(Sean Whaley/Nevada News Bureau) – State Controller Kim Wallin is seeking new authority from the Nevada Legislature to collect from those who owe the state money.
Senate Bill 81, heard today by the Senate Government Affairs Committee, would give Wallin the authority to identify those who owe money to the state using the databases of the many different professional licensing boards. This would ensure real estate agents, physicians, attorneys and other professionals either paid any outstanding taxes or other monies owed to the state or they would not get their licenses renewed.
“We have professionals that owe sales tax, any number of different debts, and to me it’s just another tool,” Wallin said. “If you are a professional and you owe the state of Nevada money, you need to pay your bill.”
The legislation would also allow Wallin to compare those owing the state money with bank accounts held by the debtors to improve collections.
“If you owe for child support, they send an electronic file out to the banks, and if there is a match, then the banks withhold whatever money is in that account to pay the bill,” Wallin said.
Wallin has taken an aggressive approach toward the debt collection responsibility of her office, launching a new website last fall that includes a list of businesses and individuals who owe money to the state and the amounts they owe. It is updated about once a month.
When state agencies are unable to collect outstanding debts, they turn these accounts over to the controller’s office for collection. The list shows about $80 million in old debts owed to the state, although some of it is likely noncollectable.
Wallin said the money owed to the state wouldn’t entirely solve Nevada’s current budget crisis, but it would help.
The panel took no immediate action on the bill, referring it to a work session to resolve concerns raised by Janine Hansen, a member of the Independent American Party and a frequent candidate for political office who said she and other party members would be adversely affected by the ability of the controller to tap bank accounts to collect debts.
Hansen, along with several other members of the IAP, owe thousands of dollars in fines to the Secretary of State for alleged violations of campaign law.
Hansen said she was assessed $15,000 in 2007 for changing the wording on her campaign contribution and expense reports from her 2006 race to reflect that she swore the information was true in the name of Jesus Christ. Hansen said the fine is a violation of her freedom of religion.
The order imposing the fine shows, however, that Hansen did not properly fill out the reports because she was reporting only contributions and expenses made in “gold and silver dollars” of which there were none.
Hansen said other party candidates who ran in 2002 did not file reports because they spent no money on their races, but they too were assessed fines amounting to thousands of dollars as a result, even though there was a question as to whether the reports were required.
While some party members are challenging the fines, if SB81 passes, Hansen said she would not be able to maintain a bank account because the money could be taken by the controller’s office to pay what she says is an unconstitutional debt.
Hansen said the fines are unjust and are the result of persecution of the IAP by Secretary of State Ross Miller.
Committee Chairman John Lee, D-North Las Vegas, asked Wallin to work with Hansen and panel member Sen. Joe Hardy, R-Boulder City, to see if the concerns could be accommodated.
Hardy said the provisions of the bill would cast a wide net that might have unintended consequences.