Foxes minding the chicken coop

Feb. 16, 2009

by Ivan Raconteur

Things have been tough on our elected officials lately, especially at the federal level.

Tax revenues are down, which not only puts them in the embarrassing position (if it is possible to embarrass a politician) of having to cope with enormous budget deficits; it also means they have not been able to spend other people’s money nearly as quickly as they would like.

I worry about the politicians, and I try to help them out whenever I can by offering suggestions and advice (which they never seem to take).

This recent crisis concerned me, so I studied on the thing a bit. I put my curmudgeonly mind to work and came up with a way to increase tax revenues without having to raise taxes.

I am sure the boys in Washington will be all over this, because it is a dream come true; more money for them to spend, without the inconvenience of having to go on record as supporting a tax increase.

All they have to do is collect taxes from the people who are supposed to be paying them in the first place.

That sounds almost too simple, so permit me to explain.

It seems that there are a lot of people in Washington who forget to pay their taxes.

No doubt they are busy people, and it just slips their mind.

This might create a problem for those of us who live in the real world, but it is not an impediment to advancement in Washington.

For example, our fearless leaders saw nothing wrong with appointing Tim Geithner treasury secretary, even though he failed to pay social security and medicare taxes for four years.

He remembered, of course, when the matter came to light when he was being considered for a cabinet position.

It was an honest mistake, he said, and that was good enough for congress.

Then, there was the sad case of former senate majority leader Tom Daschle, who was nominated for secretary of health and human services.

He forgot to pay taxes on a car and driver provided by a “friend and business associate.”

That sounds like a pretty good friend.

Daschle is a good sport though, and coughed up the $128,000 that was due, once this little oversight was brought to his (and the public’s) attention.

He withdrew his name from consideration for the post because he apparently did not want this to become “a distraction.”

It is easy to see his point. Ma and Pa Taxpayer might not take it well when they find out someone has failed to pay taxes, and the amount he failed to pay is far more than the total income that many of us earn.

Another person who took her name out of the running for a new job recently is Nancy Killifer, who had been in line to be the first chief performance officer.

It turned out that she failed to perform when it came to paying taxes on her household help.

A lot of taxpayers would like to have some domestic help to take the back-break out of life, or a car and driver to chauffeur them around, but most of us don’t have that luxury.

It seems that those who do have the luxury should at least pay their taxes.

That brings us to the nub of the problem.

These are presumably bright people, who have been considered for some high-level leadership positions. The same is true of the elected officials who have failed to pay taxes or disclose income.

One would never suggest that they are corrupt or dishonest, but they should know better, and their “honest mistakes” are costing the rest of us money.

I fear that this is only the tip of the iceberg. The failure of some of these people to pay taxes was only discovered when they were being scrutinized as applicants for new positions.

How many people, one might ask, are out there that are going merrily along “forgetting” to pay taxes for years without being discovered.

These people really should know better.

If, for example, Mr. Geithner was the most qualified candidate to be secretary of the treasury, and has an impressive resume that includes working for the international monetary fund, doesn’t it seem like he should understand the tax code?

If we could round up all the people in Washington and elsewhere who have “forgotten” to pay their taxes and get them to pony up their share, it might eliminate the budget deficits, and perhaps even reduce taxes for the rest of us.

It seems like a situation of the foxes minding the chicken coop. We have trusted them as leaders and allowed them to make important decisions, and it is troubling to find out that some of them don’t even pay their own taxes.

And, if the tax code in this country is really so complicated that those in congress and in other areas of government can’t figure it out, maybe it is time to simplify the system so we can all understand how it works.