On Tax Day, we all report to them
WHEN I think of how many people are spending their time this weekend, I can't help but feel a little smug.
They're filling out tax forms. In a departure from my usual pattern, I sent mine into the internet ether three days ago.
This had nothing to do with excitement over an anticipated refund. I also sent some money into that ether. With a busy weekend coming up, I was forced to cut my procrastination a little short.
Actually, April 15 falls on Sunday this year so taxpayers received an automatic two-day extension.
The forms — and any balance owed — are to be in the government's hands by Tuesday, the 17th.
Why not Monday, April 16?
That is Emancipation Day, a holiday in Washington, D.C. On that date in 1862, President Lincoln signed a nine-month forerunner to the Emancipation Proclamation and freed about 3,100 slaves in the nation's capital.
The IRS website says D.C. holidays "impact tax deadlines in the same way that federal holidays do."
Don't even let your mind go there.
But the deadline approaches nevertheless, and people are employing a variety of methods to get those dreaded forms to the right place by the right time.
Many turn the chore over to professionals, who are no doubt cranked up on caffeine, pawing through W-2s and 1099s and typing furiously into their computer keyboards while you enjoy your newspaper.
Others cling to the old-fashioned route of filling out paper forms and actually dropping them into a mailbox. (The Postal Service thanks you). Actually, the government pushes e-filing so hard that I can't help but admire such crusty holdouts.
I gave up on paper forms years ago, but I negotiate the online process myself.
The digital tax services have made the job easier, but it's still tedious and can be extremely frustrating when I hit a snag.
However, I decided long ago that filing my own tax returns was beneficial. The hardest part of the job is collecting the needed bits of paper anyway. Figuring my own liability forces me to take a reading on my financial status. That's easy to ignore in the press of daily life.
This year, for example, I clearly see the impact of the empty nest. The kids have moved on and taken their personal exemptions with them. The mortgage debt is declining and with it the interest deduction.
The effect is a mounting tax bill, higher by far than any other expense in my budget.
That brings me to another reason for negotiating the process myself. It sharpens my focus on government.
Sometimes I remind myself how lucky I am to live in this country, with its freedoms and its abundance. I support and appreciate many government undertakings.
Last summer, for example, I was grateful when first a patrol officer and later a detective showed up at my door to investigate a burglary at our home.
I like the smooth ride to work on asphalt that is kept in reasonably good repair and free of falling tree limbs, ice and other hazards.
My children received solid starts in life from tax-funded schools.
I even believe in redistribution of wealth, to a point.
But I don't agree with everything government does, and my annual confrontation with the 1040 is one reminder of why I should keep my eye on it.
Maybe it's good that the primary election follows the tax deadline by less than a month.
When I have a sense of my own financial stake, I listen more closely to what candidates are saying.
I want officeholders who share my philosophy that government's role in our lives should be limited, that the more it tries to solve all the problems of its citizens, the more it undercuts personal responsibility.
Paying taxes, after all, is a reflection of that personal responsibility. The fact that I owe taxes means I worked hard enough and made enough money to throw some into the pot for the common good.
However, I don't want my hard-earned money wasted on frivolous, wrong-minded endeavors beyond the scope of what government can do well.
Perhaps taxpayers should view Election Day as the government's deadline to report to them.
Friend is editor and publisher of the Daily Mail. She may be reached at 348-5124 or firstname.lastname@example.org.