Maurice Harris

According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, for the past five years the state of Missouri has quietly kept extra funds that it netted from overpaid sales taxes. During that time, many consumers — and the businesses they patronized — did not know they were paying more than required:

[A]fter the AP's inquiry, the Revenue Department also acknowledged
that it had stopped notifying businesses in 2002 that they had overpaid
state sales and use taxes.

"Those funds were simply kept by the state, and a taxpayer may not have known that he or she had overpaid," Browning said.

This ostensible oversight probably stemmed from the fact that Missouri was in the midst of a fiscal crisis, using every revenue stream it could find to balance the budget.

But "with the downturn in revenue, and how desperately the Holden
administration was trying to hold things together, I can see how that
could have happened and probably did," said [former state Senator Wayne] Goode, who now is on the
board of directors for the Consumer Council of Missouri.

Even though the state was facing a tough financial situation, which it could have prevented if the previous administration had spent wisely, officials should have reported overcharging and refunded overpayments immediately. Now, consumers have no way to get their money back, because state law does not require businesses to refund money for sales tax overcharging. Hopefully, legislators will learn from this and change state law to protect taxpayers from future instances in which Missouri government officials decide they don't want to follow the rules.

About the Author

Maurice Harris