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News Opinion

Franchot: We are working on travel website tax audit

In a recent Sun article regarding the state of Maryland's efforts to ensure that online travel websites are remitting their appropriate amount of sales tax ("Md. Officials go after taxes from travel websites," July 21), the reporter stated that I have "made no public progress" on an audit that was requested by Gov. Martin O'Malley.

While I applaud Governor O'Malley's commitment to tax fairness, particularly at a time when the tough economy has taken its toll on the finances of our state and the taxpayers we serve, I feel obligated to reinforce a critical fact for your readers. The tax laws of the state of Maryland prohibit me, or anyone from my office, from publicly disclosing any tax information that is contained in any taxpayer return, audit or investigation.

Anyone who is found guilty of violating these laws is guilty of a criminal misdemeanor and is subject to fines, imprisonment or both. I did provide Governor O'Malley with a response letter that explained the process we typically use in these situations — a fact that was left out of the reporter's story.

As Maryland's tax collector, I am thankful that these laws are in place. They were established so the taxpayers would not have to fear that private and deeply personal information would be shared publicly, or misused by government agencies for the sake of political coercion or retribution. In today's information age, taxpayers are more concerned than ever about the security of their financial data, and it is more important than ever that government agencies take extraordinary steps to ensure their absolute right to privacy.

Nobody can seriously question my commitment to collecting delinquent taxes. During my tenure, we have routinely taken tax scofflaws to court and won multi-million judgments, closed corporate tax loopholes and invested in new data warehouse technology that has helped us recapture almost $2 billion dollars over the past five years.

The vast majority of Maryland's taxpayers continue to do the right thing and pay their fair share of taxes in a timely manner in spite of the financial hardships they have suffered during the nation's economic crisis. The least my office can do is respect their lawful right to privacy, even at the expense of a good newspaper headline.

Peter Franchot, Annapolis

The writer, a Democrat, is Maryland's comptroller.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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