Keep the playing field level for everyone

Published 9:50 pm Monday, September 14, 2009

One of the differences between Americans and much of the rest of the world is that the rule of law is paramount.

Powerful individuals, major political parties, or entrenched special interests have no more standing before the law than an average citizen.

Such standing must continue to our tax system, where it shouldn’t matter how much money a person makes or how powerful an entity is.

Everyone should pay their fair and legal share of taxes to fund our schools, pave our roads, and other important functions done for the public good.

An important aspect of the tax system is that most Americans believe it operates on the level.

In other countries, where there is widespread corruption and dishonesty, tax cheating is rampant, and their civil society suffers accordingly.

Americans are honest about paying taxes, and self reporting is a mainstay of the tax system.

Yet, it is important to enforce the rules to make sure everyone pays their fair share, and that is especially true for larger entities.

Last month, the Alabama Department of Revenue collected about $29 million more in corporate income taxes and $23 million more in financial institution excise taxes compared with what they did a year ago.

This is a remarkable change because overall revenue is way down due to the economic troubles of the recession.

Education revenue is down 9.7 percent, and General Fund collections were down 9.5 percent so far this year.

Revenue officials say the collections were due to the efforts of the department’s audit division.

State auditors have been traveling around, auditing out-of-state corporations, going over books, and working diligently to see if the correct taxes have been paid.

This makes sense on many levels.

First, these auditors only follow the law and make sure that major corporations pay what they owe under Alabama law.

None of these corporations were forced to pay some new tax or to provide any more revenue than what the rules allow.

The state auditors were able to look at their books, see what they did and what income they generated doing business in Alabama, and show what they owed accordingly, just like we do when we fill out our own state income tax form.

Second, hiring these highly trained auditors makes financial sense for the state and shows how common sense can make a difference in state government.

Hiring quality tax experts to work on behalf of state government and the public is highly cost effective.

The revenue these auditors brought in far exceeds what they are paid.

There is one other good thing to come out of a program like this —it keeps the playing field level.

It is important that every citizen feels that no one is above the law, and that includes tax law. Individuals pay their taxes, and major corporations must as well.

Both businesses and individuals took advantage of a state program called Operation Clean Slate, which provided an amnesty between February and May to let companies and individuals pay back taxes they had not paid.

The state Department of Revenue reported that more than 3,100 individuals and companies used it, with more money coming from businesses.

Just last week, state officials said the program collected $8.1 million in back taxes.

Every penny of revenue is needed. In a time of proration, when we are slashing school funding and tightening the belt of every state budget, it is as important as ever to make sure everyone pays what they owe.

It is also the right thing to do.