Whatever happened to Bob Matthews?
That's what Connecticut taxpayers ought to be asking about the former New Haven businessman who, in 2010, appeared on a list of the state's biggest tax delinquents. At that time, Robert V. Matthews was said to have owed some $1.6 million in back taxes.
But he's nowhere to be found on this year's list. Did he pay up? Was he simply written off as an uncollectable loss?
Tax officials won't say; they insist that state law forbids them from discussing the fate of Mr. Matthews and others who owed back taxes but have been dropped from the rolls. They can't even identify them.
In the past three years, Connecticut has stopped trying to collect more than $213 million in old tax debt. Exactly who these tax dodgers are remains a secret, and that should outrage taxpayers.
Are there backroom deals between high-ranking political figures and high-rolling deadbeats? The only answer now is "who knows?" — and that's hardly good enough.
Actions by Mr. Matthews, a friend of disgraced former Gov. John G. Rowland, were mentioned during the legislature's 2004 investigation into whether Mr. Rowland should be impeached. In 2010, Mr. Matthews paid a $2,000 fine to the state Citizens Ethics Advisory Board. His political connections may have had nothing to do with his being dropped from the list of delinquents, but it would be good to know for sure.
There may indeed be legitimate reasons for dropping someone from the tax-debt rolls. For example, the person may have died, or may not have the assets to pay up. But right now, secrecy rules involving debtors are so tight that it's impossible to separate the reasonable cases from the unreasonable.
State Rep. Patricia Widlitz, D-98th District, co-chairman of the legislature's Finance Committee, says tax confidentiality rules may be examined in the next session. Let's hope so. "Behind closed doors" is no place for collecting — or not collecting — bad debt.