EDITORIAL: Who’s minding the store at the state Department of Revenue?

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We trust most Perry Countians signing checks for their spring property taxes have confidence their hard-earned dollars are being managed well here at home. At the same time, Hoosiers should have the same confidence over the money they contribute each paycheck.

Sadly, recent news from the Indiana Department of Revenue again casts doubt on an even bigger question: whether our tax dollars are even getting to the right place.

The state announced last week that a mistake in an annual report issued to the Indiana Office of Management and Budget had mistakenly held back about $200 million in local-option income taxes that should have been returned to 91 Indiana counties.

The good news is that the mistake was caught and more than $340,000 is back in Perry County. We know the money, which will be divided among most taxing entities, is much needed. Sadly, it was needed months ago, when it should have been here. Finding a $20 bill in an old pair of pants or coat we haven’t worn in months may be a pleasant surprise but the Department of Revenue isn’t the place for surprises or mistakes. Over the past year there have been two. The first was a $300 million discovery that some taxes had not been placed in the state’s general fund. Again, the mistake was found and state legislators used the money to help fund all-day kindergarten.

Confidence in our system of collecting, distributing and spending public money is at the foundation of good government. We hope there’s nothing else amiss in the Department of Revenue. If so, we trust an independent audit announced last week will discover what has happened and what needs to be done to fix it.

We aren’t alone in our concern. Criticism in recent days has been bipartisan.

“I am extremely concerned to learn of yet another programming error within the Department of Revenue in remitting local-option income taxes to our counties,” State Rep. Sue Ellspermann said in a prepared statement issued last week. She supported Gov. Mitch Daniels’ order to issue checks amounting to millions of dollars owed to House District 74 counties, the removal of three Department of Revenue managers and the audit.

We are pleased Indiana has the money to repay counties, with interest. That’s something cash-strapped states like neighboring Illinois couldn’t do. Like Ellspermann, we look to a full review of Department of Revenue procedures and hope state legislators of both parties put politics aside and move quickly to adopt recommendations. That will begin the process of rebuilding confidence in our state’s system of accounting for public money.

Hard-working Perry Countians deserve nothing less.

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