Civic Association Newsletter

March/April 1997 - Volume 20, No. 5


Opinion Page Editor: Alan Fogg

[It should be noted that the following Arlington Journal editorial is copyrighted. The contents may not be reproduced without permission of the publisher, The Arlington Journal, 2720 Prosperity Avenue, Fairfax, Virginia 22034-1000. The Civic Association received permission to publish this information in the Ballston-Virginia Square Civic Association Newsletter.]

FOR THE 1997 "GEORGE Orwell Award for Big Brother Government Intrusion Into the Lives of Decent, Hard-Working Folk," we nominate an outrageous General Assembly bill that would require many landlords and property owners to become agents of local governments eager to collect personal property taxes.

The proposal from Sen. Richard Holland, D-Isle of Wight, sounds well-meaning enough. It's supposed to help counties and cities that want to ferret out scofflaws who aren't paying the noxious tax on automobiles, boats and airplanes--a long standing dilemma. But the implications of the bill are far- reaching and ominous.

The Senate-approved version of Senate Bill 1012 would force just about all property owners except for single-family homeowners to tell tax collectors the year, make, model and license or registration numbers of tenants' automobiles, boats and planes. In other words, the landlords would be conscripted as unpaid local government snitches. It would create government powers far beyond what is reasonable.

For one thing, landlords shouldn't be forced to do the government's work to catch scofflaws. What will be next? Will all residents have to report neighbors who don't pay up, or don't keep up their lawns well enough, or have moppets who seem depressed or have a suspicious bruise on one arm?

For another thing, the Holland bill requires landlords and property owners to send information along on every tenant, even those who have obviously paid their taxes. Property owners who fail to comply would be guilty of a misdemeanor. They'd get to pick between snitches and crooks!

This scheme would create a lot of unnecessary paperwork for landlords and property owners and the tax collectors themselves, not to mention constitute an affront to law-abiding folks who've already paid their taxes.

Of course everyone should pay the awful personal property tax, and governments should have proper tools to go after scofflaws.

But S.B. 1012 goes way beyond the scope of what most folks would consider to be proper.

The wonder about all of this is that anyone can call their friendly local tax office and report someone whom he suspects is not paying taxes correctly. Fairfax County even set up a hotline to report the scofflaws, which was unseemly enough but not quite in the KGB's league.

Holland's bill, however, would make the commissars of the old KGB and the Stasi smile approvingly.

Holland and members of the Commissioners of Revenue Association of Virginia say S.B. 1012 would merely extend a law that already covers apartment owners, trailer courts, marinas and airports. Well, it not right to conscript anyone to be a snitch. The law should be repealed, not broadened.

A House of Delegates committee passed a watered-down version of Holland's bill, but the whole mess should be scrapped. The legislature is due to adjourn Saturday.

This bill is just another reason that state and local officials should press to scrap the onerous and difficult-to-administer personal property tax that prompts the scofflaws to evade the law. A proposal to replace it with a higher state sales tax was unworkable, but there must be other alternatives out there.

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