“The hardest thing in the world to understand is the income tax.”
So said Albert Einstein, reportedly. And recent national surveys suggest many people support that view.
Under a headline proclaiming “Americans don’t know jack about taxes,” a March 9, 2007, CNNMoney.com survey indicates that most of us aren’t aware of this year’s telephone tax refund (a one-time refund for anyone who’s paid taxes on a land line, cell phone, fax, or Internet phone service between March 2003 and July of last year, with the money back ranging between $30 and $60). We’re supposedly also pretty clueless about not-so-new tax items like the Child Tax Credit (worth $1,000 per child for parents with dependent children) and the Alternative Minimum Tax (which, according to the article, is affecting a growing bunch of us).
In any case, there’s one thing of which we can be certain: almost everyone has an opinion, an expletive, a gripe, or a tale to offer about taxes—in short, their two cents worth.
To prove it, members of the fyi staff trekked across campus one drizzly day in early March to ask UI faculty and staff members about the “T” word. After our assurances that we weren’t from the IRS or another ominous government agency, most we spoke to were quick to respond and willing to expound on the notion that America has a love-hate relationship with tax season.
Here are some highlights from our conversations when we asked:
“What’s the first thing that comes to your mind—your first reaction—to the word ‘taxes’? And why?”
Kathy Ormond, Clerk III, Iowa Memorial Union Guest and Event Services
“Complications. There’s just so much to keep straight,” she says with a sigh. “For instance, I didn’t know about the telephone tax credit until I heard my office mate—who’s already finished her taxes—talking about it. After she mentioned it, I started noticing things about it in the newspaper and so on. But that’s the kind of complication I worry about.”
In spite of the complications, she says she shouldn’t complain.
“I’m grateful that I can file a tax return,” she says. “It’s a reminder of how fortunate I am. I file a tax return because I have an income. Not everyone in our country is so fortunate. It’s the same thing I keep in mind when I pay my bills every month. I don’t feel bad about paying bills—I’m thankful that I can pay for what I have.”
Chris McCollam, storekeeper, University Book Store
“Taxes and death. Can’t do much about avoiding either one,” he admits. “They’re necessary. They have to be paid for the government to run. I don’t have a personal problem with paying taxes. I fill out my forms by hand, takes about 10 minutes. The state form’s a little more complex. But I have no problem, because I can pay my taxes and still feel very fortunate, because I have an income that allows me to live and to do the things I want to do. I like to keep in mind, too, that my taxes support things like the security of our country, maintaining infrastructures like roads, and also benefiting those Americans who might be less fortunate than I am.”
He concedes not everyone might appreciate this point, especially those who feel they pay too much.
“Maybe that’s a problem in some income brackets, but I don’t think that’s something I’ll ever have to worry about as a public employee,” he says.
Tom Paulsen, assistant director, UI Admissions
“It’s just something you have to do every year,” he says, and he even does them early. “I just like to get it over with and move on.”
It’s more than a necessary evil, he adds, because he’s keenly aware of the real benefits on a daily basis.
“The people of Iowa reap enormous benefit in terms of how taxes support public education,” he says. “Certainly, a college education is not inexpensive, but without public tax support, the cost would be much greater. People in Iowa can be thankful that their tax dollars help support an institution where their children can receive an undergraduate education that is tops in the country, and where research initiatives are making a difference for people everywhere. There’s no doubt that we would be much less [at The University of Iowa] without the foundation of strong support from taxpayers.”
David Collins, lecturer, Department of Marketing, Tippie College of Business
“Insanity,” he says, with more than a hint of exasperation registering in his voice. “But you know, it’s one of those things you have to accept. For instance, I could get worked up because I have a bunch of kids out of class today because it’s the day before spring break, or I could just go, ‘OK, so that’s the way it is.’
“It is overwhelming, though. The amount of taxes is incredible, and the hidden taxes we pay are incredible. For example, most people don’t realize how much they pay in taxes for a gallon of gas at the pump.”
The Tippie College of Business lecturer doesn’t make out his tax return, he admits.
“I think everybody ought to be able to do their taxes, but few of us can,” he says. “This year I bought a new home—and my mother died, and I had to handle her estate. So this year I didn’t even want to try filing my taxes on my own.”
For a few years, he used tax accountants, but that was a problem when they made him file extensions because of their workload. This year, he took his W-2s to his neighbor.
“She’s a CPA,” he says. “And hey, I have no secrets. I’m a public employee, and everybody gets to see what I make anyway, so I took my taxes over to her. And she wants to do them right, because she’s my neighbor.”
by Gary Kuhlmann