Be careful in listing tax delinquents' names online


POSTED: Wednesday, April 08, 2009

The state hopes cyber-shame or the threat of embarrassment by Web postings will prompt tax delinquents to pay what they owe the government.

Resorting to this tactic says as much about the state's struggle to collect outstanding taxes — which stood at $374 million at the end of the 2008 fiscal year — as it does about tax slackers.

Even so, the state's need for as much cash as it can gather has the Department of Taxation planning to display on its Web site the names of individuals and companies who owe money.

The department sent letters to 41 of them who are in arrears of a total of $23 million, asking them to meet their obligations or work out plans to clear their debts to keep their names off online display.

The program is similar to ones in dozens of other states. California, where the top 250 tax delinquencies have been listed since 2007, has collected $14 million this year.

The Hawaii agency doesn't expect to post as many, possibly 25 or so. Individuals owing at least $100,000 and businesses owing at least $250,000 could see their names pop up on the Web sometime this month.

Because information about tax delinquents is already a matter of public record, the state's attorneys don't see any legal problems with the postings. However, it is essential that officials don't list someone by mistake. Government power to use information about taxpayers should be wielded with caution.