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No EZ way to evade tax -- or antitax nut cases

By JAN GLIDEWELL, Times Columnist

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 15, 2003

If you weren't up all night working on your taxes, then you probably belong to one of three groups: You filed early, probably because you had money coming back; you have purposefully been putting it off; or you forgot. In the final instance, you have until midnight tonight to do a year's worth of accounting.

This year, after a lifetime of filing early, I fall between those groups.

My taxes have always been simple. I get forms showing my earnings and withholding, get the forms showing how little my investments have earned, cry for an hour or two, take the standard deduction and file. Itemizing never saved me money. The standard deduction worked fine for me.

Because I got married last year, I had to file jointly this year. Okay, I handed my wife all of the stuff that came in the mail; said, "Here, you do it"; and she filed jointly. Her tax situation is a little more complex than mine, and she had an amended return to file.

At a given point, any document with numbers in it becomes incomprehensible to me, and -- after having been assured several times that she knew what she was doing -- I just signed on the dotted line, although I might have made one tiny mistake on one form that passed through my hands.

After recovering her cool, my wife sighed and said, "Well, it will be okay if we have to refile. At least you made copies before you mailed everything. Right?"

"Uhhhhhhmmm," I responded.

The net result was that some unpleasant language was used; the calculator has been hidden; and I am no longer to be involved in anything involving taxes at our house, up to and including placing things in mailboxes. (Yeah, like anyone has seen a U.S. Postal Service mailbox anywhere in the last five years.)

That's just as well because there is nothing like today's date to bring all of the antitax wackos out of the woodwork.

I don't mean to imply that everyone who is against any tax is a nut case. This country was founded, in part, by people who got all worked up over a tax on tea, and rebelling against taxes is a great American tradition. The more reasonable among us think that some taxes are more unfair than others and favor things like a flat-rate income tax or elimination of income tax in favor of a value-added tax. Some of us think the rich aren't being taxed enough. Some, believe it or not, think the poor aren't being taxed enough. Some of us think that if we eliminated all, or most, government services, we could eliminate all, or most, taxes.

But the nutsos I am talking about are the ones who will send you literature or e-mails explaining why you don't have to pay your income tax because their interpretations of the Constitution prove -- to them, anyhow -- that the tax is unconstitutional.

It usually has something to do with state's rights or a conviction that taxes can only be levied in gold and silver and that the whole Federal Reserve system is bogus.

One school of alleged thought actually holds that all federal and state governments are illegally constituted and that the highest authority to which any of us is subject is that of the county sheriff. I'm not kidding. They believe that; and although none of them has ever admitted it openly, I suspect a sheriff or two I have known in my time has believed it, too.

If you just refuse to pay your taxes, these groups assure you, nobody can do anything to you because the courts and penal system also are illegally constituted; and all you have to do is show the nice judge and local sheriff the literature you got from and they will apologize to you, give you back your car, house and bank accounts, and send you on your way.

It should be noted that these views are very often held by people who live in heavily armed strongholds surrounded by barbed wire and no-trespassing warnings, and that these people are frequently being besieged by federal and local authorities for things such as having refused to pay their taxes.

That's not to say you shouldn't go ahead and refuse to pay if you really want to make a strong political statement; but I'd rather avoid the SWAT teams, flood lamps and police dogs and -- in the words of the old vaudeville routine -- pay the two dollars.

Or, in this case, have my wife pay it.

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