Tax amnesty bill could raise millions for beleagured schools

A 60-day, tax-amnesty bill introduced today could bring $15 million in back taxes to the state, with much of the revenue going to back-fill cuts to K-12. In a year when partisan politics have made many bills a pipe dream on both sides of the aisle, sponsors said they think they have bipartisan support for the bill.

SB11-184, sponsored by Denver Democrats Rep. Mark Ferrandino and Sen. Pat Steadman, would provide taxpayers a window between Aug. 1 and Sept. 30 to pay back taxes–with all fees waived–and have the interest on delinquent payments cut in half. The funds raised from the program would go first to administer the program and put in place an accountability program that would produce an annual report quantifying the cost effectiveness of tax credits and sales tax exemptions provided by the state. After those programs are funded additional revenue would be placed in the Education Fund.

The bill is one of many proposals being brought forward by Senate Democrats after Senate President Brandon Shaffer asked them to look for a way to try and mitigate the large cuts proposed by Gov. John Hickenlooper to the state’s K-12 education system, among other programs. Many Republicans in the House have said that they are behind Hickenlooper’s approach to budgeting.

“This is something that we are doing to help mitigate and minimize the proposed cuts to the education system.” Steadman said. “It is something that I hope the Legislature will embrace.”

A similar tax amnesty was implemented in 2003, with estimates at the time that the measure would generate $4 million in revenue from those looking to put themselves square with the government–instead the amnesty yielded over $20 million.

“A tax amnesty program for Colorado families and small businesses is a proven method for increasing state revenue.  In this case we plan to use that revenue to help offset cuts to education,” said Ferrandino.  “Additionally, our bill will bring transparency and shine sunlight on the $2 billion in annual state tax credits, deductions and exemptions.  It’s a win-win measure that provides a boost for working Coloradans.”

The tax accountability portion of the bill essentially mirrors a bill by Ferrandino, recently killed in committee, that he said had bipartisan support. He said the bill died because of its fiscal note, a problem he said he has solved with the use of delinquent tax dollars to fund the other aspects of the bill.

The bill would allow companies and individuals to pay income taxes, sales taxes, severance taxes, excise taxes and others before they are audited by the state. The sponsors said this would save the state money in collection costs and save those who owe taxes.

Steadman said that members of the Joint Budget Committee have not yet taken a position on the bill.

“When you look at when there have been past tax amnesties and also across the country in different states there has been wide bipartisan support,” Ferrandino said. “I expect that this bill will get through with bipartisan support.”

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