said the $48 million is a “somewhat conservative” target, and the amount would be applied to the budget for the upcoming biennium.

The General Assembly passed legislation this year to authorize the program to increase taxpayer compliance. A tax-amnesty program in 1990 netted $32 million and a second one in 2003 brought in $98.3 million, Ms. Slaughter said. The mascot for the first campaign was a guillotine, and a character who chased people represented the latter.