State Wants People Who Bought Internet Cigarettes To Pay Up

By: Zac Schultz
By: Zac Schultz

Madison: The Wisconsin Department of Revenue is in the process of sending out letters to 2,000 smokers across the state.

"They are being asked to self audit," says Department spokesperson Meredith Helgerson.

The list of names came from a company that sells cigarettes through the internet. Buying cheap cigarettes online is illegal, because the buyer doesn't pay the excise and sales taxes.

The state wants people to count up the number of cartons they've purchased since 1999 and pay up. But the letter doesn't say how many cartons you've purchased, they want you to estimate.

"They can certainly contact the department to find out what number we have. But if they've purchased more we're asking them to be honest and self audit," says Helgerson.

Here's how the fees work; if someone bought a $15 carton of cigarettes each month over the internet for three years the bill includes an excise tax, a sales tax, and an 18% delinquency rate.

"So the total owed on 36 cartons of cigarettes over 3 years was $420.11," says Helgerson.

And if you don't pay on time you'll be charged a $25 a carton fee, in out example that's an extra $900.

Representative Terry Musser (R-Black River Falls) is a smoker, and he says the whole process is backwards. "You get to guess how much you think you owe us. We're probably going to tell you if you're wrong, but if you overpay I'm willing to bet they don't get a refund."

Rep. Musser agrees that people should pay taxes on internet cigarettes, but he thinks going back to 1999 is unfair. "If you want to go from here forward and start next week or next month I don't care. But this retroactivity is pure ludicrous."

Representative Musser says he'll ask the Governor to call off the Department of Revenue, but he's not confident that will happen.

If you haven't received a letter yet, don't think you're off the hook. A thousand more letters still need to be sent out.

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