Pennsylvania warned it would get tough with people and businesses who hadn’t paid their back taxes once its amnesty period ended June 21.
Well, here it goes. It plunked a 1,482-page list of scofflaws onto the state Department of Revenue website Monday that contained the names and amounts of 39,324 tax liens filed as of the end of July.
The state agency proudly said the list had 10 times the number of names on its previous quarterly version. That’s because since April 2006, the state had been “naming and shaming” only businesses that had run afoul of sales-tax or employee-withholding compliance rules.
In March, the Revenue Department listed a total of only 275 businesses statewide that owed more than $9.4 million.
Now the list contains the names of individuals who haven’t paid personal income tax, and businesses with unpaid corporate taxes. Also added were liens involving the state’s realty transfer, inheritance, cigarette, and a bunch of transportation-related taxes, including gas and vehicle rental taxes.
This is exactly the escalation that Pennsylvania officials promised, using some of the $261 million raised during the recent 54-day tax amnesty period.
More people and businesses are being named, but the overall effect is like reading a phone book or recitation of campaign donations. Far from standing out, the names submerge into an ocean of $233 million in tax liens filed between Aug. 1, 2009, and the end of July.
“This list exposes tax cheats to the 97 percent of Pennsylvanians who already do the right thing and pay their taxes on time and in full,” Pennsylvania Revenue Secretary C. Daniel Hassell said in a statement.
Is this type of public shaming really effective? After all, this list can be hard to find if you don’t know where to look. (It’s at http://go.philly.com/taxlist.)
But the Revenue Department said that since it started naming names in 2006, 519 of the 794 businesses that appeared on the list had been removed from it. Either they paid up, went out of business, or committed to deferred payment plans.
A big drawback to this monster list is that it’s not sortable like a spreadsheet. It’s posted as a PDF document, which can be searched by company or individual names. One of the first things I did when I opened up the PDF was search for myself to make sure the state didn’t have some lien against me.
I searched for “Armstrong” and came up with 176 “instances.” (Uh-oh.) But I could ignore 166 of them because those liens involved people and businesses in Armstrong County. (Whew, I’m clean and I’ve never been to Armstrong County.)
You can read the list sorted by county, but I’ll warn you that Philadelphia County accounts for 207 pages all by itself.
Or you can review the list by amount. The biggest lien? The state filed in Dauphin County against Uni-Tel Communications Group, a long-distance carrier in Naperville, Ill., for $4,104,269.46 on July 21, 2009.
In Philadelphia, the state filed a lien against the apparel retailer J. Crew Inc. seeking $1,251,538.42 on March 17, 2010.
Only 16 tax liens statewide top $1 million. Once you get to Page 11 of the list, the amounts slip under $100,000. They dip below $10,000 by Page 128 and below $1,000 on Page 823.
The figures listed are the original lien amounts. The state says the current amount due could be less because of partial payments made, or higher because of accrued interest. The state will remove the name of a business or individual once the lien is satisfied in full. Revenue Department spokeswoman Elizabeth Brassell said the agency intended to update the list on the 15th or 16th of each month with new names added in boldface type.
Pennsylvania is not the only state to do this. About half of the 50 states now use the “name and shame” tactic. For example, Delaware’s Revenue Department listed its biggest tax delinquent as of July 23 as Worthy Construction of Wilmington with a liability of $602,290.58.
So what should you do if you’re on the list? The Revenue Department says to call 717-783-3000 to make payment arrangements.