Division of Legislative Services > Legislative Record > 2005

HJR 656: Joint Subcommittee Studying Taxes, Fees, and Assessments that Generate Little Revenue

October 17, 2005

The first meeting of the joint subcommittee studying taxes, fees, and assessments that generate little revenue was held in Richmond on October 17, 2005. All of the members of the joint subcommittee, Delegates Harry Parrish (chair), Scott Lingamfelter (vice chair), Ed Scott and Lionel Spruill and Senators Emmett Hanger and Mary Margaret Whipple, were in attendance.


Staff reviewed the charge given to the joint subcommittee in HJR 656. The resolution requires the joint subcommittee to study the taxes, assessments, and fees imposed by the Commonwealth that produce little revenue in order to determine whether they are administered efficiently, and if not, whether they can be collected in a more efficient manner so that administrative costs may be reduced. The work of the joint subcommittee must be completed by November 30, 2005, with an executive summary containing its findings and recommendations submitted by the chairman no later than the first day of the 2006 General Assembly Session.


Janie Bowen, Executive Commissioner of the Department of Taxation (the Department), made a presentation on the small revenue sources that the Department administers. In general, the Department administers 30 taxes, some of which produce large amounts of revenues (e.g. individual income tax and retail sales tax) and others which produce small amounts of revenue (e.g. sheep assessment tax and cotton assessment tax). While the joint resolution did not define "little revenue," the Department administers 10 taxes that produced less than $2 million each in fiscal year 2004 and combined produced less than $4 million. The revenues from each of these taxes are paid into a special fund that is used for a specific purpose. The ten taxes are (i) corn assessment (ii) cotton assessment, (iii) egg excise, (iv) forest products, (v) litter, (vi) peanut excise, (vii) sheep assessment, (viii) small grains, (ix) soft drink, and (x) soybean assessment. The amount of revenue raised in 2004 ranged from a low of $11,000 (sheep assessment tax) to a high of $1,661,000 (forest products tax).

Most of these taxes are industry specific and have been requested by the affected industries. While authorized by the General Assembly, members of each industry were required to vote in a referendum before their tax was imposed. Once approved, the special fund revenues are spent on industry-specific promotion. These assessments are therefore self-imposed for self-promotion. Also, the industry may vote by referendum to remove the tax. However, the litter tax and soft drink excise tax were imposed by the General Assembly and the revenue collected is deposited into the Litter Control and Recycling Fund. There is no objection by the affected industries to these two taxes.

In fiscal year 2004, the Department collected approximately $11 billion from the 30 taxes it administers and had $64.7 million in operating costs, or about $0.59 per $100 of collected revenue. The allocation of specific expenditures to specific taxes is impossible, because the Department is not organized by tax type and does not account for its expenses by tax type.

It costs approximately $250,000 whenever a new tax is added to the Department's complex, integrated automated system that is designed to handle the processing of over 7.5 million returns, as well as several customer service and enforcement activities. Once the new tax is added to the system, processing costs are low. It is the initial set-up and programming that is costly and requires an increased general fund appropriation to the Department.

Because most expenses for administering the collection and enforcement of taxes come out of the Department's general fund appropriation, most revenues distributed to special funds do not bear their respective costs. Of the 10 commodity taxes, only two (Forest Products Fund and Peanut Fund) were directed in the 2005 Appropriation Act to reimburse a portion of their revenues to the general fund and even those amounts were relatively small ($33,878 from the Forest Products Tax Fund and $969 from the Peanut Fund).

The Department did suggest two possible changes to the current operating procedures that may reduce some of the costs in the long run. First, the Department could standardize and simplify administrative provisions, which would reduce the set-up costs for new taxes but would require somewhat costly modifications to the Department's accounting system. Second, the frequency of filing returns could be reduced but that would delay payments to the special funds.


The members of the joint subcommittee asked that by its next meeting the Department provide the same kind of information for the 20 other taxes it administers. The members also are interested in more information about each of the commodities boards and how they use the money to promote their respective industries.

In an effort to address the issue of how to be more efficient in collecting taxes and fees, it was suggested that draft legislation be prepared by staff that allows every state agency when collecting taxes and fees to only send a bill when the amount due is more than five dollars. There currently is language in the tax code, effective January 1, 2006, that provides localities the option of not sending a bill for amounts less than $20.


The next meeting of the joint subcommittee is scheduled for November 14, 2005, at 3:00 p.m. in Richmond, at which time the legislation will be reviewed, as well as any additional information provided by the Department of Taxation.

The Hon. Harry Parrish

For information, contact:
Joan Putney and David Rosenberg
DLS Staff



Division of Legislative Services > Legislative Record > 2005 

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