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The Associated Press June 21, 2010, 4:08PM ET

Pa. collects $261 million in tax amnesty program

Pennsylvania's tax amnesty program was so successful that the cash-strapped state government is now planning tougher pursuit, including criminal prosecution, of tax evaders who did not pay up during the amnesty period, Gov. Ed Rendell said Monday.

Rendell said the 54-day amnesty period netted $261 million, exceeding the goal of $190 million that budget makers had planned. The single largest payment made was $12 million in corporate taxes.

Asked the identity of the business, Rendell said he is barred by confidentiality rules from saying, suggesting only that it "was probably online."

The amnesty program was devised last year, as budget negotiators looked for ways to balance a multibillion-dollar, recession-driven deficit. About 60,000 people and business owners came forward to pay the back taxes they owed, in exchange for getting penalty fees and half the interest waived.

The amount collected was just above 10 percent of the collective $2.1 billion in delinquent taxes owed to the state, about $550 million of which officials believed can be tracked down and collected, Rendell said.

Participants must keep their tax payments current for the next two years, or lose the benefits of the amnesty program. In addition, people who didn't step forward will see a 5 percent penalty on existing tax delinquencies, Rendell said.

About $16 million of the money will go toward program expenses while another $5 million will got into the Motor Vehicle Fund, which finances highway and bridge projects. The rest -- about $50 million -- will help chip away at the $1 billion-plus deficit the state government has rolled up in the nearly ended fiscal year.

Final figures aren't expected to be announced for a few weeks, and a complete report to the Legislature is due in December.

But the program was so successful that Rendell said the state Revenue Department and attorney general's office are planning new measures to pursue back taxes, particularly with the state's budget aid from the 2009 federal economic stimulus law disappearing.

"We are not stopping here, not by any means," Rendell said.

Rendell said he would ask the Legislature for an additional $2.3 million to pay for about 40 tax collection agents who, he projected, would help the state pull in more than $30 million a year.

In August, the state will begin publishing the identities online of all tax liens, including personal income tax liens, as of July 1, 2009. Currently, the state only publishes corporate income tax liens.

He also said the Revenue Department will intensify its efforts to garnish the wages of those who owe back taxes and hold corporate officers personally accountable for taxes their businesses own.

Revenue officials also will step up efforts to cite delinquent businesses operating without sales tax licenses.

Officials are discussing further ways to step up enforcement, including criminal prosecution by the attorney general's office, "which is an enormously effective tool that we have," Rendell said.

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