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Pay Your Taxes. We Know Where You Live.

Pennsylvania has begun a new advertising campaign.

A rejuvenation of their famous “1-800-Visit-PA” campaign? No.

Public awareness for some important or dangerous event? Not quite.

Warnings about scams and rip-offs? Nothing so altruistic.

No, the State of Pennsylvania has begun an ad campaign to warn tax delinquents: “Pay your taxes, or Big Brother will be out to get you.”

Are the chills running down your spine yet?

In essence, the idea from which this campaign germinated was sound. Inform people about the state’s tax amnesty to get the revenue into the state’s coffers. New Jersey tries something similar last year, pulling in $750 million, three and a half times as much as they expected. New Jersey, however, kept the ads positive.

Brushfire, a New Jersey-based ad agency that created spots for the Garden State’s wildly successful 2009 amnesty campaign, said they steered clear of open threats — and it worked.

“The idea was to abandon the traditional approach of threats and scare tactics and instead demonstrate that Tax Amnesty was here to help taxpayers catch up on their debt so they could move on,” said John Leonardi, chairman of Brushfire, Inc. “Rather than put forth a punitive message, we wanted to answer the ‘what’s in it for me’ question in a positive way. We wanted to show how Tax Amnesty would help, not punish the taxpayer.”

Pennsylvania’s choice to continue the practice of threats and intimidation may be self-defeating: Tax delinquents often fail to settle their accounts simply because they are intimidated by the bureaucracy, which appears monolithic and unwavering. I know because I faced this with my own tax debts and have often spoken with numerous others who feel the same way. Taking the “we’ll come and get you” approach is probably doing more harm than good.

We all want people to pay the taxes that they owe, but this type of intimidation is on of the issues the Tea Party protests are about. People aren’t supposed to live in fear of their government—state or Federal—in the United States.

Cross-posted at The Minority Report.

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