The state screwed up; give kids the checks

After erroneously sending $95 sales tax rebate checks to nearly 17,000 children who are Social Security recipients, the Minnesota Department of Revenue is asking that the checks be returned. The children were incorrectly included on a Social Security recipients list that the department used to separate those eligible for a rebate — those paying sales taxes — from those who were not. The children and their parents, many of whom have several children and have received multiple dubious checks and would have to repay hundreds of dollars, should not be burdened by the state’s mistake. Instead, the state should allow the children to keep the money and the revenue department should learn from its mistake.
Ron Abrams, R-Minnetonka, and Sen. Doug Johnson, DFL-Tower, two chairmen of the Legislature’s tax committee, strongly disagree with the revenue department for mandating rebate check repayment.
“You are going to have a lot of people who are going to have an anxiety attack because they get this official notice from the Department of Revenue, saying pony up the $95,” Abrams said last Thursday.
The two legislators argue that the state should reverse its frugal decision and requested that the Legislature make a minor change in the Minnesota tax law to dismiss the need for repayment. While this would cost the treasury $2.6 million, the state must remember that the mistake was its fault, and children should not have to rectify the error.
The money should also stand as a $2.6 million reminder to the state to avoid a similar mailing mishap in the future. This is the state’s second, well-publicized mix-up this year. In July, the Department of Public Safety mistakenly issued $11.5 million in rebates to 122,000 vehicle owners because agency officials improperly worded a new-car registration law. Repeated errors prove that the state is not as prudent with taxpayers’ money as it should be.
In 1999, about 600,000 retirees and other Social Security recipients, who paid sales taxes, were ineligible for the sales tax rebate. This year was to be the first year in which Social Security recipients could collect a rebate. The department not only sent out checks to ineligible children, it erroneously sent two checks to 4,500 eligible couples and sent 90 checks to people who had died.
“It’s a big deal,” said Peter Aschenbrener, the revenue department’s head of sales tax rebate operations. “They received it and they were ineligible and they aren’t entitled to it.”
The tax rebate was a legislative effort to return $635 million of the state’s surplus to taxpayers. The mistake could be seen, then, as a generous gift to the children of Minnesota, from the giving hearts of nice Minnesotan taxpayers.