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An unlikely plea for sales-tax permit information

Bob Helland

Citizens, consumers and business are the state’s first line of defense against sales-tax evasion. In order to exercise due diligence, they must be able to verify a reseller’s exemption permit for sales tax, ideally on demand at the point of sale.

This verification advises that a retailer is permitted and registered to collect sales taxes as well as make certain purchases exempt from tax. It legitimizes businesses that respect a level playing field by complying with state law.

I believe Minnesota is not doing well at providing this service, yet others states do handily. I had pushed for years from the inside, but now I will push publicly as I may within acceptable guidelines of my current state employment.

I may seem an unlikely voice making a call to the Department of Revenue asking for sales-tax permit information to be “opened”: I’m only 29 years old, some say I look like a surfer with long hair, a beard and sporting a yellow necklace that my kind neighbor made for me. I’m not a lawyer or CPA (I do have a bachelor’s degree in economics that might help), but I do have uniquely qualifying experience.

I worked for our state Revenue Department for nearly five years, most notably specializing in business registration, electronic filing and sales-tax compliance. Minnesota is known as the land of 10,000 lakes, but we also have hundreds of thousands of businesses, and I have talked to tens of thousands of those businesses in my former career. Over time, you start to see and hear patterns. 

Making this information open to the public would be an efficient, technological and legally sound solution to economic problems we have: primarily, unfair business practices and tax evasion.

I have posted an open letter to the commissioner of revenue asking for this information to be released. I have gone through proper data-request channels and was stymied by what I feel is a fragile interpretation of state law, Minnesota Statutes 270B.08, to say that a “tax identification number alone is not considered enough information to identify a specific retailer.” I believe this goes against the spirit of the law.

Instead, there is a catch-22 the department imposes: “Give us this information so we can give you this information.”

Minnesota businesses need this information, and the Revenue Department is standing in the way.

Bob Helland is the endorsed Independence Party candidate for Minnesota secretary of state and a former Minnesota Department of Revenue employee.


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Comments (1)

  1. Submitted by Robert Helland on 06/06/2014 - 05:04 pm.

    It’s a complex issue… but the law is simple

    Thank you, Minnpost.

    I believe that a technological solution is highly feasible, that it is essential to a level playing field in Minnesota and is a first step to digging out underground economies in this state. We need to stop losing revenue and wasting money on enforcement by empowering citizens and business to defend their individual and our shared economic interests.

    Subdivision 1.Permitting information. The commissioner may disclose to any person making an inquiry regarding the issuance of a sales tax permit to a specific retailer whether a permit has been issued to the retailer, the name and address of the permit holder, the business name and location, the sales and use tax account number, the date of issuance of the permit, and whether the permit has been canceled under section 297A.85.

    The commissioner may disclose to any person making inquiry regarding the issuance of direct pay permits or certificates of exemption issued by the commissioner to a taxpayer whether the permit or certificate has been issued to the taxpayer, the business name and location, the permit or certificate number, the date of issuance of the permit or certificate, and whether the certificate is currently valid.

    ~Bob Helland

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