Part three of the Digital State survey judged states on their performance in three areas: taxation and revenue, GIS and transportation, and education. This year's survey was conducted against a backdrop of budget shortfalls and a subsequent rethinking of priorities and plans. Moreover, most states were facing the possibility - and in several cases the certainty - of new administrations next year. Although all of these factors can hinder long-range planning, the outlook for IT remained surprisingly good based on technology's potential for reducing costs.
Here is a look at the winners in each of the three survey categories:
Tax and Revenue Category
In the complex world of finance and taxation, Idaho came up with what the Federation of Tax Administrators (FTA) called a "cool idea." The Sept. 9 issue of the FTA TaxExpress, said "Idaho just barely beat New York to the finish line to become the first state to offer truckers a way to file their International Fuel Tax Agreement (IFTA) tax returns and payments for free through the Internet."
The IFTA includes the 48 contiguous United States and 10 Canadian provinces; it's so complicated to figure, there is a 90-percent error rate on paper-based systems. Interstate truckers based in Idaho can now do all their fuel tax report and complete their fuel tax online. IFTA allows truckers to file only with their base states, which then share mileage information and tax revenues with each state or province the truckers cross.
"We are obviously proud of the advances made here at the Idaho Tax Commission in using Web-enabled technologies to reduce the burden of tax compliance for our taxpayers, especially in the business sector," said Jake Hoffman, chief deputy for IT policy.
Anyone who knows Laura Larimer, CIO of Indiana, knows she's an enthusiastic advocate of the self-funded portal model used by her state. "We're able to accomplish so much with a small amount of funding," she said. "The other thing about the self-funded model is that it is not subject to the ebbs and flows of the budget process. So because we are funded on user fees, we can continue to do our work, even at a time when every state is having budget problems." Larimer also is enthusiastic about Ken Miller, commissioner of the Department of Revenue. Miller, she said, saw how Revenue could leverage IT, and wanted to be first in the nation to do tax filing online.
Miller described a long list of cost-saving IT projects. "Indiana has a 2-D bar code on the income tax return," he said. "And we expanded that to the corporate return. We just did the numbers, and we saved $1.6 million this last tax season on the individual income tax returns.
"We allow filing for prior years," he continued, "and had 10,000 people file for prior years, on our Internet I-File program through AccessIndiana," he continued. A bar-code system for locating and indexing returned refund checks, which he said the staff developed in three days, allowed him to reassign four people to higher-priority tasks. "What I look at," Miller said, "is creating a culture or environment so people will take a look and say, 'well, why don't we do this ?'"
Naomi Foret, IT management consultant for Louisiana, said the state is moving forward on e-commerce and electronic payments. "[Online] payments for individual income tax will be done this coming year. We've done it for our business taxes, and we're going to expand our business taxes within the next couple of months." Foret said the state is upgrading its legacy systems now. "We do have a lot of people working on that, and on maintaining our legacy systems. So resources are always short."