The Senate Committee on Governmental Accountability and Fiscal Oversight, chaired by Sen. Mike Parson, R-Bolivar, held a hearing this week on the enforcement practices and penalty structure of the Missouri Department of Revenue’s Fuel Tax Enforcement Program.
Allegations had been raised that the department was going onto private property and taking samples from the tanks of private vehicles, without probable cause. Upon being questioned by members of the committee, an attorney for the Department of Revenue conceded that he didn’t believe their agents had the authority to go onto private property, in those circumstances, without consent. There were instances of excessively large fines being levied, such as one in excess of $72,000, for a violation involving less than 20 gallons of diesel fuel. The amount of tax on 20 gallons amounts to $3.45.
“One of the most interesting facts to come out of the hearing was that the department spent $150,000 of taxpayer money to administer the program while only collecting $38,000 in fines,” said Sen. Parson. “While I support the intent of the law, spending this amount of tax dollars on the program does not seem to be an efficient use of our resources.”
Officials from the department would later acknowledge the number of violators has been very small. At the end of the hearing, the director of the department stated the program would be put on hold until internal policies are reviewed and changed to reflect the intent of the law. Changes to be made include only investigating where there is probable cause, following due process, and administering a defined and reasonable structure for assessing fines and penalties.