When Carmine Santoro started working at DOR in 1974, the state tax on a pack of cigarettes was 16 cents. Eight tax hikes later, retailers and suppliers must now collect $3.51 a pack and file monthly tax returns to the state. Santoro has helped the Department administer every one of those tax law changes, earning him the affectionate nickname “Mr. Tobacco” by both colleagues and the taxpayers he has worked with over the last 39 years.
Santoro’s first and only assignment has been in tobacco tax audit where he established long standing relationships within the Massachusetts tobacco industry, in some cases working with three generations of taxpayers who operated wholesaler businesses or mom-and-pop retail outlets.
“When you go out there and you’re doing an audit, you get to know people,” said Santoro. “Nothing too personal, but you do get to know some of them after a while.”
Santoro described his approach to the job and the taxpayers he dealt with this way, “I’m like an umpire. I have the law and I just have to treat it the way it’s supposed to be. I’ve treated everybody equally. I think on the whole most people want to do what they’re supposed to and do the best they can.”
While tax rates and auditing policies may have changed over the years, Santoro said the number one problem in the tobacco industry has remained the same–cigarette bootlegging.
“We went to encrypted stamps two to three years ago,” he said. “It’s a high level stamp and we have found some counterfeits, but not too many. Personally, I think the biggest problem is casual smuggling. People go up to New Hampshire to avoid taxes.”
Santoro will retire before Revenue Commissioner Amy Pitter convenes a new commission this fall to examine the extent of revenue loss from the illegal tobacco market. But he expects to continue getting questions about the tobacco trade from co-workers and taxpayers alike well after he leaves public service.
If you have questions about the new tax law on cigarettes, motor fuels or computer software services which took effect July 31, 2013 go to www.mass.gov/dor/newtaxinfo.