On Taxation (updated and amended continually...)
Well, I'm in the thick of the shit now. Got a letter from the State Of New Mexico Taxation and Revenue Department, Audit and Compliance Division. Yeah. Give ya one guess what my mood's like.
I've been threatening to start expressing myself about "political" issues (whatever that means) again, and this seems like a decent time (is there ever anything "decent" about politics?) to do it.
It'd be hard to find a topic that raises the hackles of the Good Ol' American Public any quicker than taxes, unless you mention religion, I guess. You've got your right-wing-nut-tea-bagger types, and at extremes you've got the folks that think... well... I'm not sure what they think, 'cause those who think we should pay more taxes don't get a whole lot of press, I reckon. But before I start ranting too loud, let me be clear:
I understand that as a citizen of my country, I have both a right to expect certain services from my government and an obligation to do my part to fund said government. I am not in any way opposed to paying my fair share to see that I have (for instance... the list is really long...) good roads to drive on, good schools for the children, protection from those in my own or other countries who would do me harm etc. etc. I am not in any way protesting even the idea, much less the reality, of having some sort of tax system that funds what we as a country decide to do.
What does set a bonfire in my guts is that our tax system seems to be so arbitrary, so unfair, and so inadequate. Arbitrary and unfair in that the tax codes are so staggeringly Byzantine that even the people who work for the system can't sort it out in any kind of consistent manner, resulting in different treatment of even those in the same tax brackets, not to speak of the crazy complications of the different brackets. (No doubt there are many more reasons the system is arbitrary and unfair, but this is what's affecting me personally, so that's what's in my craw today....) The system is inadequate because even with the myriad ways "the man" seems to come up with to get more and more of our cash, we still have lotteries to pay for education, and the cops call me all the time to solicit my money for... whatever... and... well, you get the picture.
Now, I know there's always gonna be graft. There's always gonna be cheating. There's always gonna be folks who won't ever want to pay their fair share. And there's always gonna be outright theft. That belongs to a discussion on ethics, or morals, or social responsibility. Yes, it's related to the tax discussion, but not directly... at least at the moment.
The ball I want to start rolling right now is about the tax system itself. I landed in this pile of crap because the State Of New Mexico says I didn't report my "gross receipts tax" correctly. Mind you, they aren't saying I didn't report my income... just that I reported it wrong, on the wrong form, or with the wrong "identification number" or some such damn thing. (More evidence of those Byzantine codes...)
So, here's some food for thought, and some questions.
First of all: is there anyone out there... anyone...? who thinks the tax system as it is is fair and functional?
Secondly: if you don't think the system is fair and functional, how do you think it should work? Should we abolish Federal Income Tax? State Income Tax? Both? Neither? (For the record, states with some form of gross receipts tax are: Arizona, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Mississippi, New Mexico, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Washington, and West Virginia. States with no income tax at all are: Washington, Nevada, Wyoming, South Dakota, Texas, Alaska, Florida, and in a way New Hampshire and Tennessee [they tax interest and dividends only.])
I happen to think - for starters - that if we're going to simplify the tax code and attempt to make it fair, that we could abolish either the Federal Income Tax or state income taxes. I don't think we should abolish both, because the money has to come from somewhere. On the other hand, can anybody think of a way that we could abolish both and still collect enough fairly-proportioned revenue that our country could still function?
Make no mistake: I'm a lefty-liberal-pinko-commie type, and I'd like to see things in this country like free comprehensive health care for everyone. A usable system of national public transportation that wouldn't kill the earth. A much Much MUCH smaller military that was actually held in some sort of check by We The People. The Right calls Obama a socialist, and I say "If only!" But I have to admit, I don't have a clue how we're gonna pay for it, at least while the current system is in force.
I think it's possible that our system, as it is, taxes and all, is so completely, utterly fucked that it's beyond repair. I hope not... can you imagine the assholes in power now trying to come up with something any better - or even the equal of - the graceful, elegant constitution we already have? I certainly wouldn't trust them with that. But our politicians - one about as good, or bad, as another, irrespective of party - are bought and paid for by corporate power. Our educational system is the laughing stock of the globe. Our military is the bully of the world, relentlessly (and expensively!) stomping anyone or anything that even might be a threat to our hegemony or our disproportionate wealth. Poor, brown, old, non-Christian, non-male, non-heterosexual people in our country are systematically disenfranchised to the peril of us all... Jesus! Should I go on?
