Swiss town goes public - on tax returns

Rarely has the Swiss town of Locarno had so much to talk about. The easygoing , Italian-speaking resort is alive with a very un-Swiss topic - the neighbor's tax return.

Swiss are usually discreet about such personal details. No other people has ever produced such profits from just sealing their lips. Now, to the horror of many and the fascination of the region's gossips, a titillating income tax series is appearing regularly in the local newspaper.

The 11,000 circulation Eco de Locarno is publishing tax returns of people in the Locarno area who earn more than $16,500 a year. From installments that appear three times a week the curious learn just how much that secretive man across the road earns in wages and from investments - and even his total worth. Suddenly the rich are looking richer, or poorer.

Cries of ''scandalous,'' ''unheard of,'' ''absolutely disgraceful'' have met the little newspaper's crusade for tax transparency.

Citizens are threatening legal action. But Eco editor in chief Gio Rezzonico is not letting that get him down. The town fathers have declared his efforts quite within the law.

Mr. Rezzonico claims to be surprised by the outcry. Two years ago he published details from the tax returns of doctors, lawyers, and industrialists. A public that tends to think these professions earn too much and deserve a bit of a jolt made little protest.

This time around Rezzonico decided to be ''fair'' and not ''pick out'' a few but publish the lot. How indiscreet!

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