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Owe taxes? Surrender passport

By Kay Bell ·
Thursday, April 26, 2012
Posted: 2 pm ET

Planning to travel outside the United States? Make sure you've paid your taxes.

A provision in the Senate's version of the highway bill would allow the State Department to pull the passports of taxpayers with "serious delinquencies."

The amount considered serious? More than $50,000 owed the Internal Revenue Service.

That's right. Lawmakers want to add border enforcement to the list of IRS responsibilities.

OK, IRS agents aren't going to be checking papers at airport customs offices and border crossing stations.

But the bill would require the IRS to provide passport officials the names of individuals against whom the IRS had filed a public lien or assessed a levy for the outstanding tax balance.

Anyone who has established a payment plan with the IRS and is making those payments on time wouldn't be on the passport pull list. Neither would folks who are legitimately disputing the debt or who have emergency or humanitarian reasons necessitating international travel.

But all other tax debtors had better talk to their travel agents about domestic vacation spots.

The Senate obviously thinks that the possibility of more money for the U.S. Treasury is worth the intrusion into the lives of taxpayers who want to travel internationally.

Civil libertarians are up in arms, denouncing this proposal as the latest incursion into personal freedom. But the State Department already screens passport applications and pulls those of people who owe child support of more than $2,500.

And constitutionality questions are being raised. Am I hearing echoes of the arguments just made before the Supreme Court about health care overhaul's individual mandate?

Timothy Meyer, a constitutional law professor at the University of Georgia and a former State Department lawyer, told The Atlantic magazine that the highway bill's proposal is probably legal. Chances are, he said, the courts would find that the provision satisfies due process concerns because it exempts passport holders who are challenging the alleged tax debt.

Of course, the tax/passport connection could be moot.

While it's part of the Senate highway bill, it isn't in transportation legislation passed by the House. A conference committee has been called to hammer out differences in the two bills before highway funds run out on June 30.

Do you think Congressional conferees should keep the passport provision aimed at big tax debtors? Or is the Senate proposal the wrong way to force those who owe the IRS to pay?

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June 12, 2012 at 6:10 am

the thick document delivered by Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and James M. Inhofe (R-Okla.) be called a proposal rather than a bill, to indicate that it was negotiable. In fact, it was a bill passed by the Senate that they said had been modified to incorporate some issues raised by the House.

“It’s an offer that reflects a lot of their comments,” Boxer said after she and Inhofe visited the office of House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman John L. Mica (R-Fla.).

She declined to release the proposal. Mica spokesman Justin Harclerode said, “We are taking a look at that proposal and will discuss it with our conferees.”