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K. Lloyd Billingsley - Contributor
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K. Lloyd Billingsley is Editorial Director for the Pacific Research Institute and has been widely published on topics including on popular culture, defense policy, education reform, and many other current policy issues. [go to Billingsley index]

No Statute of Limitations on State Greed
Tax squeeze for every penny…

[K. Lloyd Billingsley] 4/20/05

The federal government maintains a 10-year limit on collection of federal taxes but California has no such statute of limitations. That is why the state Franchise Tax Board is hounding Marilyn Bowles, a 78-year-old widow in Riverside County, for $25,456.99.

The state claims this is an overdue bill from 1975. That’s right – from 30 years ago. The Sacramento Bee reported last week that Bowles’s deceased husband, who was a court reporter, handled the tax matters. Like most people, she has no records going back three decades. She is mystified why the state waited so long but that seems clear.

While it does a poor job providing the services for which people pay, and remains awash in waste and corruption, California spares no expense to wring every penny out of taxpayers. This includes even those unable to pay, or who might not owe anything at all.

As part of an “outreach” effort, the state sent letters to nearly 300,000 individuals and 130,000 businesses informing them that they “may” own taxes. This includes recipients who did not make enough money to require them to file a return. No relief is in sight from this sort of harassment.

Steve Westly, state controller and chair of the Franchise Tax Board, wants a limitation of 20 years – twice as long as the federal limit. Other board representatives complained that with a 10-year limit the state would “lose” $15 million. With a 20-year limit, they said, it would lose only $2 million. Surely the more compassionate solution. How much the state spends pursing 20-year-old claims seems to have been left out, but it is likely much more than $2 million.

Meanwhile, Friday, April 15, is tax day. And even those Californians who have filed returns and received their own money back are not out of the woods. They are still working for the government because tax freedom day doesn’t come until April 17.

Until then, Americans are still working to pay their state, federal, and local taxes. For many working families, in fact, taxes are their major expense, greater than food, shelter, clothing, college tuition, and other necessities. With a sales tax of nearly eight percent, and fees on everything from phone calls to gasoline, every day is actually tax day in some form. Consider pay day.

The government actually gets workers’ money before they do, in the form of withholding from their paycheck. This was a wartime measure conveniently retained by the government for obvious reasons. The government likes getting workers’ money before they do, and it has come to believe it has a prior claim to what people earn. That’s why fans of big government like to castigate those who want to keep more of what they earn as “greedy.”

They aren’t. The greed comes on the part of those who want to take more of what other people earn, without offering anything in return, and often simply to cover their own mistakes, scandals, and excesses in spending.

The state of California should leave Marilyn Bowles alone. And it should lessen, not increase, the tax burden on the rest of us. In the meantime, we can look forward to celebrating tax freedom day. CRO

copyright 2005 Pacific Research Institute




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