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State tells delinquent taxpayers to pay up

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Yesterday was the deadline to file 2010 tax returns, but California is still waiting on billions of dollars in back taxes, with some tax liens dating as far back as 1996.

California does not receive an estimated $6.5 billion in taxes that it's owed annually. The state Franchise Tax Board published its annual list of the top 250 delinquent taxpayers in California last week. Since then, 30 debtors have resolved their cases. But the remaining 63 corporate and 157 personal income tax filers still owe more than $193.4 million.

At the top of the list: Halsey Minor, founder of technology news site CNET, and his wife, Shannon. The couple, maintaining their No. 1 spot from last year's list, owe more than $14 million in personal income tax.

They aren't the only high-income Californians with outstanding taxes. In 2008, out of 611,318 taxpayers reporting incomes of $200,000 or more, 2,431 paid no California personal income tax. That's more than four times the number of households at that income level that paid no personal income tax a decade earlier – 579, according to a recent California Budget Project analysis [PDF].

California has published the 250 largest unpaid state income tax delinquencies since 2007. The method appears to have a shaming effect: Taxpayers, after the Franchise Tax Board notified them of their listings ahead of publication earlier this year, handed the state more than $13 million to keep their names off the list. The state has collected more than $78 million to date in this manner.

"When taxpayers do not pay their fair share, it places an unfair burden on those who do," the Franchise Tax Board website says about the list. "Closing the tax gap is in the best interest of all Californians."

California faces a $26.6 billion deficit. The Department of Finance estimates that personal income and corporate tax receipts will provide 63.9 percent of general fund revenues this fiscal year, according to the California Budget Project. Thirty years ago, those taxes accounted for 50 percent of general fund revenues. 

Since then, the cost of funding state services has shifted from corporations to personal income tax filers, the project found. Individual income tax comprised 35.4 percent of general fund revenues in 1980-81, compared to an estimated 51.5 percent this year.

Corporate taxes, which used to represent 14.6 percent of general fund revenue, will provide an estimated 12.4 percent this year. California will lose nearly $2 billion per year once corporate tax cuts, included in the 2008 and 2009 budget agreements, are fully implemented in 2015-16, according to the project's analysis.

 

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