BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Delinquent taxpayers paid $435 million during Louisiana's recent tax amnesty period, more than twice the amount included in this year's operating budget, the Department of Revenue announced Thursday.
The agency previously had said the program raked in more than the $200 million used to balance the budget, but hadn't given a final tally of what was collected and what still was available for spending.
"Taxpayers responded enthusiastically to the opportunity to fulfill their obligations and settle their accounts with the state," Secretary of Revenue Tim Barfield said in a statement.
Of the $235 million not included in the 2013-14 budget, the revenue department will keep $14 million for its costs of running the program and another $64 million to replace penalties and fees that were waived in the amnesty period but that are used to operate the agency.
That leaves Gov. Bobby Jindal's administration and lawmakers as much as $157 million still to spend. Ideas are already proliferating about how to use the money.
For two months, delinquent taxpayers were able to get caught up on their tax bills without any penalties and with only half the interest charges they would have otherwise owed. More than 52,000 applications for amnesty were received, from a pool of 446,000 taxpayers who were behind in what they owed the state.
The bulk of the collections — $369 million — came from taxpayers who were involved in audits or litigation with the Department of Revenue, mainly businesses. The remaining $66 million came from individual taxpayers who hadn't paid taxes in prior years.
Barfield said some applications still were being processed.
The success of the program, which ran from Sept. 23 through Nov. 22, kept Louisiana's $25.4 billion state operating budget on track. Lawmakers used $200 million anticipated to be collected in back-owed taxes to pay for health care services in the Medicaid program.
But the amnesty period also gives state officials a new pool of available cash to spend.
Conversations already have begun about how to handle the remaining money and whether the dollars should be treated as one-time cash to be plugged into the "rainy day" fund, debt payments and construction projects, or should be used to help shore up next year's budget.
Jindal has said he wants to use the extra dollars for health care and higher education programs.
Some of the back-owed taxes were paid with $67 million in transferable tax credits, which leaves several accounting details to be worked out before the excess amnesty proceeds will be available for spending.
The state's last amnesty program, approved in 2009, brought in $482 million from more than 40,000 delinquent taxpayers. After the money taken out for the revenue department's operational costs, all the remaining money ended up in the state's operating budget.
The state will offer two additional one-month amnesty periods in 2014 and 2015, but with less generous terms.
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Posted on Tue, December 17, 2013