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Utah's Tax Commission should be allowed to increase its collection effort as long as the effort pays for itself and returns something to the state as well, a legislative panel said Wednesday.

The Interim Education Committee agreed to look seriously at a bill - not yet written - that would authorize the commission to expand its collection staff as long as the commission's guarantee of a $10-for-$1 return holds. No new money would be appropriated for employees, who would be paid out of the increased tax revenues.Clyde R. Nichols Jr. of the tax department told the legislators that thousands of Utahns return tax forms each year without checks to pay what they owe. An estimated $50 million is lost each year through unpaid taxes, he said.

"We work with people sometimes for years," said Nichols. Payment schedules and outright forgiveness of tax indebtedness, if justified, occurs, he said. He conceded that a beefed-up collection effort could have a ripple effect in the attorney general's office, which must handle litigation if it becomes necessary to collect overdue taxes. He doubted the legal costs would be significant.

Nichols said tax collectors try to treat people "fairly and with courtesy." He said accusations of undue harassment are not true. Allegations against collectors are investigated and dealt with if necessary.

Rep. Lloyd Frandsen, R-South Jordan, who is pushing for the enhanced collection effort, said $50 million in legitimate income on an ongoing basis should be an attractive proposition for the Legislature, which is facing some bleak financial forecasts.