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Our Opinion: Amnesty taxes ideals, but reflects reality

Adhering to principle isn’t always practical.

In principle, we disapprove of amnesty for delinquent taxpayers. Amnesty programs typically waive interest and fines otherwise imposed when taxes are past due.

Amnesty is unfair to punctual, honest taxpayers who finance government services for all Missourians, including tax delinquents.

As a practical matter, however, amnesty programs work. Past programs have collected millions of delinquent tax dollars, without incurring the costs of pursuing tax scofflaws.

An amnesty program in the 2002 fiscal year collected $74 million in tax revenue, with another program the following year bringing in an additional $42 million.

Faced with a budget shortfall, Gov. Jay Nixon included revenue from a tax amnesty period in the budget he submitted to lawmakers in January.

On Wednesday, House members endorsed the program on a 145-4 vote. Second round approval is needed to advance the measure to the Senate.

The measure would waive interest and penalties during an amnesty period extending from Aug. 1 to Oct. 31 this year.

Under the measure, delinquent taxpayers would agree to comply with tax regulations for the next eight years. Violators would be required to make immediate payment of all penalties and interest.

Tax delinquents not only violate state law, they cheat their friends, neighbors and all Missourians.

Sadly, not everyone abhors and avoids cheating. And bringing violators to justice can be an expensive undertaking.

Amnesty may tax idealism, but it reflects a realistic need to collect delinquent tax revenue.

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