SPRINGFIELD -- Friday marks the first day of a more than month-long tax amnesty program designed to pump up the state's ailing coffers.

Supporters of the plan say allowing people to pay back taxes penalty-free could generate up to $250 million.

To kick off the one-time financial fix, the Illinois Department of Revenue has already identified as many as 200,000 people who either owe money to the state or could owe based on federal tax records.

"There are a variety of ways we can look at discrepancies between federal tax forms and Illinois' tax forms," said Revenue spokeswoman Sue Hofer.

The state also signed a $100,000 contract to advertise the program in media markets across the state.

The plan will allow people to pay unpaid taxes accumulated between July 2002 and June 2009. If tax scofflaws don't pay up in the amnesty period, the penalties and interest they could be charged will double.

The legislation was first proposed by Republicans as a way to get quick cash to pay for the state's college scholarship program.

But, Democrats pushed it through the General Assembly in the spring as part of a package of revenue-generating ideas when lawmakers wouldn't go along with Gov. Pat Quinn on his plan to raise income taxes.

Both Quinn and his Republican opponent, state Sen. Bill Brady, were against the plan, although Quinn eventually signed it into law.

"We already had one in 2003. You can't have amnesties all the time," Quinn said in April. "After a while, people start to think that they'll just wait until the next amnesty. You have to be careful there."

Brady cast the lone "no" vote on the proposal when it moved through the Senate last spring.

Although lawmakers have said the program could generate $250 million, Hofer said the Department of Revenue is not offering any guesses.

"The last time we estimated we were way off," Hofer said. "It brought in a lot more than we thought."

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