The Taxman Cometh
Newcastle — It seems that every year at about this time I am moved to rant about taxes, in particular the extraordinary complexity of the Income Tax code. I acknowledge that I should pay income taxes, and I’m happy that I am not among the forty-odd percent who do not. I just wish that it were a little easier for me to file.
While filling out a 1041 this week, struggling through the 42 page instructions booklet, I came upon a paragraph offering: “The time needed to complete and file this form and related schedules will vary depending on individual circumstances. The estimated average times are:” “Well!” I thought, “This is interesting.” Times are offered for record keeping, learning about the law, preparing the form, copying assembling and mailing. In observance of the meticulous (if frequently incomprehensible) detailing of the IRS, statistics are further broken down for Form 1041, Schedule I, Schedule D, Schedule K-1, Schedule J and Form 1041-V. Not belaboring this issue let me say only that the grand total comes to approximately 175 hours, a mind-boggling 4+ working weeks!
In my case the time might be slightly less, because I refuse to bother with Schedule I dealing with the Alternative Minimum Tax. I don’t give a damn if it applies to me; it shouldn’t. On the other hand, what of Schedule E, or Form 1116, or Form 4797, or Form 8949 over which I labor?
Intrigued by the above I eagerly sought time estimates from the 206 page instructions accompanying the more familiar 1040. Unfortunately, here the officials are not so forthcoming. I could find hour guesstimates for only Schedules C (6.5), Schedule E (6) and Schedule F (12). (Gratifyingly, “The estimated burden for taxpayers who file these forms is approved under OMB control number 1545-1974.” Thank you, Uncle.) No times are offered for the main 1040 form or the sundry other schedules and worksheets.
My personal experience is that the effort involved in filing the 1040 is similar to that of a 1041. So let’s give it also 4 weeks. Since I am responsible for two 1041’s, my total time spent fumbling with tax returns should be of the order of 12 weeks or about a quarter of a normal working year. But who’s to complain? In actuality, the Fed’s guess is a gross overestimate; I devote only about 100 hours to these tasks.
So far I’ve written nothing about my state responsibilities. Filing for the great state of Maine is far less onerous. However, I do have a problem with the result. For 2013, barring blunders, my state tax is 45 percent of my federal. This is outrageous! The federal government performs many useful tasks such as waging war, patrolling our porous borders, funding the Affordable Care Act, lending money to impoverished students at usurious rates, not to mention passing enormous amounts of money on to our state to help with education, Medicaid, and welfare. What does Maine offer?
Not much, and seeming, less all the time. I heard recently that whereas the state used to provide more than sixty percent of the University of Maine’s budget, it now delivers less than forty. The state has a statutory obligation to fund fifty-five percent of K-12 EPS, but the amount currently forthcoming is 15 percent less. The state is similarly bound by law to revenue-share with municipalities five percent of sales and income tax receipts. Currently it is honoring about half that percentage.
Where does the money go? Clearly it is not spent on infrastructure, as you must recognize, bounding between potholes on the state roads. The answer, of course, is too much MainCare and too much welfare. Our population is too old, and there are no jobs. Neither condition seems likely to change. Oh well, we can always while away our idle hours filling out tax forms.
As Tennyson wrote: “Ours is not to reason why. Ours is but to do and die.” We might want to do that last a bit quicker.