Editor’s Desk

Column: It’s time to pay the man

April 4, 2014 

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TAKAAKI IWABU — tiwabu@newsobserver.com Buy Photo

Tax time is just around the corner. April 15 is, to reappropriate a phrase from former president Franklin Roosevelt, “a day that will live in infamy.” Roosevelt, you may be interested to know, was the first president to have his tax returns released to the public, though they were not released until after his death, by officials at his presidential library.

I have never met anyone who enjoys paying taxes. I’ve met about the same number that really understand the tax code.

The American tax code – those rules that govern how we should pay taxes – include about 45,000 pages. I’m sure you’ve read them all in order to pay the proper amount of taxes, right? Yeah. Me either.

It’s been quite some time since I was fortunate enough to be able to fill out a 1040-EZ, that one-pager that allows me to figure my taxes semi-painlessly.

As tax day approaches in our household, I find myself dreaming about deductions and credits, interest statements and W-2s. Do I really have to pay taxes on that tobacco allotment check? Really? So the government is going to pay me some money, then tell me I have to give some of it back? Yep. You better believe it, buddy.

This year, my oldest daughter had to file her taxes, so we sat down with her and filled out the paperwork. She didn’t make enough money to owe taxes, so she had the wonderful experience of getting some money back from Uncle Sam and Uncle Pat. We were able to complete the 1040-EZ with her and for the first time in 20 years or more, filling out tax paperwork was relatively simple again.

Still, I found myself reading and re-reading directions to make sure we had filled the paperwork out correctly. It would not look good, I figured, if her future job applications have to include the phrase “tax cheat” on them.

Nationwide, according to USA Today, only about 7 percent of American taxpayers actually cheat on their taxes. That doesn’t mean 93 percent of us pay the proper amount of taxes, mind you. Mistakes are sure to creep in, but at leat 93 out of 100 are trying to get the math right.

That’s the real reason behind the emphasis on STEM education in the country, in case you were wondering. Some bureaucrat in some little windowless office in a non-descript office building in Washington D. C. figured it might make the government millions of dollars a year if people were good enough in math (the M in STEM) to do their taxes properly.

And of course, the people we consider the real cheaters are those who have the resources to hide their money in tax shelters and other tools that free them from the obligation of paying taxes. That’s not cheating of course, it’s a wise move if you can manage it.

But that leads to another interesting debate. Year-in and year-out, people in state legislatures and the halls of Congress call for tax reform. They want to limit or end tax shelters. They want everyone to pay their fair share of taxes.

The problem with that is there are powerful constituencies who don’t want to lose those shelters and industries who don’t want to lose the advantages of the existing tax laws. And, yes, the newspaper industry is among them. We’ve battled sales taxes and taxes on equipment and materials. We’ve won some of those battles and lost others.

Because those special interests often speak with their checkbooks (that’s one way newspapers differ from other special interests, by the way) lawmakers tend to listen and tax breaks and tax shelters remain in place.

And people like those of us who will line up at the mailbox on April 15 will continue to make up the difference.

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