The Fayette Citizen-Opinion Page
Wednesday, April 14, 1999
May April 15 become just another day


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I haven't had time to check it out, but I have no reason to doubt the Internet factoid that came to me via e-mail relating that income tax-related forms cause the deaths of 300,000 trees per year.

Yet the nation's vice tree hugger, Al Gore, opposes measures like a flat tax or a national sales tax that would eliminate 99.9 percent of that paperwork. Instead of decrying the arboreal carnage brought about by our ridiculously complex tax system, Gore vilifies the logging companies that help fill the orders for all that paper.

The situation leaves me in a bit of a quandary, though. If I argue that we should have a simplified tax system to save the trees, I must ignore one obvious fact the more paper we use, the more trees we have.

Trees are a renewable resource. Cut a big one down, and you've got room to plant ten more.

Companies that harvest trees to feed our fax machines plant more trees than they cut down every year, not out of the goodness of their hearts, but for the best of motives: profit. Without replanting, they'd soon be out of business.

Because of that, there are now more trees in the United States than there were in 1900. They're not 300-year-old deep forest trees (and we certainly do need programs to preserve some virgin forest in perpetuity), but they are there.

So forget the environmental argument for a flat tax. We'll just have to do it for the selfish reason that it will save millions of Americans from the onerous burden of keeping all those records and poring over them for three months, then finally filling out the forms and popping them in the mail, only to worry and wonder if we might have made some mistake that will bring an audit, back payments, interest, penalties... even jail.

We shouldn't have to live like that.

In a supposedly free republic, law-abiding people trying to do the right thing should not have to go into cold sweats over the possibility that we might have misunderstood some of the thousands of pages of instructions and therefore face possibly dire consequences.

We shouldn't have to be afraid of our government.

I finally got around to mailing my tax returns this week. I'm getting a little bit of a refund, so I had no reason to drag my feet, but there was the small matter of three count them, three extra forms I had to fill out with about 25 pages of instructions in order to put a zero in one line of my 1040.

It took a little time to gather the information I needed to fill out those forms, to get the forms, fill them out and then carefully draw a nice, round goose egg on my tax form. That's after I asked an accountant friend to explain how to fill out the forms because the instructions are of no use to anyone who speaks ordinary English.

I didn't understand the explanation, mind you, but I did find out where to put which number on the form so that the bottom line was zero. If I hadn't had someone to ask, I probably would have had to pay a tax preparer two or three hundred dollars to do my forms, even though I had already done everything except this one line.

We shouldn't have to live like that.

Will we ever actually get a flat tax or a sales tax? Who knows.

When we elected a Republican majority, I had hoped a flat tax would have been right behind a balanced budget amendment, with both accomplished within a couple of years. But the sobering reality is that we need a bigger Republican majority, and possibly a Republican president as well, to get something of that magnitude accomplished.

It will probably never happen unless we taxpayers get frustrated enough to revolt. If a third, or maybe even half of us, participated in a boycott on filing, that might do the trick.

Meanwhile, hope you have a happy April 15. I know I will.

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