BATON ROUGE, La. -- Louisiana lawmakers plugged a $200 million hole in the state's health and hospitals budget with anticipated revenue from a tax amnesty program.
State Revenue Secretary Tim Barfield kicked off the program Monday morning at a gathering of CPAs in Kenner.
"$200 million is in the budget, so we certainly have that as a hard goal, and if we don't collect that there will be some ramifications," said Barfield. "But, we feel the $200 million is a pretty solid number and we're working hard to there."
According to Barfield, about 450,000 taxpayers and businesses currently owe the state an estimated $2.5 billion. He admits about half that amount is currently in dispute.
"It's really a great period for any taxpayer in Louisiana that's behind for any reason on their taxes. You have to pay 100 percent of the taxes, but we waive 100 percent of any penalties and 50 percent of accrued interest, so it's a great benefit for taxpayers to get back in compliance and hopefully stay in compliance going forward."
Fiscal conservatives in the legislature pushed for the amnesty money as an alternative to raising taxes.
State Rep. Greg Cromer, R-Slidell, admits $200 million is a calculated risk.
"I'm not for raising taxes," said Cromer. "I'm not for generating additional revenue, so the bottom line I guess, yes it could result in additional cuts in some portions of the budget."
Cromer is cautiously optimistic the state will reach its goal.
"At this point there's no way to speculate on how much revenue this could generate. The projections from the revenue office are positive."
State Rep. Robert Billiot, D-Westwego, says regardless of the potential budget implications, the amnesty program gives taxpayers hurt by recent events, a chance to get right with the state. "In my particular area a lot people were affected by Storm Isaac, the BP oil spill and those things that really pushed small business people and people who are just starting out in business pretty far down the ladder," said Billiot.
Louisiana had similar amnesty programs in 2001 and 2009.
"If you look at 2001, the state collected about $193 million from a tax amnesty program," said Barfield. "In 2009, the state collected $483 million from a tax amnesty."
Information about the Fresh Start Tax Amnesty program is available at www.ldrtaxamnesty.com, where eligible taxpayers can submit amnesty applications and make payments electronically.
The program runs through Nov. 22.