This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on April 14, 2005 5:59 AM. The previous post in this blog was Vicki vs. Ted. The next post in this blog is Told you so. Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.

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Thursday, April 14, 2005

Get ready

Whew. I just finished writing an article about some of the latest goings-on in the wild, wacky world of the federal estate tax. Lifestyles of the rich and dead. A real page-turner. Redford's going to beg me for the movie rights to this one.

During breaks in the writing process, I decided to kick back and have some fun by finishing up the preparation of my own taxes. Once again, the wife and I celebrate her birthday week by stuffing six envelopes with six lovely checks. God bless America. Especially you, Diane and Lisa.

I couldn't help but notice how long the process takes. It annoys me more every year. Couldn't we come up with a tax system that's simple? All those forms are cutting into my blogging time.

This year California's tax officials are taking a bold step to make life a little easier for some of the taxpayers of that state. They've started up something called "Ready Return," a pilot program in which the state fills out your income tax return for you, based on the dirt that the state already has on you from your employer, your bank, etc. The state sends it to you, and if you've got nothing to add or subtract, you just send it back, with a check if you owe. If you don't owe, you send it back and get your refund. You can even e-file with it. If you like, you can round-file what they send you and do it the old-fashioned way (or hire someone to do it for you).

Some folks are howling in protest -- naturally, H. & R. Block doesn't want this sort of thing to catch on with other states or, heaven forbid, the feds. And the "libertarians" (and I use the term advisedly) are screaming that it's an invasion of privacy.

To which I say, bullpuckey. The state already has this information. If there's any invasion, it's the state having it in the first place, and we're way past that point in tax history. So what's wrong with the revenuers showing you what they've already got, and asking you if you've got anything else to declare? Nothing, in my book. I think it's a cool idea. I'm sure most of the folks they're targeting for the pilot really, legitimately do have absolutely nothing to add or subtract, and for them, the state should do the work.

The Cali bureaucrat who's making it happen? A former eBay executive, naturally.

Comments (13)

It's always struck me as infringing on my life that so much of my business must be revealed to the government. It's not bad enough that our system needs so much information to make sure they are extracting enough. But after earning and paying they want to know how I spend and invest as well so they can ding me again and again. This is the real rub. After submitting to the demands and tasks it takes to pay on earnings I must shape all of my decisions around tax "guidelines" meant to take more. Simple savings for retirement has limitations and will result in "penalties" if one saves too much.
This should be no one's business but the person doing the saving. Americans deserving of the freedoms this denies should be able to take their own darn money and save, invest, spend, loan, give away or burn it without reporting it to anyone let alone the government.
Owning a few rental properties has really soured my view of the system which has my floor, counter, table and day blanketed with debris I should be able to gather up and throw away.
By this time tomorrow I'm sure I'll want to do something far less polite with it.

I seem to recall hearing (NPR?) that lots of other countries have personal tax filing systems much easier than ours and many are like the Ready Return. I know, it's hard to imagine that the IRS is not only incompetent in nominal terms but also relative terms. Of course, more and more countries are adopting the flat tax and we're quite behind on that too. [awaits Jack to take the bait]

I'd like to thank Columbia Funds. My taxes were finished weeks ago but their inexcusable accounting negligence has caused me to receive an Amended 1099. Now I get to enjoy more forms. Yahoo! Pass the scotch.

We may be lagging behind such world leading contries as Lithuania, Romania, Russia, Serbia, the Ukraine,and Estonia.

However, I'm not convinced that's a crowd we should follow.

I do have to say that the Multnomah County I-Tax is extremely simple, ain't it?

Declare your income. Take an exemption based on your filing status. Multiply by residency, and by .0125, and you're done. It'll even calculate it for you, on the web.

Lessons to be learned by other governments?

The reason the county tax is so simple to calculate is because it rides the coat tails of Oregon and Federal tax computations already made by the taxpayer.

Well, _I'm_ a libertarian and my first impression is, "why the hell not?" I agree that the state has way too much information about me, but as Jack points out, that battle was fought (and lost) long ago. So why shouldn't _I_ get some benefit from the status quo? Let the government send me a return (or a "bill" if you like), and allow me to either agree or revise it and then either pay or get a refund, as the case may be.

So how much is it going to cost to implement that idea? I smell another $30-million-plus(!) snafu ready to happen. And with all the charm of the state making a mistake.

If it worked, neat idea, but it's an idea brought to you by The People Who Can't Stop Crime....no thanks.

I agree with Steve, too much of the tax code revolves around "behavior modification" and results in an awful lot of documentation/paperwork to justify your claims.

Why are we taxing income, anyhow? Oh, I know, 'cause that's where the dollars are and all that. But it seems to me that if we were to eliminate income taxes and move exclusively to consumption taxes, we'd put more control in the hands of the individual while making it more difficult to evade taxes.

Just a thought... not a popular one, of course, because of the supposed "regressive" nature of sales taxes (which concerns can be mitigated) and because it could have a dampening effect on our heavily consumer-based economy (though I think that can also be mitigated). But I think it's an idea worthy of serious consideration.

For what it's worth...

A great tax professor once said, "You can have a fair tax system, or a simple one."

Or something like that.

I don't know what to think about this "Ready Return" business.

It seems to me that a large number of average tax-payers (at least those who do their own taxes) are not taking all of the deductions they are entitled to take - for example a deduction for State & local taxes paid in the taxable year.

Is the State going to do a better job of identifying possible deductions for them? Won't there be a tendency on the part of the taxpayer to just assume that the government "got it right" without looking into it any further? I mean, I can't tell you how many people I run into who still don't understand that if their employer is witholding way too much from their paycheck, they can fill out a new W-4 and get more money back each paycheck, rather than waiting for their tax refund.

And to you get a "hall pass" on audits if the government basically did your taxes for you?

Actually, they have pretty crack teams in the Oregon Department of Revenue. It is not your federal IRS.

What a bunch of cry-babies. I just finished our taxes, mine, our boys, and Frank's. Worse than the usual because I have to file for self-employment for my freelancing via schedule C -- but, you know, phish-phah. A piece of cake.

Nothing, nothing, to filling out a 990. (Don't know what that is? ask any poor piddling underpaid bookkeeper for any non-profit in town...) -- this is clerical work, dude, dudette, worth, oh, if you subscribe to the "market" value rate -- what - minimum, and a tip? That's it.

Quit feeling sorry for yourself "cause it's so hard..." If your taxes are really that hard, you are making enough money to have someone else do them for you.

And, if that's the case, I really don't want to hear you bitch.

Your April 14 column talked about the State of Oregon having our personal information. Bad news, troops...it ain't just the state.

Yesterday, for the first time ever, I started to purchase a ticket on-line. Fortunately, on a whim I decided to read their instructions closely, and unless I totally mis-read their fine print, I discovered that simply using Ticketmaster as a vehicle to purchase a ticket automatically--and legally--gave them carte blanche to access not merely my computer files, but my bank account and passwords as well. Additionally, it authorized them to dole out my personal and private info to anyone they saw fit, for any reason. Profit, perhaps?

Scary, but that was only one of the problems I've encountered while dealing with large companies lately. Too many seem to have adopted a "Screw You, Consumers--Take It Or Leave It" attitude. As Ticketmaster learned, I chose to leave it.

So when transacting business over the phone or Net, I highly suggest having a close look at their fine print and disclaimers first, then taking detailed notes during any sort of purchase. Later, should you be treated in a manner less than you deserve, don't be afraid to write as many letters as it takes. Bitch loudly and often until you receive an answer, if not satisfaction. Don't let the greedy bastards get away with it.

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