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July 22, 1999 

At Council conference, state tax head outlines plans to improve technology, service

The state Department of Taxation and Finance is increasing its focus on taxpayer service, and is making investments in staff development and technology to make this cultural change possible, the commissioner of the department told The Business Council recently.

"We are making the process of dealing with the department easier and more expedient at virtually every point that a taxpayer interfaces with the Department - and the best is yet to come," Commissioner Arthur J. Roth said in his keynote address at The Business Council's annual Conference on State Taxation June 24 in White Plains.

The department has long had dedicated employees, but past service to taxpayers has fallen short in part because employees got conflicting signals about their roles as tax collectors on one hand and service providers on the other, Roth said.

"Contacts with taxpayers and businesses were all too often conducted in an environment of 'them and us,'" Roth said.

Today, he said, the department is committed to creating an economic renaissance for New York, pressing for public policies that will improve the business climate, and collaborating with business to surmount the complexities of doing businesses in New York.

He noted that these values closely parallel The Business Council's mission, which is to create an economic renaissance for New York State and its people.

To do make the planned improvements, the department is investing heavily in new technologies and in the tools and training that staff need to provide good service."Like the private sector, we have learned that technology is no longer an option when conducting business," Roth said. "We are using technologies to become more accessible and provide more services and information via the Internet, call centers, and voice-activated response units, and by fax." Detailed technical and filing information is available on the Internet, for example, and an increasing number of forms can be obtained from the Internet, by phone or fax, or from CD-ROM. Technology is also changing filing, he added. Extensions can be requested over the Internet, and no-taxes-due returns can be filed via phone.In the future, it may be possible to file returns and requests for extensions via the Internet, to make payments by wire transfer, electronic funds transfer, or credit card, and to have refunds deposited directly in taxpayer accounts. The department is also intensifying its collaborations with taxpayers. For example, taxpayers and practitioner are increasingly asked to review or comment on forms, regulations and systems, and the department is expanding its taxpayer-outreach programs and increasing its regional meetings with taxpayers and practitioners. Roth cited two areas in which changes in law may be needed. He noted that many tax laws "that were written before the advent of the technological revolution may stand in the way of progress. If they do, we'll have to change them."And we share the concerns of those in the private sector who want to ensure the confidentiality and privacy of their business and tax transactions."