Attorney General's Opinion
Attorney General, Richard Blumenthal
October 18, 2005
Speaker of the House
Connecticut General Assembly
House Majority Leader
Connecticut General Assembly
You have requested a formal opinion whether the Department of Revenue Services (
It is unclear what specific tax return information the Committee is seeking, or whether the information sought contains personally identifying information. If the tax information requested by the Committee contains personally identifiable or taxpayer specific information it is imperative that the Committee completely and carefully determine whether it needs and requires such tax information or whether its duties may be fulfilled without personally identifying or taxpayer specific information. Due to the obviously sensitive nature of such information, if the Committee determines that such information is required for its work, the Committee should limit its request to the minimum necessary to enable the Committee to carry out its duties. In regard to all tax information it may receive, "the Committee, its staff and its other authorized representatives" must strictly adhere to "[a]ny statutory requirement of confidentiality" and take all necessary steps to protect the security of the tax information it receives, including making provision for its return to
You indicate that the Committee is conducting a study of the
- Describe and analyze Connecticut’s tax structure focusing on: 1) personal income tax; 2) state sales and use tax; 3) business taxes including taxes on corporations, public service companies, insurance companies, and oil companies; 4) local property tax; 5) state excise taxes including those on cigarettes, alcohol, and motor fuels; and 6) the inheritance and estate tax. The examination would include revenues generated by each and trends over time, and the proportion of state vs. local revenues that are used for major categories of state and local services.
- Describe and analyze who pays each of these taxes, how they are collected, the level of compliance, and the efficiency of administering the taxes.
- Describe and analyze the major exemptions and credits associated with each tax component.
You further indicate that of immediate interest to the Committee is
Committee Access to Tax Return Information
The resolution of the question of the Committee’s authority to require access to the tax information it seeks requires the interpretation and analysis of both the statute empowering the Committee to obtain information and the statute governing the confidentiality of tax return information. In doing so, we are guided by the rules of statutory construction, and in particular the canons that the legislature is presumed to have intended a consistent body of law and that statutory provisions should be interpreted to harmonize rather than conflict with each other.
Section 2-53g of the General Statutes provides that the Committee has the authority “to conduct program reviews and investigations to assist the General Assembly in the proper discharge of its duties,” and that in conducting such program reviews and investigations, it shall
when necessary, confer with representatives of the state departments and agencies reviewed in order to obtain full and complete information in regard to programs, other activities and operations of the state, and may request and shall be given access to and copies of, by all public officers, departments, agencies and authorities of the state and its political subdivisions, such public records, data and other information and given such assistance as the committee determines it needs to fulfill its duties.
Any statutory requirements of confidentiality regarding such records, data and other information, including penalties for violating such requirements, shall apply to the committee, its staff and its other authorized representatives in the same manner and to the same extent as such requirements and penalties apply to any public officer, department, agency or authority of the state or its political subdivisions.
Section 12-15 of the General Statutes imposes very strict confidentiality requirements on tax returns and return information.1 No tax return or return information can be disclosed except as permitted by § 12-15, and any person who violates the confidentiality requirements of § 12-15 may be subject to a fine of not more than one thousand dollars or imprisonment of not more than one year, or both.
There are specifically enumerated exceptions to the disclosure prohibition. Of particular relevance here,
Section 12-15 does not define “state agency or office.” In the absence of an express statutory definition, courts often look to common understanding of words found in dictionaries. Jagger v.
Some guidance may be found in other legislation that defines state agency or office as a reflection of the legislature’s general understanding of those words. For purposes of the waiver of sovereign immunity for claims against the state, “state agency” is broadly defined to include “every department, division, board, office, commission, arm, agency and institution of the state government, whatever its title or function.”
From these various definitions can be discerned an understanding that “state agency or office” may broadly encompass both executive and legislative units or may be limited to executive agencies only, depending on the purpose of the relevant statute. Thus, for example, for claims against the state, state agency is defined to sweep in almost all state entities, including those in the legislative department, while for the UAPA, which establishes procedures for administrative actions of executive branch agencies, the definition is tailored to that purpose.
Here, the purposes of § 12-15 are to ensure the privacy of taxpayer-specific information while at the same time satisfying the legitimate needs of other state entities for such information. These purposes are not furthered by restricting the meaning of state agency or office in § 12-15(b)(1)(A) to just executive agencies. The Committee is required to comply with applicable confidentiality requirements, and the General Assembly plainly intended that the Committee have broad review and investigative authority. See
Section 12-15 does explicitly identify certain state entities to which disclosure may be made. For example, disclosure may be made to the Auditors of Public Accounts (Auditors).
