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Smokin' mad at the the state
Times photo: Anthony Wahl Bonnie Ammon smokes a cigarette at her home while reviewing letters from the Wisconsin Department of Revenue. The state ordered Ammon to pay a tax bill of more than $6,200 after purchasing 120 cartons of cigarettes from a magazine advertisement.
MONROE - Bonnie Ammon is smoking mad at the Wisconsin Department of Revenue.

She received a tax bill of more than $6,200 from the Wisconsin Department of Revenue (DOR) in July after she ordered 120 cartons of cigarettes from a magazine advertisement between September 2008 and May 2010.

Now the tax issue is a fight between Ammon and the state. Billie Johnson, an auditor at the DOR, said the state sent two letters to Ammon to tell her that she owed taxes, interest and penalties for not paying taxes for the cigarettes. After the second letter, Johnson said, the DOR sent a notice to Ammon that she owed the state $2,484 in cigarette taxes; $249 in sales taxes; $492 in interest; and $3,000 in penalties.

Ammon said she never received the first two letters. She said she was surprised and angry when she received the letter that told her she owed $6,270.

"When I ordered (the cigarettes) I didn't think I would have to pay taxes on them," she said. "I've ordered other things from magazines and unless I ordered something from Wisconsin, I never had to pay Wisconsin taxes."

Ammon ordered the cigarettes from the "American Hunter" magazine. There was nothing in the ad that said she should include Wisconsin sales tax when she sent in the order.

She wasn't trying to cheat anyone, she said. She was just trying to save some money.

Buying cigarettes through the magazine saved her between $23 and $46 per carton, depending on the brands she bought. She said a carton of cigarettes in Wisconsin can cost between $48 and $71 per carton.

"No one said I couldn't order cigarettes across state lines," she said. "If the state had a problem with it, they should have told me about it earlier."

Ammon said she contacted the DOR but hasn't gotten an adequate response to the problem.

"I don't think they expected someone to fight them," she said. "They expect people to be passive and pay the money."

Ammon said she feels as if "big brother" is watching to see what people are ordering from magazines.

Johnson said Ammon isn't the only person to receive a tax bill, adding that she wasn't the first person to complain about it. He said the department sent about 1,000 letters to people who owed taxes for cigarette purchases over the past two years.

Johnson said people need to be aware that just because they buy cigarettes across state lines through a magazine advertisement or through the Internet doesn't mean they don't have to pay sales tax.

"Federal law requires companies that sell cigarettes out of state report those sales to the state," he said.

Federal law also requires companies that sell cigarettes across state lines through the mail to be licensed in the states where the purchases take place. The law is meant to prevent situations similar to Ammon's, he said.

The change in the law means Ammon will have to pay the taxes and penalties, but she's not done trying to appeal her case to the state.

Ammon contacted Rep. Tammy Baldwin, D-Madison, and Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Waunakee, to see if their offices could help her. She said the revenue department didn't send her letters telling her she needed to pay taxes for cigarettes bought outside the state, and she said she hasn't received much help when she's contacted them about the problem.

"It's like the right hand doesn't know what the left hand is doing," she said.

Ammon plans to continue fighting the bill, but Johnson said there isn't much she can do about it.

"Ideally, when you buy cigarettes, the taxes are included at the time you buy them," he said.