In August of 2008, I wrote a blog post titled "How Much Coin Does A Man Need?" that got me in a world of trouble. But you know... it was pretty good trouble. It felt good to know that blood was pumping and people were talking. Check out that old post, it's worth it, I think. I want your comments and opinions (as long as they're not anonymous... see the saga of that August '08 post to further understand) whether I agree with them or not. I want to start a dialogue where we can talk about taxes and responsibility and share our stories, and even though I'll warn all of you right now that I DO NOT agree with the no-taxes no-government right wing, but if you do and you want to comment, go for it. Please, y'all! Give me a reason not to run screaming to Ireland, or Argentina, or Antarctica!
What are we gonna do?
UPDATE, AS OF 9 SEPTEMBER 2010:
Well, I've talked to a remarkably nice and patient lady at the "Audit and Compliance Division" (gee, that doesn't sound Third-Reich-ish at all, does it?) and though some bureaucratic progress has been made, we haven't really come to any solid conclusions yet about why I should owe my beloved State Of New Mexico this money. Their position seems to be "shut up and pay," more-or-less.
I have gone to extreme lengths to be polite, and I have assured this poor office drone that she is not personally to blame for my troubles, nor am I angry with her personally. She can't quite bring herself to agree with me that the system is as fucked as I maintain, but she no doubt has a supervisor standing right over her to make sure she's as cold and dispassionate as necessary, so I can't hold it against her. She almost tacitly admitted that the system is indeed arbitrary, but recoiled at the last second. Maybe I'll convert her by the time this is all over.
One report I've looked at (and that in the most cursory manner, I'll admit) says the projected budget shortfall for New Mexico in 2011 is 159.3 million dollars... and that's what they're saying now. Who knows what might really happen between now and the time the money is really needed. Where the hell is it all going? Why am I not getting more bang for my buck?
StateMaster.com reports that New Mexico has the 3rd highest rate of people living below the poverty line in the nation, and the 4th highest level of alcohol abuse. We're 44th in percentage of people with an adequate nest egg. We're the 48th best educated (good God, no wonder we're screwed) and have the 2nd highest teen birth rate. Last but not least, we're ranked the 42nd best state to live in. Geez, it's nice to know we're better than Mississippi on something.
Yeah. This is just shaking the tree, folks. Like I said, I'm happy to pay my legitimate taxes. But I don't want it to be arbitrary, and by damn, I want to get something for my money.
I'll keep you all informed as ongoing developments continue. Stay strong, y'all.
UPDATE AS OF SEPTEMBER 27, 2010:
Well, I've had yet another conversation with my ladyfriend at the overlord's office, and here's where we stand: I got her to admit that she's offered me absolutely no proof that I even owe the state of New Mexico anything, and she readily agreed, stating that the burden of proof is on me that I don't owe them anything. Seems to me like that gives 'em license to screw with us just for the sake of screwing with us, but there you go. She didn't even argue with me on that one. I've sent in some paperwork that constitutes my "application for amnesty" for the penalties I've allegedly accrued since 2007 (which felt like an admission of guilt on my part... after all, you can't legitimately ask for amnesty for a crime you didn't commit, unless it's just to play their game. Hmmmmmmm......) and now I'm just sitting back and waiting for them to get back to me. With how much I owe. And how quickly I have to pay them. And whether or not they'll audit me. Shit. This is just bound to get ugly.
So, I've collected the names and addresses of those government agents that I'm going to write nasty letters to. Sometimes I wonder why I go to the trouble, given the painfully sad level of apparent intelligence of our bureaucracy, and even my ladyfriend advised me that with the upcoming election that I might as well not bother writing to the governor, since he's outta here and is just gonna shitcan it.
Tough damn shit. I'm having to go through this, so he's gonna have to read (or at least bother to toss) my letter. Along with a lot of other folks, by Goddess. You shouldn't expect too much here in the way of updates until I hear from the overlords, which I was told will be at least a month, maybe six weeks. But when my nasty letter is ready, I'll not only send it to those in power but publicly post it here as well, and I'll let y'all know when the shit hits the fan.
Thanks for hanging with me, y'all.