D.C. looks to garnish tax refunds for unpaid tickets

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Local,DC,Alan Blinder

Forgetting to pay a speeding ticket in the District could lead to a surprise beyond a license suspension: a lower tax refund from the city beginning as soon as next year.

Under the 2013 budget that lawmakers tentatively approved last week, the District's chief financial officer would be empowered to reduce tax refunds of individuals who owe the Department of Motor Vehicles "taxes, fees, fines or other liabilities."

The proposal is the latest effort to help boost the DMV's efforts to collect its due and fill the city's coffers.

In debt to D.C.? No refund.
District records show that the city withheld more than $2.5 million in tax refunds from about 4,700 residents in 2011 who had certain debts to the municipal and federal governments. The city reported similar figures in 2010.

Earlier this year, city officials temporarily waived penalties on unpaid parking and traffic tickets to try to encourage residents to clear their debts.

While the effort raked in millions of dollars in previously unpaid fines, the District began the amnesty campaign with a hefty backlog: about $356 million in tickets as of late 2011.

The city's new plan, though, won't affect motorists who aren't District taxpayers. Government statistics show that D.C. residents account for fewer than one in five tickets issued in the city, with Virginia and Maryland drivers receiving more than 60 percent. The remaining citations go to drivers from elsewhere in the United States.

Still, Natwar Gandhi, the city's chief financial officer, estimated that the District could collect $2.5 million annually by withholding refunds from delinquents.

The strategy mirrors one that the District has in place for other debts that residents owe the city and federal governments. D.C. officials already have the authority to garnish tax refunds for overdue child support, defaults on federal student loans, overpayments of unemployment benefits and debts to the federal Internal Revenue Service.

The proposed changes came the same week that lawmakers backed doubling the size of the city's controversial speed and red-light camera program. Also last week, a council committee approved a plan that would eliminate the District's practice of suspending licenses for failing to pay camera-generated tickets.

"There have been some issues where people have said they didn't get adequate notice and things of that nature," Ward 3 Councilwoman Mary Cheh said. "While you'll still be liable for the penalty and any subsequent increase in penalties, the bill simply says that you shall not have your license revoked or suspended."SClB

ablinder@washingtonexaminer.com

ablinder@washingtonexaminer.com

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Author:

Alan Blinder

Staff Reporter, D.C. City Hall
The Washington Examiner