Delinquent taxpayers jumped at the chance to pay their debts because the interest charges and many of the late fees were waived. By the time the two-month program ended last week, $261 million had been collected from 60,000 individuals and businesses, a healthy $71 million more than had been expected.
Gov. Ed Rendell, who had been skeptical of the idea, became a believer and thanked sophomore lawmaker John Bear, a Republican member of the House, for insisting on it. Mr. Bear of Lancaster had been a management consultant before his election in 2007.
More money is just what the state needs, given a $1.23 billion deficit in its General Fund budget and another shortfall of $472 million for road and bridge maintenance. Obviously the sum generated by the tax amnesty offer won't come close to solving the whole problem, and other remedies -- taxing cigarettes, smokeless tobacco and natural gas extraction from the Marcellus Shale among them -- are needed, too.
There also is more to be done by the state Revenue Department. With the amnesty period now over, the department must follow through on the aggressive advertising campaign for the program that threatened, "Find us before we find you." Although the ads came in for some criticism because of their "big brother is watching" tone, they obviously were effective. Now the state must keep its word and punish those who didn't pay up.
The department must increase its efforts to garnish wages of scofflaws, publicize the names of those who don't pay and do a better job of ensuring that companies that collect sales taxes remit the proper sums to the state.
Some of the $2 billion in overdue taxes never will be collected because the individuals are dead or the corporations defunct, but Mr. Rendell said he believes at least $500 million of it can be recovered. Let's hope so. Pennsylvania needs every penny.