If you owe the state more than $5,000 in delinquent taxes, the Department of Revenue is not afraid to put your name and information out there. Now, one state senator is calling for even more publicity.
“It all comes under the heading of again trying to assure people who are paying their tax obligations that we're making sure that everybody who does business in the state of Wisconsin and lives here is also meeting their obligations,” Department of Revenue Secretary Rick Chandler said.
Chandler has been running the online list since legislators approved it in 2006. The list is updated every quarter, naming the delinquents, their addresses, and an estimation of how much they owe.
“There is embarrassment, and we would hope that they would come forward and pay their obligations and we would take their names off of the list,” Chandler said. “But I really should emphasize, we go through a lot of steps before posting.”
Chandler admitted some of the dollar amounts listed next to names may not be completely accurate, but said its tough to do when people are not filing their returns.
“We don't want to underestimate in those cases and let somebody off the hook and let somebody pay less than what they owe,” Chandler said. “So some of those cases, if the people do come forward, the amount that we've listed might turn out to be less once they've provided us with full information.”
Chandler said those steps include letters and phone calls, all offering ways to work with the state to arrange payments or defer the debt until it can be taken care of.
“Some people just after all of that still hadn't paid. And I think there was a sense in the legislature that at that point, a little bit of public pressure, a little bit of public scrutiny is warranted,” Chandler said.
Chandler said the department has collected $11 million to $31 million of unpaid taxes every year thanks to the list.
State Senator Fred Risser (D-Madison) proposed a bill that would have the laundry list of tax delinquents printed in the newspaper every quarter.
“There's a segment of the population that still reads the newspapers regularly, and they pay attention to what's in the newspapers,” Risser said.
If the bill passed, the list would be published in the official state newspaper, which Risser said is designated by legislators. Risser said other states have done it, and the publication would fall under the Department of Revenue’s budget.
“Why should we be talking about increasing the taxes when we haven't collected the taxes that are due?” Risser said. “And if we can collect taxes that are due, not only would it help the state, not only does it make a fair tax system, but it takes the pressure off of additional taxes.”
Risser’s bill is in its beginning stages, circulating the assembly for co-sponsors.
Chandler asked the joint finance committee to consider budgeting another $14 million for his department. That money would be used to crack down on more fraudulent claims and track down more tax delinquents.
“Where we can use technology to do our job better, where we can come up with new ways of making sure people pay their tax obligations, we want to do that. We always want to be trying to use the latest developments to make sure we're doing our job well,” Chandler said.
We reached out to a number of people on the delinquent list, many of whom did not want to be identified with their comments. One man called the list “very embarrassing” and “not productive." The Madison man, who asked to remain anonymous, added it creates more resentment than incentive for him to pay his taxes, though he is working to take care of what’s listed as a $6,500 debt to the state.
To see the tax delinquent list, visit http://www.revenue.wi.gov/html/delqlist.html.