For years, the state court system has struggled mightily with getting people to pay their overdue fines or unpaid traffic tickets. While putting these scofflaws in jail has always been an option, most judges have been loath to do this, however, given that it takes up precious space in crowded facilities and is perhaps disproportionate to the underlying offense.
Interestingly enough, 11 courts here in Georgia — including both the Atlanta Municipal Court and the State Court of Fulton County — are currently participating in a pilot program designed to recover some of this money owed from an otherwise reliable income stream: income tax refunds.
Known as the Tax Refund Intercept Project, the initiative is designed to capitalize on a state law passed back in 2014 allowing state income tax refunds to be confiscatedfrom those who fail to pay their court fines or traffic citations.
Here’s how it works:
- Those determined to owe money to the courts taking part in the pilot project were mailed a letter informing them of their arrears and letting them know that this amount could potentially be subtracted from their state income tax return if they failed to resolve the matter within 30 days.
- If no action has since been taken by the named debtors, the courts can (and already have) file a request for tax intercept with the state Department of Revenue, which will then send these persons another notice and provide them with the opportunity to challenge the determination that they owe money.
- Failure to take action will result in state income tax refunds being reduced by the amount owed.
While there are currently no firm projections as to how much money the state court system will recover via the pilot project, officials in the participating forums have gone to great lengths to remind people that it’s not a fundraising exercise, but rather an enforcement exercise.
“Our job is public safety. But when there is a sanction in the form of a fine and it’s totally ignored, you cannot tolerate that,” said one Atlanta-based judge.
What are your thoughts on this pilot program?
If you have questions or concerns relating to back taxes or tax debt at the state or federal level, consider speaking with an experienced legal professional as soon as possible to learn more.