Reprieve near for delinquent taxpayers

SALEM — Delinquent Oregon taxpayers will be given a 50-day amnesty period this fall that will let them make good on unpaid back taxes and avoid paying penalties.

The 2009 Oregon Legislature created the state's first-ever amnesty program mainly because of the budget squeeze, and also because similar programs have been a success in other states, a key lawmaker said Friday.

"It's an idea whose time finally came. And our economic situation certainly helped speed it along," said Sen. Ginny Burdick, who is chairwoman of the Senate Finance and Revenue Committee.

Based on the experience of other states, the Oregon amnesty is expected to drum up more than $16 million in badly needed revenue for the state, the Portland Democrat said.

Under the measure, which recently was signed into law by Gov. Ted Kulongoski, the amnesty period would run from Oct. 1 through Nov. 19 for those who have unpaid personal, corporate or inheritance taxes.

The one-time amnesty will waive all penalties and half of the interest owed for taxpayers who either file overdue returns or amend their returns to report and pay any underreported tax. The amnesty applies to tax years 2007 and before and it also covers unpaid inheritance tax for deaths occurring before Jan 1., 2008.

Around the country, tax amnesties have been used by states seeking to bring in delinquent tax revenue. Forty-three states have conducted at least one amnesty.

Oregon lawmakers had considered amnesty in past sessions. It gained momentum in this year of deep recession and strained budgets and won approval in the final hours of the 2009 legislative session.

Lawmakers also set aside about $1 million for the Oregon Department of Revenue to use to publicize and administer the amnesty effort.

Department spokesman Derrick Gasperini said the agency is contracting with an outside firm that will run TV, radio and newspaper advertising beginning in September to let people know about the amnesty program.

Burdick, the Senate revenue panel chief, said she believes amnesty is sound public policy that encourages delinquent taxpayers to settle up with the state while providing more money to pay for state services.

"The best way to get more revenue is to collect what you're already owed," she said.

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