Friday, April 15, 2011

The April 15th holiday

It's April 15. Why am I not running around like an idiot trying to make sure my taxes are all figured, packaged, and stuffed into a postal worker's sack? Is it because I got around at the beginning of February and got the nonsense out of the way early? Sadly, no. Mostly it's because we procrastinating American taxpayers were blessed with an extra weekend to mop things up. This year (and this year only), taxes only need to be postmarked by Monday, April 18. We should probably celebrate, as that's the most mercy I've seen ever from the Internal Revenue Service.

I had to look up the reason for the delay, as nothing much seemed like a good excuse to push back the day when the I.R.S. agents all begin to salivate. It turns out that the District of Columbia is celebrating Emancipation Day today. The holiday commemorates the end of slavery and is usually observed on April 16. However as we all know, you can never correctly celebrate a holiday on a Saturday. So it's been moved to Friday, and we all get an extra weekend of trying to find more deductions. I'm assuming that the residents of D.C. are today proudly remembering the emancipation of slaves in some solemn way. I'm sure it's as classy as the way we remember the former chief executives of the country -- with a President's Day mattress sale.

Actually, I'm not in a panic because the taxes are done, thanks to a professional. I gave up long ago trying to do them for fear that I wasn't properly completing Schedule 666 or whatever needs to accompany all my W-2s, 1099s, 1040s, and Form E-I-E-I-Os that I have to stuff into those envelopes. It's just way too complicated unless you file the form with the EZ at the end of it. I think everyone seems to like it that way, and by everybody, I mean the I.R.S. and every accountant and tax service in the nation. The rest of us could stand a break from the complicated machinations of the tax code.

There are movements to replace the current system with a flat tax of say, 17 percent of all income. No deductions or exemptions. No complicated tax forms. Just three or four lines and a place for a signature. That sounds like a good idea on the surface. I'm sure there are catches I haven't thought of yet. What we sometimes forget is the tax code has become complicated because we as a nation have looked to reward certain behavior. Want to encourage charitable giving? Offer a tax deduction! Want everyone to learn the tango? Give a deduction for tango lessons. You get the idea.

Think of what a huge change that would be, though. Dismantling the current tax system would be almost like making gravity optional. Or even like celebrating holidays on Saturday -- we're talking massive change! I'm all for change, but I do want some kind of plan as to what the change is going to be. Change for change's sake is usually a stupid idea. Just when we start thinking things can't get any worse, we realize we were wrong and that we have no business trying to do the job of a psychic.

The government isn't good at change though, unless you count raising taxes. Cutting things isn't a strong point for those chaps. They can't stand to make people mad. (Something about wanting votes or some such nonsense.) Truthfully, most people are in favor of government cuts as long as the cuts have nothing to do with them. “Don't touch my pension!” or “Don't cut funds for my subsidy!” or “Don't you dare cut funding for my precious snail darters!” Some day we'll have to get over that or else we'll all have to learn the hard way. We're already $14 trillion in the hole. That's something that could stand changing.

And so, those of you who can't change the habit of waiting until the last minute to plaster a stamp on the envelope and sending Uncle Sam more money to play with, take a deep confident breath, knowing you have a couple of extra days. Happy Emancipation Day.

No comments: