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Months after approval, new tax law mired in questions

The sweeping tax overhaul approved in July is leading to mounting questions months later.

A N.C. Department of Revenue official told a legislative oversight committee Tuesday that it is still trying to determine how to interpret a variety of provisions in the tax bill Gov. Pat McCrory signed into law in July.

Senate budget expands database reach, raises privacy concerns

A year ago, a little-noticed provision in the state budget initiated the creation of a computer database, to be overseen by the state controller, to be drawn from individual information of state residents collected by state agencies, Scott Mooneyham at The Insider reports. The provision didn't exactly explain the purpose of the database, except to state that it was meant to "reduce unnecessary information silos" and "leverage the data." A series of new provisions in the Senate's proposed budget would rework, add to, and may explain the purpose of something called "the enterprise-level business intelligence initiative."

Married prison workers arrested on tax evasion charges

A married pair of state prison workers from Warsaw have been arrested on felony tax charges, the state Department of Revenue reported Wednesday.

Andrew Riddick, 51, a correctional sergeant, and Sharon Sutton Riddick, 55, a staff nurse, both worked at Duplin Correctional Center in Kenansville. They were reassigned on Wednesday to other prisons while an internal investigation gets under way, a spokesman for the state Department of Public Safety said.

Both were charged with 12 counts of attempt to evade or defeat tax. Arrest warrants allege the Riddicks fraudulently claimed they were exempt from state income tax withholding from 1999 to 2010.

The couple appeared before a magistrate in Wake County and each was placed under a $30,000 bond. The case was investigated by an agent with the criminal investigations section of the state revenue department.

Sharon Riddick has been reassigned to a prison in Greenville, and her husband to one in Burgaw. They will not have any contact with inmates during the investigation, the public safety department reported.

Former government tax attorney moves to Moore & Van Allen

Canaan Huie, former general counsel at the state Department of Revenue, starts a new job today at the law and lobbying firm Moore & Van Allen, Gov.-elect Pat McCrory's old stomping ground.

Prior two his two years at Revenue, Huie spent a dozen years working at the legislature. His time on Jones Street included a stint on Rep. Joe Hackney's staff when the Orange County Democrat was House Speaker.

Perdue announces amnesty program for delinquent taxpayers

North Carolina wants its tax dollars -- and it's willing to make a deal with delinquent taxpayers.

The Perdue administration announced an amnesty program Wednesday to waive certain fees and penalties for taxpayers who couldn't afford their income tax bills -- if they pay up by April 30. It only applies to those who properly filed returns.

Here's the line: “This is exactly the type of program we need to help our fellow North Carolinians down the path to economic recovery,” said Democratic Gov. Bev Perdue in a statement.  “We are making it easier for our citizens to work with state government.”

N.C. Department of Revenue officials describe it as a limited-time offer aimed at those hit by the troubled economy -- about 186,000 taxpayers who owe between $250 and $15,000. (The average tax debt is $4,600.) The fines get assessed on top of the tax liability, so officials suggest it could provide as much as 40 percent savings for taxpayers.

Former Basnight aide affiliates with Raleigh firm

Sabra Faires, a tax expert who worked for former legislative leaders, has affiliated with the Raleigh law firm Bailey & Dixon.

She will concentrate on taxation, finance, and administrative law.

Her 30 years in state government included an administrative post in the N.C. Department of Revenue, tax counsel to former Senate leader Marc Basnight, and chief of staff to former House Co-speaker Richard Morgan.

Basnight added pressure to air anti-Alcoa report

LOOKS LIKE A PILL: For decades, SBI agents were using their eyes and nothing else to confirm that some pills were particular drugs. (N&O)

BASNIGHT WEIGHED IN: Sen. Marc Basnight was among an array of forces hostile to Alcoa who were pushing for the release of a UNC-TV reporter's story that aimed to present a case for a state takeover of a hydro electric dam run by the company. (N&O)

CHECKS WILL COME: The state's tax collectors are promising that anyone included in a huge backlog of tax returns who overpaid but didn't get a refund will get their money. (N&O)

ELECTION BOARD REACTIONS: Gov. Bev Perdue said Tuesday that she is paying attention to reports of problems at the State Board of Elections, but she did not respond to calls from Republicans for her to press for the resignations of top officials at the agency. (N&O)

WAKE BOARD MOVES REVIEWED: An accreditation group is taking the unusual, high-stakes step of reviewing the actions of the Wake County school board after a formal complaint from the NAACP. (N&O)

Independent crime lab?

Call for changes at SBI crime lab: Some legislators and the N.C. Advocates for Justice, an association of civil and defense lawyers, wants the state to fund an independent lab not controlled by law enforcement. An N&O series detailed cases where agents ignored evidence or tailored reports to help prosecutors. (N&O) (N&O)

Pay too much state tax? Too bad: A recent policy change makes it less likely that people who mistakenly overpay state taxes will get their money back. (N&O)

Perdue delivers bucks for govs: Gov. Bev Perdue's call on corporate executives for donations resulted in the largest fundraiser of its kind for the Democratic Governors Association. (N&O)
 

Revenue loses use of tax penalty

The N.C. Department of Revenue didn't get what it wanted in the state budget when it comes to punishing businesses for hiding income.

The department wanted to be able to swing a hefty penalty at businesses that it determined were using out of state entities to hide revenue as a scheme to pay less in taxes.

The Senate's budget proposed eliminating the penalty. Supporters of that idea said the revenue department was overstepping its authority and unfairly punishing business. The penalties punish a well-intentioned company that had no way of knowing the department would disagree with its tax return years later, they say.

The solution that was included in the final state budget still allows the department to assess the penalties, but only after it first publishes a set of rules about how multi-state corporations should file their taxes. Critics of that provision say published rules would allow unscrupulous companies to craft new tax dodges. Supporters say it's a fair compromise.

"We can't scare people using the threat of penalties," said Rep. Pryor Gibson, a Wadesboro Democrat, who added that no one should try dodge the taxes they owe. "Everybody that owes tax needs to pay tax."

The department opposed the provision, but Gov. Bev Perdue supported it.

"The business community deserves to know what the rules are. It can't be case by case," she said last week.

The test on the provision will be in how much the revenue department is able to collect in disputes with multi-state corporations.

ACLU joins Amazon's legal fight against state

The ACLU has jumped into a legal battle between the N.C. Department of Revenue and Amazon.com.

The revenue department has been trying to get customer information from the Seattle-based Internet retailer as part of its effort to ensure that North Carolina residents are paying taxes on the items they buy online.

Amazon sued, saying the state was trying to get its hands on personal and private customer information. The ACLU agrees and has sued on behalf of seven people, six who are unidentified.

Those customers bought books about divorce, atheism, politics and coping with cancer. Each has concerns about their private ideas, interests or health issues could become public, according to the ACLU in a news release.

"The ACLU is not taking issue with the Department's authority to collect taxes on these purchases, but there is no legitimate reason why government officials need to know which North Carolina residents are reading which books or purchasing which specific brands of products," said Katy Parker, Legal Director for the ACLU of North Carolina Legal Foundation. "We had hoped the Department would narrow the scope of its requests in order to protect privacy rights, and we are surprised and disappointed that it has become necessary for us to take legal action in order to safeguard consumer's rights."

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