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Our View: Restored spending a wise investment
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Sometimes, you have to spend money to make money.

Particularly in difficult economic times, when budgets are tight, and there are many competing interests for the dollars that remain, it can be difficult to commit to spending more money. The newspaper industry can attest to that. So, too, can state government.

But the decision made Tuesday by the Legislature's Joint Finance Committee to restore $11.8 million to the Department of Revenue's budget was a relatively easy, and right, one to make.

The committee voted 15-0 to restore $11.8 million to the revenue department's budget that Gov. Jim Doyle had proposed cutting over the next two years. It was the kind of cut that in the short term may look good and helps bring a budget closer to balancing. But in the long run, it's a bad idea that's counterproductive to the state's financial health.

That's because the money will be used to hire 31 more employees, including tax agents and auditors, to go after some of the tax money that should have, but hasn't, been paid.

The Department of Revenue estimates that delinquent taxes owed by corporations and individuals totaled $1 billion - last year alone. That's a simply staggering figure.

Almost as staggering is that about half of that $1 billion is considered uncollectable, because the taxpayers died or went bankrupt, or had some other unfortunate event occur.

The $11.8 million investment restored by the finance committee on Tuesday will only chip away at the pot of tax cheats' gold out there. The projected return on the investment is impressive - 600 percent. The department predicts it can recover about $70 million over two years in unpaid taxes with the additional staffers. At that rate of return, one has to wonder why there isn't more money put into hiring more people to mine for more money the state should have.

Every penny recovered from an individual or business trying to cheat the system is one less penny state government will seek from honest taxpayers.

"Things are very difficult for state residents, and anything we can do to bring in more revenue while easing the burden on honest taxpayers is worth pursing," Senate President Fred Risser, D-Madison, said.

Particularly in these tough fiscal times for citizens and their government, any investment in making sure everyone pays their fair share in taxes is a wise investment.