The proposed GOP tax plan unveiled last week may be a wholesale giveaway for the rich and a $1.5 trillion bill for future generations but I have to admit — it comes with one heck of a sales prop. Sure, the package is based on failed economic theory and chock full of empty promises, but those postcard-sized tax returns are almost enough to get even me on board.
Like most Wyomingites, I love the federal government. Especially the Internal Revenue Service.
I usually only visit the IRS’s Casper office once a year, on April 14. The office is always filled with grumpy taxpayers who look like they’d rather be somewhere else exercising their First- or Second-Amendment rights. It’s easy to avoid eye contact and unwanted conversations as no one ever looks up from their smartphones.
It’s best just to take a number, settle in and cool your heels. You may be there awhile.
You have no control once you enter the IRS Zone. It’s quite a bit like the Twilight Zone, but without the space aliens. Or maybe they’re there too. If you were shopping for future abductees — miserable types who wouldn’t be missed — an IRS waiting room on the day before tax day would be a pretty good place to look.
For all the charm though, I don’t think I’ve ever waited more than an hour to get the information and materials I needed and be on my way. It really could be worse.
If you haven’t visited an IRS office recently, be forewarned — now it is worse.
I discovered this when I dropped in last Monday to get a copy of my 2016 tax return. I had placed mine somewhere I knew I could always find it. Guess how well that worked out?
As it was late October — not exactly crunch time — I figured the wait would be short. Things looked promising when I opened the door and saw an unoccupied staffer in an otherwise empty room.
“Do you have an appointment,” she asked?
“No,” I explained. “I don’t have any questions. I just need a copy of last year’s return.”
“You need an appointment,” she said and handed me a slip of paper with a phone number. “We haven’t been very busy, so you should be able to get one in a couple days — three at the most.” She smiled and looked at me as though I should be happy to get such quick service.
“Really? I can’t just get a copy today?” I said, looking around the empty room and trying to seem crestfallen. Sometimes that works. It usually doesn’t.
“Really,” she said, no longer smiling. “Please just call the number.”
I left the Dick Cheney Federal Building, home to the Casper IRS office, wondering if Dick ever had to wait three days to talk to someone. Of course not — the rules don’t apply to people who have buildings named after them. I think that might even be a law.
At home I called the graciously provided phone number and the dreaded “interactive voice response system” estimated my wait time at 30 to 60 minutes. At the 52-minute mark an actual human voice (though even it sounded like physicist Stephen Hawking’s voice synthesizer) came on the line and began trying to talk me out of getting an appointment.
“Have you tried our website? Are you signed up for it?” he asked.
“No,” I said.
“Do you want to start an online account?” he asked.
“Sure,” I replied.
“Oh, you can’t do it today,” he said matter-of-factly. “Our site is temporarily out of order.”
He tried a couple of other things. Did I have a fax machine that had a secure line? No, I don’t even own one that’s insecure. I could get it by mail, but it would take up to 15 business days. Too long, I explained. He reluctantly said he’d make me an appointment, but first he had to put me on hold for “one to seven minutes.” Maybe that’s a law too.
It took every bit of that and more before he came back on the line. I got my appointment for noon on Wednesday.
At 8 a.m. Wednesday morning my phone rang, and it was the IRS telling me they had to reschedule because they had to temporarily close the local office. But I was lucky and booked the next afternoon.
At 8 a.m. the next morning my phone rang again. It was the IRS telling me they had to reschedule because they had to temporarily close the local office. I thought of Bill Murray in “Groundhog Day.” Am I doomed to start every day being spurned by the IRS? Appointment No. 3 was rescheduled for the following morning.
On Friday my week-long quest successfully ended. I took a number (200) and it must have been a lucky one, because I immediately got service. No phone calls this time, just a friendly IRS representative who printed my return and wished me a good day.
Five days, three phone calls and two visits to the federal office building for three pieces of paper.
It was a marked contrast from the slick pitch I’d seen on television the night before when House Republicans unveiled their new tax reform plan.
I’d anticipated the lies before the announcement. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin) and President Trump had spent the days leading up to the event promising that the oppressed middle class would finally see their income taxes slashed. Ryan said a middle-class family of four would put an average of $1,182 in their pockets, no small amount for people living from paycheck to paycheck.
Nevermind that such relief is a pittance compared to the massive tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans and corporations. The justification is that the billionaire beneficiaries would supposedly put their huge sums of new cash into creating jobs and expanding businesses. Anyone who lived through the empty promises of Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush’s tax regimes, and anyone that has studied economics, knows it’s a complete sham.
But then I saw one of the House members try to sell us this fantasy by holding up what he said would be the physical embodiment of most tax returns if their bill passed. It was the size of a postcard. Later at the White House Trump looked at a postcard prototype as though he’d never seen anything so beautiful — not even a Mar-a-Lago chocolate cake — and kissed it.
A miniature tax form is a concept I could get behind. Even an incompetent income tax preparer like myself would be hard pressed to screw up something so simple.
Who can care about greed, national debt, sustainable wealth distribution or economic justice when we could have postcards instead?
For years politicians have promised the postcard-size tax return to no avail. Two-time GOP presidential candidate Steve Forbes touted it in his 2005 book, “Flat Tax Revolution: Using a Postcard to Abolish the IRS.” Forbes may have visited the White House but in case you didn’t notice, he’s never lived there.
I’m all in favor of sending the government a tax return postcard, but Congress needs to deep-six the rest of the Republican tax cuts. And unlike Forbes, I don’t want to abolish the IRS.
Maybe I caught the agency on a bad week. IRS employees are people too, and perhaps some of them have less to do than before, but they could say the same thing about me. I’m not necessarily opposed to mandatory appointments. The idea someone would need to book time with me gives a boost to my self-worth.
I’d like to make a deal with the IRS. If they ever find anything wrong with whatever size tax return I send them, their interactive voice response system can call my interactive voice response system and make an appointment. But they should warn their system to not be surprised when it’s put on hold for 30 to 60 minutes, and if I need to cancel, I’ll wake it up.