Tax Amnesty begins

The clicks started within minutes of the state’s latest tax amnesty program going live Monday.

The program’s website picked up traffic shortly after Louisiana Tax Amnesty 2013: A Fresh Start launched at midnight, said Jason Decuir, executive counsel for the state Department of Revenue.

The program runs until Nov. 22. The website is:

“Someone either went to bed with it on their mind or didn’t go to bed with it on their mind,” Decuir said.

Later in the day, users were told the application link was down for “routine maintenance” and to try again in 30 minutes. The site later came back up.

“The way it was described to me, it wasn’t a bandwidth issue ... It was just an internal glitch” Decuir said, adding the problem was quickly fixed.

Thousands of taxpayers are eligible for the latest amnesty.

Millions of dollars are involved. The amnesty covers most state taxes, except for motor fuel, oil field restoration and a few others.

Payment can be made by cash, personal check, business check, bank wire, auto debit, credit card or money order.

The Jindal administration estimates that two types of dollars are owed:

$1.4 billion in back taxes from delinquent tax billings.

$1.1 billion tied up in litigation or disputed audits.

“We have worked to make this process very simple and easy to use. We want to make certain that this direct benefit to taxpayers will be a way to help them and their families without jumping through a lot of hoops or going through red tape,” Tim Barfield, the revenue department’s secretary, said in a prepared statement.

Not everyone can participate. The Jindal administration isn’t interested in taxpayers involved in a criminal investigation or criminal litigation.

However, taxpayers who lost their driver’s, hunting or other licenses because they got behind on their taxes can regain those rights by participating in amnesty.

A 2010 program generated $482.7 million from more than 40,000 taxpayers.

Legislators hope the latest program produces $200 million needed for the state’s Medicaid program, the government-run insurance program for the poor that covers about one-fourth of the state’s population.

Shortfalls in collections will mean state budget cuts.

In the current program, taxpayers can cancel their disputes with the state by paying the overdue taxes and half the interest owed.

Penalties will be waived.

Barfield kicked off the first day of the program by speaking to the Society for Louisiana Certified Public Accountants in Kenner.

Accountant Gerard H. Schreiber Jr., of Metairie, said he could not attend the gathering because of his workload.

However, he said what was relayed to him by colleagues about Barfield’s remarks eased a lot of his concerns.

Schreiber had a number of questions based on what happened with a prior state amnesty program.

His questions included legal issues, technical details and for instances, such as what happens to taxpayers who got their driver’s licenses revoked.

Colleagues told him they are comfortable with the latest program although Schreiber thinks the website is a little clunky.

He said the online application requires a tax identification number. If someone hasn’t paid taxes in several years, the system probably won’t recognize them and they’ll have to pick up the phone and call someone, he said.

Decuir said a layered phone system is in place to handle calls.

He said Performant, with headquarters in California, will help answer the phones and direct callers, supplementing the revenue department’s existing call center. “We anticipate a lot of people calling in,” Decuir said.

Schreiber said only time will tell if enough taxpayers willing to participate exist just three years after the last amnesty program.

“This is popular with other states besides Louisiana so this is not anything that’s unique in Louisiana,” he said. “It’s worked well here in the past. (With) having it so soon after the last one ... is $200 million a reasonable amount to be thinking about? We don’t know that.”