Attorney General's Opinion 1981-82 #377A



March 5, 1982

The Honorable Geraldine M. Whiting
Commissioner of the Revenue for Arlington County

81-82 377

You have asked whether §58-46 of the Code of Virginia (1950), as amended, prohibits (1) the disclosure of the business addresses of licensees or (2) the type of business for which the license has been issued. In a prior Opinion to the Honorable W. D. Johnson, Sr., Commissioner of the Revenue of the City of Franklin, dated February 24, 1967, and found in Report of the Attorney General (1966-1967) at 67, 68, this Office held that releasing a mere list of licensees, without amounts [of business,,done], would not be a violation of this section of the Code.

The pertinent language of §58-46 reads as follows: "[I]t shall be unlawful for the...commissioner of the revenue.. to divulge any imformation acquired by him in respect to the transactions, property, income or business of any person, firm or corporation while in the performance of his public duties..., (Emphasis added.) The statute furnishes interpretative guidance by further stating that "[t]his section shall not be construed to prohibit a local tax official from disclosing whether a person, firm or corporation is licensed to do business in that locality." This latter provision was added by the 1980 session of the General Assembly,

Section 58-46 affords protection to information about the business affairs of any person, firm or corporation. The terms included within the phrase "transactions, property, income or business" are descriptive of financial information, Taxpayers are required to furnish such information involuntarily in order that State and local tax laws may be properly administered. Thus, in the context of a business license tax, it is clear that the protection afforded by §58-46 is intended to embrace financial information relating to business receipts and any other information which may be reasonably necessary to permit the commissioner of the revenue to make a proper determination of the amount of tax due and owing.

Although the business address may suggest ownership of real property by the business, if it does in fact own the property used as the business office, the address is not indicative of any financial information, Thus, in my opinion disclosure of the address of a business licensee does not violate §58-46. It is only logical that, if the tax official may disclose whether a business is licensed by the locality, the official may disclose the location where the licensee is doing business,

Implicit in the language permitting disclosure of the fact that a person, firm or corporation is licensed to do business in the locality is the authority to disclose whether a person, firm or corporation holds a particular type of business license. While the 1980 disclosure amendment suggests that it contemplates a specific inquiry about a particular person, firm or corporation, I can find no reason why it should not extend to disclosure and preparation of a list of business licensees and their addresses, I conclude, therefore, that 58-46 does not prohibit the disclosure of the type of business for which a taxpayer is licensed.

There is no requirement that a local tax official prepare a list such as the one you have described, It remains within the discretion of such official whether a request for such a list should be granted, However, once the list is prepared, it would be subject to further disclosure in accordance with the Virginia Freedom of Information Act, §2.1-340, et seq.