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ALBANY – You can’t drink and drive, or text and drive, and now it is illegal to be a tax scofflaw and drive.

A new program approved in this year’s budget kicked in Monday, allowing New York State to suspend the licenses of drivers who are delinquent by more than $10,000 on their state taxes.

“Our message is simple: Tax scofflaws who don’t abide by the same rules as everyone else are not entitled to the same privileges as everyone else,” Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said in a statement announcing the program Monday.

Currently, 16,000 New Yorkers are considered tax scofflaws, with each owing the state in excess of $10,000. State officials could not immediately say how many of those individuals are in Western New York.

In Erie County, 451 drivers, owing a total of $24.6 million, will see their licenses suspended if they don’t settle up with the tax department. In Niagara County, the crackdown will affect 65 drivers who owe $2.8 million, according to the Cuomo administration.

Of the state’s top 100 tax delinquents, only two are in Western New York. The state Department of Taxation and Finance website shows that Anthony T. McCarthy, both individually and as the person responsible for McCarthy Acquisitions Corp. in Erie County, owes $1.15 million dating back to 2008; he is No. 73 on the Top 100 list.

At No. 87 is Maury Zeplowitz, whose American Hospitality Group had owned the Holiday Inn Resort and Conference Center on Grand Island; the state says he owes $1 million.

Both are late in paying sales and use taxes, the state says.

The majority of the top 100 tax scofflaws are in New York City and its nearby suburbs, as well as Albany County.

The top tax scofflaw, according to the state, is Michael Zurawin of Putnam County, who the tax agency says owes $16.7 million in personal income taxes to the state. The state says 96 percent of New Yorkers pay their taxes voluntarily, with the rest paying after audits, investigations and other means to collect owed taxes.

The state believes that the driver’s license penalty program will bring in $26 million to the state this year and about $6 million annually in the coming years.

All 16,000 tax delinquents will get notices from the tax department that their licenses are being suspended unless they settle their debts or arrange a payment plan with the agency in 60 days. A 15-day grace period will then be given, after which the person’s license is suspended until the tax issue is resolved.

The new program offers an opportunity for tax delinquents who are subject to license suspensions to keep driving so long as their trips are work-related. Otherwise, an individual whose license is suspended under the new program will face arrest and penalties if caught driving before settling with the tax agency.

email: tprecious@buffnews.com