- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 21, 2007

ANNAPOLIS — The comptroller’s office calls it “Super Saturday.”

It’s the day each year that more than 500 state workers line up at folding tables set up in the comptroller’s office to sort tax returns — this year, about 300,000 of them.

By one measure, it is a day filled with monotonous paperwork. By another measure, it truly is “super” for the state’s fiscal leaders, who rely heavily on the revenue from personal income tax to fund state government.

“The backdrop for all of this Super Saturday tax collection is that we have a big hole in the budget and the leadership is hopefully going to respond to that,” Comptroller Peter Franchot, a Democrat, said yesterday, while sorting returns. “We’re patching it over this year with cash from the reserve fund, but it’s very disappointing that we didn’t make progress this last session.”

Maryland lawmakers left Annapolis at the end of the 90-day session earlier this month with a $1.5 billion budget deficit looming over next year, but without having cut spending or raised taxes to any level necessary to start fixing the impending problem.

While the atmosphere was light-hearted yesterday — most workers dressed in blue jeans and even Mr. Franchot showed up in khakis — state budget leaders anxiously await the results of this year’s income tax collections.

Income tax generates about one quarter of the state’s total revenues — double the state sales tax and eight times the state’s gas tax.

Recent downturns in tax collections have contributed to the state’s structural budget deficit, which most leaders expect will lead to sizable tax increases next year.

Mr. Franchot said it was too early to determine whether this year’s tax collections will meet the expectations set during last year’s budget season, but sales tax receipts have come in lower than estimated.

Yesterday’s collections netted personal checks for $1 million and $4 million, but also as little as $4. And while none were close enough to closing the state’s structural deficit, they showed how and what residents file each year.

One filer named Kevin — the comptroller’s office would only give the filer’s first name for confidentiality reasons — filed his return from Iraq, where he is serving with the Marine Corps. Mr. Franchot called him to thank him for his diligence.

Mr. Franchot opened one return that included a car registration — driver’s licenses have been sent with returns in the past.

Another return included children’s pictures for no apparent reason.

“I don’t know what they were for,” said Mabel Cline, a temporary worker sorting returns for the second consecutive year.

Jim Arnie, director of the comptroller’s revenue administration division, said that one year a filer wrote a check on a pair of boxer shorts, forcing the comptroller’s office to check with a bank to see if boxer shorts are a negotiable medium of payment. The bank accepted the undergarment writ-green.

But the most important returns remain the ones with money, specifically with checks for more than $7,500, which are fast-tracked through the process.

“It inspires me to see all these checks,” Mr. Franchot said, before collecting checks for $793,000 and $468,000. “God bless America.”

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