RALEIGH — Many North Carolina taxpayers will soon experience a delay in the return of their income tax refunds, as the state holds on to the money a little longer during the tight budget times.
Ken Lay, the revenue secretary, said the move is necessary to make sure the state has enough cash on hand to pay its bills between now and the end of the June 30 fiscal year.
"We are managing the cash flow very carefully," Lay said Monday. "We are managing the distribution of refund checks as well."
The move was criticized by Republicans, who said it reflected mismanagement on the part of the administration of Democratic Gov. Bev. Perdue.
"A second consecutive year of taxpayers facing unreasonable delays in receiving their funds demonstrates two things about the Perdue administration," said state Senate Republican leader Phil Berger of Eden.
"The first is a continuation of the incompetence and mismanagement all too evident in the [Gov. Mike] Easley administration," Berger said.
Secondly, he said, "For too long, Democrats, in complete control of the legislature and the governor's office, have not been held accountable for their lack of competence in managing the state's fiscal affairs."
The Perdue administration also slowed the refund checks last year, as the state - along with most state governments across the country - faced what was regarded as the worst fiscal crisis since the Great Depression.
So far, Lay said, the state has returned 590,000 refund checks worth $406 million compared with 279,000 refund checks worth $263.9 million this time last year. As of Monday, Lay said, there were no delays.
But he said there would likely be future delays, although he could not predict their length.
The normal length between the time a tax statement is filed and a refund is made varies. For a person who files electronically with no error, the process typically takes four to six weeks, Lay said. For a person who files by paper near the April 15 deadline, the process can take 12 to 14 weeks, he said.