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Abstract

In January 1983, when Governor Michael S. Dukakis appointed Ira Jackson as commissioner of revenue, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts was facing an estimated $300 million deficit. The state was also suffering from a severe loss of public confidence in the integrity of its tax administration. His first and most urgent priority being the restoration of that confidence, Commissioner Jackson implemented a three-part strategy to improve voluntary compliance with the tax laws: raising the stakes for evaders, treating honest taxpayers as customers rather than victims, and changing public attitudes about tax evasion. Productivity gains and innovative procedures at the Department of Revenue are illustrative of this plan's success: the dollar value of audits conducted and delinquent taxes collected has tripled; a visible and vigorous seizure and criminal prosecution program has been instituted; and a highly effective tax amnesty program that generated $86 million has been completed. Since Jackson's appointment, annual revenue collections overall have risen 60 percent, without any broad-based tax increases. This article tells the story of change at the Department of Revenue and suggests generic principles that may be inferred from the experience.

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