BUMP: ACCESS TO INDIVIDUAL TAX RETURNS WOULD IMPROVE GOVERNMENT OVERSIGHT
By Andy Metzger
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, OCT. 31, 2017....Auditor Suzanne Bump has "waved the white flag of surrender" in her quest for access to corporate tax incentive information, but she wants lawmakers to grant her access to individuals' tax records.
Bump does not want to audit individual returns, but she does want to be able to audit government systems that make use of taxpayer information, she told the Revenue Committee, testifying on behalf of her new bill.
Without access to individual returns, the auditor's office, whose mission is to prevent fraud and abuse in government, cannot now determine how effectively the Department of Revenue is performing its responsibilities, Bump said.
Four states besides Massachusetts – West Virginia, Indiana, Missouri and Minnesota – do not give their auditors access to their income tax return data, according to Bump's office. Other states don't have income taxes.
Without that access, Bump's office cannot assess whether the Department of Revenue is properly remitting local option tax revenue to cities and towns, whether welfare programs are effectively determining income eligibility or whether the state is garnishing wages of people who owe child support, she said.
"There have been numerous instances where we're trying to answer a question about what an agency is doing and we need to look at tax records, and we can't," Bump told the News Service.
Unlike in prior sessions, Bump has not filed legislation that would enable her office to investigate the effectiveness of corporate tax incentives.
"I have admittedly waved the white flag of surrender on that, at least for now," Bump told the committee, which is co-chaired by Rep. Jay Kaufman and Sen. Michael Brady. She told the News Service, "I tried through a couple of legislative sessions to convince the Legislature that somebody should be doing this because we first undertook a study and found that nobody was doing this, but the business community was adamant in its opposition and those bills never made it out of committee."
The auditor's Bureau of Special Investigations, which works with MassHealth and other agencies to investigate program eligibility and suspected benefit abuse, does have access to taxpayer records, but that bureau does not produce audits. The auditor's staff, which makes public reports on state agencies' performance, is unable to see those records, Bump said.
Rep. Shawn Dooley, a Norfolk Republican, questioned whether Bump's office could assess D.O.R.'s performance though the department's internal audits and how much staff would be brought into the auditor's office if the bill became law.
"We can read their internal audits, but we can't tell how accurate their internal audits are," Bump responded. She said the change would not require her to hire any more staff.
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