Tube City Almanac

April 13, 2005

April is a Taxing Month

Category: default || By jt3y

Never put off until tomorrow what you can put off until the day after tomorrow, that's my motto. So naturally, I'm doing my taxes this week.

OK, that's not entirely accurate. I actually did my federal taxes some time ago, mostly in the hopes that I had a refund coming. But as they say in Italian, au contraire. Not only did I not have a refund coming, I owed the gubmint about 200 clams due to a withholding error. I figured the government could wait for its money, so I'm not sending the federal tax stuff in until Thursday, even though it's complete.

I tried itemizing this year for the first time, since everyone told me that buying a house and moving would result in all sorts of tax deductions. It turns out that I bought the house too late in the year for the mortgage interest to be more than a standard deduction, and moving expenses are only deductible if you move more than 50 miles. Also, real-estate taxes that you pay are deductible only when they've actually been sent to the taxing body --- not just put into escrow. That leaves me 0 for 3 in the homeowning department, but better off next year.

Maybe. Since the President and Congress are considering eliminating the mortgage interest deduction (so much for the "ownership society"), it's a big "maybe."

Anyway, that takes care of the feds. I'll be able to pencil-whip the state tax form out in a few minutes, and since freelance writing assignments fell off the end of the Earth for me this year, I won't owe anything to Uncle Ed.

Certainly, I don't begrudge the Commonwealth its three percent and change, so long as the state General Assembly continues to spend the money on vital needs, such as placing placards that say "In God We Trust" in public school classrooms, or promoting creationism, or regulating yearbook photographers. ("Pennsylvania: Legislative Grandstanding Starts Here.")

Still, there's one set of taxes that really frost my doughnuts, and those are the local wage taxes. I don't mind that they have taxes, per se. Hey, the borough (or township) and school district need their 1 percent (or 3 percent, for you lucky City of Picksberg residents, and 1.7 percent for people in Our Fair City). I've been behind the scenes of a lot of Mon-Yough area municipalities --- and most of them are run relatively frugally.

I do object, however, to the godawful local wage tax forms that boroughs, cities, townships and school districts have started sending out. A few years back, Pennsylvania attorneys convinced local taxing authorities to outsource their tax collections. Instead of having little old semi-retired blue-haired ladies at the municipal buildings collecting the local taxes, the attorneys promised to cry havoc and let loose the dogs of war upon tax cheats.

Any time you add multiple lawyers to a problem, naturally, you aren't simplifying it. Lawyers don't make money by making things simple. Throw a couple of dozen accountants into the mix and you have a real recipe for eye-crossing bureaucracy.

These tax "experts" began sending residents complete local tax schedules which have grown ever more complex, and every bit as complicated as the IRS 1040 form --- they now want you to list profits from investments, farming losses, savings penalties, the whole nine yards.

Excuse the heck out of me, but exactly where do they get off demanding all this? Here's all a local tax form has to look like:

In fairness to North Bittyburg, my borough wage tax form actually looks a lot like that. In fact, it fits on a postcard. (Our Fair City's tax form isn't too bad, either.)

But because North Bittyburg borough council is fighting with the school district, the school district now has its own tax collection agency, and naturally it's owned by an attorney who sends out two-page multiple-schedule local tax forms, including a supplemental worksheet the taxpayer is supposed to fill out.

I'd like to tell him to fold it into his Black's Law and cram the whole thing up his legal briefs.

The best part is that because I moved halfway through the year, I get to fill out three local tax forms --- the (relatively simple) North Bittyburg Borough tax form, the North Bittyburg School District two-page nightmare, and an identical nightmarish tax form for East Bumpety Borough and the East Bumpety Area School District, where I used to live. (As it turns out, the same attorneys who collect the North Bittyburg school taxes also collect the East Bumpety borough and school taxes.)

Boy howdy, we is havin' some fun now, you betcha!

What does it cost to thoroughly obfuscate the local tax system, print up the forms, collect the forms, process the information, and count the loot? According to Mike Wereschagin in the Tribune-Review, about $100 million per year. Per year!

As Wereschagin puts it: "That's enough to resurface 526 miles of two-lane roadways, buy more than 2.1 million prescriptions for seniors enrolled in the state's Pharmaceutical Assistance Contract for the Elderly program, or provide an $18 refund to every income tax payer in the state." Jesus wept!

The Pennsylvania Economy League recommends just having the state Department of Revenue collect the local wage and property taxes, and send taxpayers one consolidated bill each year. The money would then be disbursed back to the local school districts and municipalities. And quite naturally, the tax collection agencies think that's a horrible, horrible idea.

Unlike the flat-earthers and the Grover Norquist crowd, I don't object to taxation in principle --- just government waste. And it seems to me that one quick way to lower Pennsylvania's taxes would be to ash-can all of these local tax forms and streamline some of this bureaucracy, because it sure smells like waste to me.

If there are any local tax collectors who'd like to rebut this Almanac, I welcome their comments.

However, we will not accept those comments electronically. Instead, please stop by our office and pick up a copy of the Tube City Almanac 2005 Official Tax Collector Comment Form (forms cannot be faxed or sent via email!) and file them in triplicate to our office no later than 11:59 p.m. April 15, 2005; you should attach to the back (not the front!) current proof of residence, a completed Schedule A ("Description of Current Tax Collector Assets and Liabilities"), three personal references, a copy of your Pennsylvania PA-40 form ....

Your Comments are Welcome!

I have never been able to itemize. Married filing jointly has a high enough standard deduction, and my house was cheap enough, that it’s only ever been close.

My local tax is collected by Berkheimer. It’s a one page form. I fill in like 5 numbers, leave the rest blank, and write the 1% check.
Derrick (URL) - April 13, 2005

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