Saturday, August 23, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Tax amnesty: Big Brother, or Oh, brother?

As we mentioned yesterday, the state tax amnesty has begun. Pennsylvania is hoping to collect millions by forgiving penalties and reducing the interest owed by deadbeats.

Tax amnesty: Big Brother, or Oh, brother?

As we mentioned yesterday, the state tax amnesty has begun. Pennsylvania is hoping to collect millions by forgiving penalties and reducing the interest owed by deadbeats.

One of the keys to a successful amnesty is getting the word out -- people can't take part in an amnesty if they don't know one is happening -- and, well, at least Pennsylvania is trying:

Big brother?

The state has bought television and radio spots all over Pennsylvania (you can watch part of the ad - complete with creepy robotic voice and "Big Brother Is Watching" vibe - here).

Now, it's perfectly reasonable for the state to take a tough tone in this ad campaign. But having a robotic voice declare "We do know who you are" while a satellite camera zooms in on a suburban house? That seems just as likely to get someone to join a militia group as pay his back taxes.

Besides, the whole Big Brother motif would be a lot more believable if the Department of Revenue's fancy new website, you know, worked. According to tech blog ZDNet's Larry Dignan, it doesn't:

The [tax] notice tells me to go to www.PATaxPayUp.com and register or call a toll-free number. And then everything goes to IT and phone hell quickly.

We don't want to spoil the ending, but Dignan attempts for several hours to find out how much he owes in back taxes (he thinks it's a whopping $0) only to encounter a broken website and be hung up on by a computer:

I’ve tried to log on five times with the same runtime error. On the phone, I’ve called 15 times (4 just to make sure I got the quote right).

Our robot overlords may have taken over the state, but they're not running it any better than the humans did.

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Every year, city government spends slightly more than $4 billion. Where does all that money come from? More importantly, where does it go? Are we getting the most bang for our tax buck? “It's Our Money” is a joint project between Philadelphia Daily News and WHYY, funded by the William Penn Foundation, designed to answer these questions.

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