I paid my taxes a couple of months ago.
I know that out in the great American public there are a great many fools, economic illiterates, and people who think unadulterated short-term greed is a political principle, and that these folks regard taxes as evil and little different from theft. I also know that such people are best left alone to stew in their own stupidity while the grown-ups get on with the hard work of human civilization. I try not to engage with them anymore. It’s just a waste of time.
Taxes are the price you pay for a functional society. If that’s not good enough for you, that tells me more about you than it does about taxes.
So I pay them. I’m not thrilled to be writing checks to the various levels of government that make their claims on me – I’d rather spend that money on books, barbecue, and/or visits to friends and family – but I recognize the bargain and pay my fair share.
I expect this share to be recognized, however.
And with the IRS, it always has been. For all the horror stories that people love to tell about the IRS, I can say truthfully that I have never had a bad experience dealing with them. They have been polite, professional, and constructive, and we have resolved whatever differences between us fairly quickly and amicably. Usually they win, of course – the tax code is complicated enough that even with software I’m never sure I’m getting it right – but they always explain it so I understand and on occasion they have agreed with me. Regardless, once I have managed to get hold of them (a process that often involves eons sitting on hold on the phone) it has all gone well.
Today’s visit with the Wisconsin Department of Revenue did not go so well.
Earlier this week I got a notice asking for a fairly decent chunk of money. The notice said that they had made some adjustments to my tax forms – and, in fairness, this has happened in the past – but the numbers they gave me didn’t show any actual changes. There were three columns, one for my numbers, one labeled “Our Changes,” and another purportedly showing the new numbers. The middle column was all zeroes, which of course meant that the first and third columns were identical.
After looking through the paper copy of my tax return, I noticed that the sum they wanted was my tax bill this year, plus interest.
But, I thought to myself, I have paid that. I wrote a check for that amount – and indeed, here is the duplicate check in my records, sitting here right in front of me now that I have retrieved it from the archives – and physically fastened that check to the return. They got the return. What happened to the check?
I checked with my bank and the original check had not been cashed. It’s still out there somewhere.
So I called the Wisconsin Department of Revenue this morning.
It turns out that when the Wisconsin Department of Revenue loses your check, you’re responsible for all of the costs. Who knew?
A polite man on the other end of the line confirmed that they did receive my return. But he insisted there were no records of my check. And that was all he was willing to say on the subject. I believe he told me that information, more or less verbatim, six times over a seven minute call until I finally told him to stop doing so.
They want a new check for the bill, plus interest. The interest was non-negotiable.
“So what happens if I write you a new check and then a month later someone in your office finds the old one and cashes it?”
“We’ll cash it and credit your account for next year.”
“That’s not helpful, you know that.”
And he did, but that was as far as he was willing to acknowledge anything.
“So what you’re saying,” I finally said, “is that I sent you a return with a check physically attached to it and you acknowledge receiving the return but insist that there was no check, and because you lost the check I am now responsible for both interest and any stop-payment fee my bank imposes.”
“You understand why people get angry with you, right?”
“Is there anything else I can help you with today?”
“You haven’t helped me yet, actually.”
So the next check goes in stapled to the coupon, with a little note that says “Try not to lose this one.”
My tax dollars at work.