TOPEKA — Kansas is warning residents that it could take nearly four months to process some paper income tax returns submitted by mail, or twice as long as in the past.
Officials said Thursday that the potential for delays stems from the Department of Revenue's efforts to cut costs as the state struggles with budget problems. Also, they said, the department is pushing taxpayers to file returns electronically.
Several legislators said they support the effort to encourage Kansas residents to file their taxes electronically but worry the department is being too aggressive about it and inconveniencing taxpayers.
Of nearly 1.5 million state tax returns filed in 2009, about 450,000, or about 30 percent, were on paper.
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The department won't mail forms to 860 libraries, banks and other sites for distribution to the public, as it has in the past. It's also shrinking the content in the instruction booklet it mails to residents who have filed paper returns.
The department doesn't intend to hire workers to open mail during the filing season, eliminating 65 temporary jobs. Department officials estimate the changes will save $710,000 during the fiscal year ending June 30.
"The Department of Revenue is taking enormous steps to encourage people to file electronically," said Beth Martino, spokeswoman for Gov. Mark Parkinson. "It is much more efficient in general for taxpayers if we operate our government electronically."
Department spokeswoman Freda Warfield said it has taken six to eight weeks to process paper returns. Now it expects to take up to 16 weeks, largely because the department must rely on existing staff to open the mail.
In contrast, the department estimates many Kansas residents who file their returns electronically will receive refunds within a week.
Warfield noted that libraries, banks and other sites that used to receive tax forms will receive posters directing Kansas residents to a department Web site, www.kswebfile.org, where they can file electronically or order forms by e-mail.
Also, she said, both AARP and volunteer-staffed tax return preparation offices will offer free tax help to state residents.
House Appropriations Committee Chairman Kevin Yoder, R-Overland Park, said 16 weeks seems "a little long" for processing some returns.
And Sen. Tim Huelskamp, R-Fowler, said he suspects payments from paper filers will be deposited relatively quickly, while refunds will be delayed.
"This is money that belongs to taxpayers that they, in essence, loaned to the state," Huelskamp said. "They're owed that refund, so they should be sent the refund as soon as possible."
Senate Majority Leader Derek Schmidt said the state should encourage electronic filings but said the department's "whole hog" approach will cause headaches for some residents.
"I think it ought to be a matter of, over time, convincing taxpayers that electronic filing is best," said Schmidt, R-Independence, "not just a matter of shoving them off the cliff to make the department's life easier."