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Owe West Virginia? Time to pay

May 23, 2006

For a state often described as cash-strapped, auditors say West Virginia has been surprisingly lenient with those businesses that owe the state money.

Now that the amount of unpaid taxes is approaching $200 million, it's time for some strong enforcement to get these firms to pay their fair share.

In a Sunday meeting of the Joint Committee on Government Operations, an audit of the state tax commissioner's office was distributed.

It found that $187 million in business taxes are past due - by at least five years!

Acting Tax Commissioner Virgil Helton defended his agency's performance, noting that there are 5,000 firms in the state on repayment plans to pay overdue taxes.

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Lawmakers weren't impressed, citing the case of one company that had its license renewed in May 2005, despite owing more than $100,000 in back taxes.

Helton said that to revoke the licenses of all such companies, as opposed to forcing them into repayment plans, would put them out of business and leave thousands without jobs.

No one wants that, but as John Sylvia, director of the legislature's audit division, told legislators, when the Workers Compensation Commission notified 4,390 companies to pay their premiums or else, more than 75 percent complied.

If business taxes are too high, that's a matter for the legislature to resolve. Until then, companies in West Virginia need to pay what is due, or at least start getting right with the state by signing up for a repayment plan.

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