People who owe the state money can run but they can't hide - at least not if they're expecting an income tax refund this year, state officials said.
Lee Shaw, spokesman for the state Tax Commission, said Monday he is happy to see Utahns are filing their state returns quicker this year. As of Friday the commission had processed more than 95,000 refund returns, compared with only 17,000 on that date last year.But many people expecting refunds are getting nabbed by the state's "Gotcha" program instead. Under the program, established in 1980, a computer matches names and social security numbers on tax returns with a list of people who owe the state money.
When it identifies a person who owes, the computer deducts the money from the person's refund. So far, the state has kept nearly $500,000 this year from people who owe back taxes. The state Finance Division, meanwhile, is tracking people who owe everything from delinquent student loans, to child support payments, to court fines.
"We have a file of 150,000 debtors," said Burke Tangren, state coordinator for the Gotcha program. Some people's names appear more than once.
The computer shows no favorites. Even state legislators and government officials have been nabbed in recent years.
Last year was a record-breaker for Gotcha. The program collected $9.4 million statewide, compared to only $3.5 million in 1987.
Shaw said an $80 million tax rebate in September helped. The Tax Commission withheld $3.3 million of that from people with old debts. Many of those were people who hadn't gotten a tax refund in years and had escaped the grasp of Gotcha.
The state also collected more than $700,000 in 1988 from parents delinquent in child support payments and more than $250,000 from people who haven't paid court bail fees. The state also kept $12,585 from people who owed money to five failed Thrift and Loan institutions.
Since 1980, the program has collected more than $30 million.