Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Tax Commission pushes electronic filing

Taxpayers who file state income tax returns online will receive their refunds much quicker than those who send in paper returns.

If you file electronically, you can plan on receiving your refund in a matter of weeks. Those who file by paper may wait several months to receive their refund. Electronic returns are processed faster because of the need for less manual intervention.

About 414,000 people in Utah filed their state income taxes by paper last year. We hope a significant number of those will file electronically this year so they can receive their refunds sooner.

Because of budget reductions fewer temporary workers are being hired by the Tax Commission. This is the main reason for the delay in paper filers receiving their refunds later.

The downturn in the economy forces us to hire fewer temporary workers this tax season. Their focus will be in processing online income tax refunds.

There are three electronic options available to Utah taxpayers:
1) Filing a joint electronic return with the federal income tax
2) Purchasing a commercial tax preparation software package or
3) Filing for free on the web at taxexpress.utah.gov.

In 2009, 65.3 percent filed state income tax returns electronically of the more than 1.2 million returns.

Each year we see a steady increase in the percentage of taxpayers filing electronically. This year we hope to see a major jump.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

This annual report has a little spark

Few topics draw elongated yawns faster than "annual report." Although "revised policy" and "staff meeting" are worthy runner-ups.

While you may not keep the Utah State Tax Commission FY2009 annual report by your bedside, there is a boatload of information tucked away in the publication's 65 pages. This is especially true if you are . . .
  • an elected official
  • a tax policy wonk
  • a snoopy reporter
  • a number crunching public employee or
  • 'Joe Bag of Donuts' wondering what in the world happens to all your state and local taxes

The report's bottom line reflects national and local economies. The total net revenues collected by the Tax Commission fell 10.5 percent in the past year, a total of $800 million.

And what does that mean to Mr. and Ms. Average Utah? Fewer police officers, more kids in crowded class rooms, snow plows coming later than last year, larger potholes and longer wait times for basic public services.

If you peer closely you can see that Tax Commission employees are working harder and smarter with fewer resources. Here are a handful of examples:

  • The tax appeals staff has processed more than twice as many appeals this year than two years ago with the same size staff.
  • Our 24 certified Motor Vehicle Enforcement police officers recovered 597 vehicles last year. That's nearly a dozen vehicles each week.
  • The average wait time for customers in DMV lines is less than 7 minutes. Just five years ago it was nearly twice that long.
  • You probably received your state income tax refund back last year in fewer than 15 days after you clicked the send button.
  • The number of people registering their vehicles at one of our "On the Spot" jumped dramatically to nearly 400,000 last year.

There is also plenty of other information including a ready reference summary of major legislative changes, what income groups are paying the bulk of state taxes and how much sales tax revenue every dot on the map from Randolph to Blanding received.

For your reading your pleasure, you can find the Tax Commission annual report at http://tax.utah.gov/research/reports/fy09report.pdf. Cuddle up with it and enjoy.

Peace, love and all that jazz,

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Long lines? That's the other guys, NOT DMV

For the past several weeks, Utahns have been reading headlines and hearing news reports that DMV lines are getting longer and longer and longer.

Well, as the Hertz ads say, "Not exactly."

The long lines are at Driver License Division NOT the DMV.

Now that may sound like a technical bureaucratic response coming from a chubby state government worker. That's true, but there is more to the story.

The DMV (Division of Motor Vehicles) is a division of the Tax Commission in the business of registering motor vehicles. The Driver License Division is under the umbrella of Public Safety, which is also the home of our Highway Patrol officers.

Please remember
  • License plates = DMV
  • Driver licenses = Public Safety
I spent 11+ years of my life attempting to grab the attention of newspaper readers by writing short, crisp, accurate headlines. Thanks to Seinfield and three generations of jocularity "DMV" not only grabs readers' and listeners' attention, but fits better in headlines and rolls off reporters' tongues smoother than "Utah Driver License Division."

However when the media refers to the Driver License Division as the DMV it adds to the confusion. It contributes to the very problem the media addresses by sending people to the wrong office.

As a shallow attempt of compassion, my heart goes out to the people at Driver License Division - especially those clerks on the front lines who deal with frustrated citizens. It is extremely challenging to go back 10-plus years in time where citizens can no longer renew their driver license online or by mail.

But that's a different blog, for a different time, from by a different state agency.

Peace, love and all that jazz,

Monday, February 8, 2010

So that's where all those school districts evolved

Few public officials have reason to sweat more during the Legislative session than Larry Shumway. By his nature, Dr. Shumway reflects a cool, calm and collected human being.

However, as superintendent of Utah's public school system, during 45-days from late January to mid-March tiny beads of sweat can form above his brow."Little budget tweaks" can have drastic impacts on Dr. Shumways' employees and more importantly on the people he serves: our school children.

As guest speaker at an American Society of Public Administrators chapter meeting last week, Superintendent Shumway addressed the unique education challenges we face in Utah. We strive to improve education excellence among a growing school children population with dwindling revenue resources.

It is similar to improving your family's lifestyle while adopting more children and having your hours reduced at work. It's difficult to make the math work.

At one point Dr. Shumway stepped away from the heart of the discussion and provided a historical perspective of the creation of Utah's 40 school districts. This proved intriguing to me because in my highway travels I often wonder why does rural Summit County have three times as many districts as heavily populated Davis County. And how in the world did itsy, bitsy Eureka (total population of 766 women, men and children) get its very own district?

He noted that three factors contributed to the present day district boundaries. It dates back to 1910 when the state consolidated hundreds of districts that were scattered throughout the state.
  1. County boundaries - This includes Morgan, Tooele, Box Elder, Washington and others.
  2. Cities of the first-class - There are handful of "cities of the first-class" today; however, 248 Utah mayors argue that they all live in first-class cities. But in 1910, Logan, Murray, Provo as well as mining boom towns Park City and Eureka were all cities of the first-class. As a result we have the Tintic School District which educates children from Eureka and a few eastern Juab County communities.
  3. LDS Stake boundaries - Not that Utah lawmakers have ever stepped over the church-state line in our 114-year history, but the predominant religion did influence decision makers a century ago. School districts such as Alpine, Granite, Jordan, North Sanpete, South Sanpete were organized along the LDS stake boundary lines .

I'm unsure what all this has to do with price of taxes in China Meadows. But I thought you might be interested in Dr. Shumway's insight.

Peace, love and all that jazz,