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July 30, 2003

State Tax Agency Launches Amnesty Awareness Program

TALLAHASSEE - Florida's tax agency is launching a comprehensive public awareness program that will help Florida businesses save money by taking part in the state's 2003 tax amnesty, the Florida Department of Revenue said Tuesday.

"We are reaching out to the Sunshine State's businesses, to Florida's tax preparers, and to citizens to invite them to save money on the tax they owe," said Jim Zingale, executive director of the Florida Department of Revenue. "Hundreds of thousands of businesses have a rare chance to save while getting worrisome tax matters cleared up."

The tax amnesty, offered now through October 31, 2003, gives businesses and other taxpayers the ability to save by paying no penalty and reduced interest on tax owed. The amnesty applies not only to undisclosed taxes owed, but also to normal bills, delinquencies, and even audits now under way. The amnesty, one of the broadest tax amnesties offered by any state recently, is Florida's first since 1992.

In its public-awareness program, the Department will:

  • Mail about 1.3 million flyers to Florida businesses, asking them to review their tax affairs to be sure they have not overlooked a tax liability. Tax law is complex, and taxpayers may unwittingly owe tax on transactions they never knew were taxable. They could have to pay heavy penalties and interest if the issues are found later in an audit.
  • Air more than 9,300 radio spots, alerting listeners to tax amnesty.
  • Place more than 4.200 public service announcements on Florida cable television systems, making viewers aware of tax amnesty.
  • Include amnesty information in more than 200,000 outgoing bills, notices of delinquency, letters, and other communications.
  • Send letters to more than 2,500 businesses currently under audit, alerting them to tax amnesty and its benefits.

The Department also has posted comprehensive information on its Internet site at Taxpayers may go online to file and pay under amnesty, using a secure, encrypted Internet application. The application is fast, simple, and automatically calculates interest owed on tax due.

Even under amnesty, taxpayers still owe 100 percent of the tax due. However, taxpayers can save money and lessen later audit or enforcement problems by taking advantage of the amnesty before Oct. 31, 2003.

If taxpayers take part in the amnesty program, DOR will:

  • Significantly reduce interest due. Amnesty participants who come forward to disclose a tax liability unknown to DOR will receive a reduction of one-half of the interest that would be due if DOR found the unpaid tax later. If DOR already has identified the tax liability in a bill, jeopardy assessment, or other assessment, or has already scheduled an audit, the taxpayer is eligible for a one-fourth cut in interest charges.
  • Completely waive penalty, which could equal up to 50 percent of the tax due.
  • Reduce the chances that they will be the focus of the Department's attention after the amnesty period, when DOR's new SUNTAX integrated tax administration system helps DOR assure uniform compliance with tax law.

Taxpayers who owe tax will lose a significant financial advantage if they wait until after the tax amnesty expires Oct. 31, 2003. After that date, the interest rate will double, from 4 percent to 8 percent, and penalty will apply. In addition, the amnesty law (CS for SB 18A) will not allow the Department to refer a tax amnesty participant for criminal prosecution for violation of state law. Taxpayers currently under criminal investigation, or who have been convicted of tax-law violations, are not eligible for amnesty.

Taxpayers who comply with tax law already save money - they never owe penalty or interest. Taxpayers who owe tax but fail to take advantage of tax amnesty will be the focus of increased Department enforcement activity after Oct. 31, 2003. The Department of Revenue has begun implementing a new, integrated tax-administration information system that will give DOR greater ability to identify patterns of tax compliance across regions and industries.

After amnesty expires, DOR will launch enhanced compliance-enforcement efforts aimed at collecting unpaid taxes in several areas, including but not limited to:

  • Sales tax on commercial rentals.
  • Sales (and use) tax on purchases of business equipment.
  • Purchases from out-of-state vendors for which use tax is not paid.
  • Communications services tax on substitute communications systems.
  • Taxpayers also may wish to explore their rights under the joint Certified Audit Program operated by the Florida Institute of CPAs and the Department. This program also offers penalty and interest reductions for participating taxpayers. Taxpayers may choose whether they wish to report tax liabilities under the tax amnesty or the certified audit program, but they cannot receive tax benefits under both programs for the same liability.