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$10 fee proposed for filing state tax returns Charge would apply to paper submissions

Gov. David A. Paterson's proposals to tax nondiet soda, iTunes downloads and even haircuts are well known. But did you know he also wants to tax your tax filings?

Tucked into the governor's proposed budget proposal for the coming fiscal year is a plan to levy a $10 fee for state income tax returns that are filed on paper rather than electronically. State budget officials say the paper filing fee could generate $6.8 million during the next fiscal year.

The plan would waive the fee for those with annual earnings of less than $15,000 for individuals or $30,000 for couples.

The filing fee requires the Legislature's approval.

Even with the income-based waiver, the plan has drawn fire from those who say it would hit low-income and older New Yorkers -- the groups most likely to file paper returns.

"There are a lot of elderly people out there who are not into computers," said State Sen. Hugh Farley, R-Niskayuna, who already has heard constituent complaints.

"It's just one of a number of [proposed taxes] that we should ditch," said Assembly Majority Leader Ron Canestrari, D-Cohoes.

Democrats have been pushing to raise income taxes on the wealthy rather than adopt new broad-based sources of revenue, such as the paper filing fee.

The push to increase e-filing has caused other headaches.

Librarians across the state complained that droves of people have asked for paper returns. That means they have had to run off endless copies.

In addition to the almost absurdist aspect of a tax on taxation, the proposal has led critics to wonder if the state has taken liberties in the way it promotes electronic filing to save on paper and processing costs.

Late last year, state tax officials said they no longer would mail out tax forms unless people requested them. At the time, they noted that 93 percent of filers use computer software and the Internet to do their taxes.

But that doesn't mean that 93 percent avoid using paper or the mail entirely, said Tom Bergin, spokesman for the state Department of Taxation and Finance.

That percentage includes people who print out tax forms from the state's taxation Web site (http://www.tax.state.ny.us/forms) or from a commercial software program such as TurboTax or another source, then mail them.

Mailed returns are processed by workers at Bank of America.

In 2008, 41 percent of state income tax returns were filed on paper.

Canestrari suggested that the 93 percent figure is disingenuous. "It certainly is confusing, and it doesn't seem consistent with the facts," he said.

Bergin said the number simply illustrates how many people are using some sort of nonpaper, nonmail services.