GT Spectrum

Reports from the IT horizon.

by / June 3, 2002
A Taxation Milestone

The first electronic sales-tax payments of the Streamlined Sales Tax Project (SSTP)have been successfully received and processed by the state treasurers' offices in North Carolina, Michigan and Kansas.

The SSTP pilot program is an initiative from state governments, in partnership with local governments and the private sector, to simplify and modernize administration of sales and use taxes for all types of state commerce.

The system will incorporate uniform definitions within tax bases, simplified audit and administrative procedures and emerging technologies to substantially reduce the burdens of tax collection.

Through Taxware, the SSTP's first certified service provider to go live, North Carolina, Michigan, Kansas and Wisconsin have taken over the burden of tax collection on behalf of participating businesses in their states. The SSTP gets payments to the appropriate state and local taxing authorities, while allowing the merchants that are involved to pay sales and use taxes electronically.

The SSTP's goal is to make it easy for merchants and retailers burdened with calculating and remitting sales and use tax to the states. Merchants' compliance costs are reduced by allowing the calculation and remittance of taxes to be done on the merchant's behalf remotely, through a process sanctioned by participating states.

The technology also helps reduce costs by eliminating the need for merchants to register with the state, research tax rates and laws, file monthly or biweekly returns, issue check requests and defend audits.

When a customer purchases a product or service from a business, the applicable tax liability is calculated, and the tax information related to the transaction is stored in the new system. The system then transfers funds from the merchant's account to the accounts of all applicable taxing authorities and transmits a periodic tax return for each merchant using the service.

Avoid the SUV

A mini SUV has been prowling Boston's streets looking for potential victims. Sporting bumper-level, specialized digital cameras, the SUV is quite possibly every parking scofflaw's worst nightmare.

The SUV's cameras use a mobile license-plate-recognition system to snap and record high-resolution photos of a vehicle's plate more quickly than human parking enforcement agents.

"We're very pleased with the pilot," said Bruce Graubart, director of Boston's Office of the Parking Clerk. "It's definitely achieved the results we expected. Right now, the data indicates that the new system can easily look up three times as many plates as we can do with a person, and it does it more efficiently."

The new system's primary draw is its ability to automate the work done by booting crews. Graubart's department normally boots between 6,000 and 8,000 cars per year.

"We're looking at moving from a booting application, which is a fairly labor intensive, tedious, manual process of looking at a license plate and then entering it into a computer terminal and determining if it's on our boot list, versus a complete automation of that process that does it instantly," he said.

Other agencies see gold, too, Graubart said.

"While the SUV is [scanning the license plates] for us, it can also be used to simultaneously look up stolen vehicles for the Police Department. For our planning unit, it can do turnover studies. Since it's capturing license plates and it's equipped with GPS, it can identify that a car was parked at a certain location for different periods of the day, depending on how many times we travel that route."

The pilot was set to last until mid-April, he said. At that point, the city will decide whether to buy the equipment or modify the current situation. A parking garage operator, Standard Parking, is funding the pilot.

Oregon's Internet Paradise

State government policies have a significant positive or negative impact on the growth of the Internet in their respective states.

State regulations on individuals, industry sectors or professions regulate the ease with which Internet users can buy certain goods and services online. States also determine how easy it is for citizens to conduct online transactions with government, and whether they can engage in legally binding online transactions using digital signatures.

To assess the easiest and most difficult states for Internet users, the Progressive Policy Institute examined the 50 states and the District of Columbia, identifying the extent to which they impose industry-specific protectionist laws, tax Internet access, enable Internet users to transact electronically with state government and recognize the legal validity of digital signatures. Each category directly affects the environment Internet users encounter in their states, and each category is something that is under direct control of state government.

Based on these factors, Oregon emerged as the state most friendly to Internet users. Oregon does not require consumers to pay Internet access taxes, and Oregonian Internet users have the opportunity to purchase items such as wine, mortgages and prescription drugs with few restrictions.

The state is above average in providing opportunities for its residents to interact with government online. The PPI's report does not intend to imply that Oregon, or any other high-scoring state, does not have room for improvement, but does suggest that relative to other states, consumers in these states have more choices and, in many cases, pay lower costs to engage in e-commerce.

The next three top states are Utah, Indiana and Louisiana.

South Carolina and New Mexico scored the lowest of the 50 states. South Carolina prohibits online wine sales. The state also restricts online contact lens sales and has no laws to address the issue of unsolicited commercial e-mail.

The full report is available on PPI's Web site. -- Robert D. Atkinson and Thomas G. Wilhelm, The Progressive Policy Institute

Tempe Gets To Know Its Infrastructure

When Lon Faison started as director of the Telecommunications Department of Tempe, Ariz., he discovered the city had no system in place to keep track of its cable infrastructure.

"What was in place was a technician who kept most of the information in his head concerning cross-connects, ports assigned, locations of closets and so forth," Faison said.

His department is in the process of installing cable-management software to track the city's telecommunications assets from a jack back to the switch; including jack locations, cross-connects, building terminal room locations and type of connection.

Though the primary benefits are asset inventory and time-savings for field personnel, the new system will help his department in other ways.

"You have a network out here, and you have to understand the network to be able to respond to your customers," he said. "You have to know how things are connected and put together and how they work to be able to really respond in a positive way when it comes to the day-to-day activities concerning your customers."

With a crew of less than 10 to take care of the city's infrastructure, including telephony, data, microwave and RF, making the most of every trip that an engineer or technician makes is critical.

"We don't want duplication of process," he said. "We'll actually get two physical tickets -- one to go out and install a voice circuit and one to install a data circuit. The trouble was that we had two separate work orders that were being initiated, and they wouldn't necessarily hit the technician's desk at the same time. We were wasting lots of money by going out there today to install a voice circuit and then, tomorrow, going out there to install a data circuit."

His staff is starting the database with infrastructure information gathered from City Hall, and he hopes to have similar information gathered from the city's 40-plus other buildings by the end of next year.