Delinquent Taxpayers Fall Into Line : They Try to Beat State's Midnight Amnesty Deadline

Times Staff Writer

Thousands of delinquent taxpayers jammed telephone lines to state tax offices Friday, while scores of others lined up in person, all of them trying to beat a midnight amnesty deadline for paying overdue taxes.

By late Friday evening, Franchise Tax Board officials estimated that more than $100 million in past-due taxes will have been collected by the time all payments are in. Most of it was flooding in during the final days of the three-month amnesty program.

"It's pretty hectic," said Jim Shepherd, a spokesman for the Franchise Tax Board. "We're getting between 2,000 and 3,000 calls an hour. Lines are overflowing at district offices."

In offering amnesty, the state allowed delinquent taxpayers to pay what they owed without incurring any penalties. The payments were supposed to be paid or postmarked by midnight Friday. Those who failed to take advantage of the program were promised stiffer fines and stronger enforcement.

Among the new enforcement tools will be computers used for checking property tax reports, employee wage information and business licenses. Fines will be higher for those found guilty of not paying their share of taxes.

"The price of tax cheating goes up," Shepherd said.

By Friday morning, 250,000 Californians had contacted tax offices for information about the amnesty program, and 55,000 of them had paid up. Individual wage earners paid $62 million in overdue income tax bills, and businesses came up with $20 million in past due sales tax bills.

Los Angeles County taxpayers accounted for almost half of the delinquent taxes being paid.

While the largest check--for $1.7 million--came from an Illinois-based company, not all taxpayers were using that form of payment. Some last-minute amnesty seekers even used Mexican pesos.

"We want to make it as easy as possible for people," Shepherd said.

As the Friday night deadline neared, thousands continued to call state offices for information. Telephones were manned until 9 p.m., and Shepherd said those who made it before the phone lines closed were mailed amnesty applications, which included the bonus of a 10-day extension.

Because of the prospect of additional late payments, officials said it will take several weeks to determine how much the amnesty program finally netted for the state.

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