The use of the express exceptions to preclude any other exception does not appear to be a reasonable interpretation of the legislature’s intent. First, there is also a specific disclosure provision for the Office of Policy and Management (OPM), Conn. Gen. Stat. § 12-15(b)(10), which is an office in the executive branch and plainly is a “state agency or office” within the meaning of § 12(b)(1)(A).
Indeed, this analysis is strongly supported by the legislative history. In 1982, when the General Assembly enacted an earlier version of § 12-15 providing that disclosure could be made to “other state officers,” the specific disclosure exception for the Auditors was added. Public Act 82-67, § 1. The Auditor exception was the result of an amendment offered on the floor, the purpose of which was “to insure that there is no question of the intent of this” as permitting the Auditors access to tax records. 25
Finally, an interpretation of § 12-15 that precludes disclosure to the Committee would conflict with the plain intent and purpose of § 2-53g. There is no question that the legislature intended to afford the Committee broad access to documents and information maintained by state agencies in connection with its program review and investigative duties. There also is little doubt that this broad access extends to otherwise confidential documents and information, and that any confidentiality provisions relating to such documents and information would apply fully to the Committee and its staff. Moreover, because § 2-53g was enacted long after § 12-15, we must assume that the legislature was fully aware of the confidential status of tax return information and that it intended that the later-enacted statute controls.
In view of the foregoing, it is our opinion that the Committee may compel access to tax return information maintained by
B.Authority of Committee to Disclose Tax Information to Third-Party Contractor
You have also asked whether the Committee may permit disclosure of the tax information to an outside consultant with which the Committee may contract. You indicate that the Committee anticipates that, because of the size and volume of the records requested, it will need to engage an outside consultant to compile, organize and analyze the data for the tax study. The Committee further anticipates that such outside consultant would be required to agree in writing to comply with the confidentiality requirements.
The Committee has the authority to “retain, within the available appropriations, the services of consultants, technical assistants, research and other personnel necessary to assist in the conduct of program reviews and investigations.”
In conclusion, the Committee may require the disclosure of tax return information from
Very truly yours,
Assistant Attorney General
1Return information is defined as:
a taxpayer's identity, the nature, source, or amount of the taxpayer's income, payments, receipts, deductions, exemptions, credits, assets, liabilities, net worth, tax liability, tax collected or withheld, tax underreportings, tax overreportings, or tax payments, whether the taxpayer's return was, is being, or will be examined or subjected to other investigation or processing, or any other data received by, recorded by, prepared by, furnished to, or collected by the commissioner with respect to a return or with respect to the determination of the existence, or possible existence, of liability of any person for any tax, penalty, interest, fine, forfeiture, or other imposition, or offense. "Return information" does not include data in a form which cannot be associated with, or otherwise identify, directly or indirectly, a particular taxpayer. Nothing in the preceding sentence, or in any other provision of law, shall be construed to require the disclosure of standards used or to be used for the selection of returns for examination, or data used or to be used for determining such standards or the disclosure of the identity of a confidential informant, whether or not a civil or criminal tax investigation has been undertaken or completed.
2 In addition, “returns and return information shall, without written request, be open to inspection by or disclosure to: . . . officers or employees of an agency or office in accordance with subdivision (1) . . . of subsection (b) of this section whose official duties require such inspection. . . .”
3 Still other statutory definitions of state agency do not expressly address this issue. See Conn. Gen. Stat. § 4-61hh (defining state agency as “any agency, authority, board, commission, council, department, institution or other instrumentality of the state” for purposes of state agency volunteer programs); Conn. Gen. Stat. § 4-230(4) (similar for purposes of single and program-specific audit requirements);
4 Section 12-7b of the General Statutes requires disclosure of certain specified tax information to the Office of Fiscal Analysis (OFA), which is part of the legislative branch. This statute does not support an interpretation that “state agency or office” in § 12-15(b)(1)(A) excludes legislative entities such as the Committee. First, most of the tax information referenced in § 12-7b is not taxpayer-specific return information on which § 12-15 imposes confidentiality requirements. Second and more importantly, § 12-7b imposes an affirmative obligation on