If I’d just let my passions run higher, and paid more attention to the deadline, I might have gotten my full tax refund back from the state of Colorado.
My problem is, I’m slow to anger, an all too passive citizen who accepts the abuse of the state. I’m too willing to abandon principle for convenience, much closer to a North Korean peon than a Tom Paine.
This screed is prompted by CompleteColorado’s Todd Shepherd, who recently wrote about a mysterious 40 percent increase in the number of “balance due” letters written to state taxpayers by the Department of Revenue over the past two years. The department was unable or unwilling to explain it.
I got my balance-due letter from the department in mid-April. It began, “Our records indicate that you have underpaid your estimated tax and consequently have been assessed a penalty of [pause for effect here] $1.”
Hoo. A whole dollar. After explaining how estimated tax payments must be made if taxes exceed what’s withheld by $1,000 or more, the letter said, “The penalty has resulted in a reduction of your refund by $1. Your resulting refund of $19 has been processed.”
That’s true. I received a refund check for $19, duly deposited and spent on milk for the baby.
Just kidding. The babies are long gone. It probably went for wine, women or song. You can’t splurge on all three with $19.
I didn’t keep the envelope but I presume the state spent 49 cents on the first-class stamp. States aren’t congressmen and don’t get free postage. I don’t know how much went into the preparation of the letter. Not much, since it seems to have been generated by a rogue departmental bot that apparently freelances after regular hours, possibly on a commission basis.
Or perhaps the revenooers are consciously operating on a basic governmental principle: “If we let those taxpayers get away with even a $1 shortfall, who knows how much they’ll try to keep from us next time. So we’ll spend $2 to chase down $1.”
The letter went on to tell me how to protest: electronically, by fax or by mail. It also warned me I had just 30 days to file a protest.
My first thought: If I had underpaid my estimated tax, how come I was supposed to get a $20 refund, or any refund at all?
Well, you say, estimated taxes must be paid on time four times a year. Maybe you were late.
But the state didn’t claim I was late and in fact I had made all four estimated tax payments in a timely fashion. I had the canceled checks to prove it. [Checks, children, are financial instruments still used by older fogies who, instead of paying bills by punching a few smartphone keys, continue to hand-write a date, the payee’s name, their own signature, and the amount, not only in Arabic numerals but spelled out in script, all on an oblong piece of paper that is deposited in the snail mail! Have grandpa show you one. Remember, check writers are more to be pitied than scorned.]
Obviously a man of stern principle would have filed a protest immediately. But my principles are way too flaccid and I said to myself, “Self, surely it’s not worth your time to pursue $1 from the state, no matter how unjustified the seizure.”
That sort of sentiment is why republics fall. If the state is so dedicated to its income that it will spend $2 to get $1, shouldn’t the citizen be equally willing to spend $2 to get his $1 back?
But I eventually recovered by taking my own 12-step citizenship program. On June 10 I wrote a letter to the department’s Taxpayer Service Section demanding my $1 back. I provided all the information needed for protests, including photocopies of my canceled checks.
The state hasn’t yet bothered to reply, not even to tell me my protest missed the 30-day cutoff.
I hope Todd pursues the story on the spike in balance-due letters. He may be the state’s leading expert on, and utilizer of, the Colorado Open Records Act. Indeed, according to legend, he has a sample document-demand letter tattooed on his chest — upside down, in fact, so he can refer to it more easily while pounding out his latest missive to a hapless state agency.
We need to find out what’s going on here. Is the Revenue Department simply sending out extra thousands of little demands, counting on taxpayers like me not to raise a big stink and let the money go?
But $1! Don’t most honest criminals hold to the principle of “Never steal anything small”?
Longtime Rocky Mountain News political columnist Peter Blake now writes twice a month for CompleteColorado.com. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org You may re-publish his work at no charge and without further permission; please give full credit to Peter Blake and www.CompleteColorado.com.