Taxation Without Procrastination

A line stretches along the interior of a post office Tuesday, April 15, 2003, in the Hollywood section of Los Angeles. Taxpayers must file their returns or request an extension by midnight. Even those asking for an extension must pay any money they owe by tonight's deadline to avoid penalties. (AP Photo/Nick Ut)
Last night, just like every year, people were still lined up at the post office at midnight to drop off their tax returns. It makes no sense. It's not like this is a surprise party. The due date is always April 15. Why do so many people always wait till the last minute? Why do people hate to pay taxes so much?

Thinking of taxes as loathsome and unfair is nothing new. It precedes those colonists who dumped tea in the harbor. We grew up seeing those movies when the King's henchmen arrive at a farmhouse to demand what they say is due the Crown. These guys have bad teeth and horses that foam at the mouth, and they take the poor farmer's money, his chickens, and sometimes his buxom daughter. And the image of the tax collector hasn't improved much since then. A lot of people still think the IRS is foaming at the mouth.

Some people don't want to pay income taxes for political reasons. There are those who believe that the federal income tax is illegal. They feel this way despite the fact that the power to tax income is given to Congress by the 16th Amendment to the Constitution, thereby making it legal by definition. Maybe these people also think women voting is illegal. And don't get them started on the direct election of Senators.

Some claim that the reason they put off doing their taxes until the last minute is because they are so busy earning a living, that they don't have time to work on their taxes. I don't buy that. President Bush has been pretty busy lately, but he found time to do his taxes. Evidently, just like a lot of people, he took his shoebox of receipts, dumped them on his accountant's desk, and sat there for an hour or two while the guy asked him questions like, "Are you sure you can prove you use your home for work?" Vice President Cheney got his done in time, too, and you know he didn't use the short form.

There is another group of people who say they don't like paying taxes because they hate the way the government spends the money. Apparently, it bothers these picky people that the government was once known for buying $600 hammers and $3000 toilet seats. And now they're probably a little reluctant to turn over their money to an administration that took a $100 billion surplus and turned it into a $100 billion deficit in its first year. (This was even before the war in Iraq.) These folks criticize the government's fiscal ability just because it does things like spend $460 million for a ship the Defense Department didn't want, and $90,000 on the Cowgirl Hall of Fame and $50,000 to study shitake mushrooms in Booneville, Ark. I guess what they object to is that sometimes it seems like money is burning a hole in the pockets of Uncle Sam's pinstriped pants. And it's our money — and our pants.

But I honestly believe that most people who don't pay their taxes until the last minute are not doing it for political reasons. They aren't doing it because they disapprove of the government's fiscal policy. They are doing it because it's natural to delay difficult or unpleasant things until the last moment. They know they have to pay their taxes. But they hold off as long as possible just as they do with buying a cemetery plot, going to the dentist, or going out to dinner with that annoying couple who eat off each other's plates.

But shouldn't we give up on all this last-minute stuff? If we know we have to do something, we should just do it. So, my advice to the down-to-the-wire taxpayers is, next year just bite the bullet and get it done in advance. Face it, procrastination is silly and immature.

I probably should have published this column earlier, so they could have had this advice before this year's taxes were due. But I just didn't have the column ready in time.

Lloyd Garver has written for many television shows, ranging from "Sesame Street" to "Family Ties" to "Frasier." He has also read many books, some of them in hardcover.

By Lloyd Garver