Tax bill gives the legislative staff the authority to view individual tax returns

by Robert Maynard

One of True North’s readers forwarded an item buried in the Senate Tax bill (H.528) that would put individual tax returns in the hands of legislative staff. Currently,the JFO can view tax data at the Tax Department but not have individual returns. A good way to drive high income tax payers from Vermont and a way to involve the legislature in instigating enforcement actions with regard to individual tax payers.

H.528 is labeled as “An act relating to revenue changes for fiscal year 2014 and fiscal year 2015.”  Here is how the purpose of the bill is described: “Statement of purpose of bill as introduced: This bill proposes to make changes to Vermont’s income tax, sales and use tax, meals and rooms tax, cigarette taxes, property tax, fuel gross receipts tax, and provider taxes.”  The language that is raising concern is in the Senate version of the bill:

* * * Joint Fiscal Office * * *

Sec. 8. 32 V.S.A. § 3102(l) is added to read:

(l) The Commissioner shall provide the Joint Fiscal Office with state returns and return information necessary for the Joint Fiscal Office or its agents to perform its duties, including conducting their own statistical studies, forecasts, and fiscal analysis

Representative Tom Koch expressed the following concerns about personal privacy upon discovering the language:

Note that there is not a word about redaction of personal identification information that would necessarily appear on tax returns. Nor is there any provision in this section providing for confidentiality of the information, or restricting its distribution beyond the confines of the Joint Fiscal Office! So if this section is enacted, can your tax return—or mine—be turned over to Joint Fiscal staff to peruse at their pleasure? Are they free to share those returns with any Joint Fiscal Committee members who request them? I certainly hope not, but if this section is going to become law—and I still haven’t heard a good reason why it should—it needs to have appropriate confidentiality provisions written in before it passes!

What it really needs is to be removed entirely.