A taxing process that really should be laid to rest

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Filing taxes are not as sad as funerals, but they aren't a requirement in life, either.

By Steve Doyle

So you think the weather was nasty and no one showed up for your big event? This is how my weekend went:

An emotional funeral for a beloved family member on Friday, then at my desk at home on Saturday and Sunday, bleeding on the tax altar.

Please don’t tell me you’re sorry for my loss, but that the tax stuff was my problem for procrastinating. I’ve heard that. I understand. I didn’t mean for the process to be that way, but it just spiraled down that drain.

The good thing is that those returns are complete and in the mail. I trust the IRS folks will enjoy every second they spend with the forms as much as I did.

Surely they must, right?

They created all that paperwork, all that complicated, overlapping, unbelievably dense and gooey language that eats more paper and destroys more forests than any fire I’ve seen, growing inexorably year after year like as if frozen in a constant stage of adolescence.

How could something so oversized grow even larger? Even Godzilla benefited from nuclear fallout, didn’t he/she?

But when it comes to taxes, I do obviously realize that all of you share my pain, to some extent or another.

I can’t imagine anyone enjoys this process, including those pinheads in the IRS offices around the country.

My buddy’s wife is a tax expert who prepares returns for dozens (maybe hundreds) of clients. For the first third of the year, he moves to the basement and hopes she comes home.

When it’s over, he takes her for a golf getaway to reintroduce himself.

But I’m not even sure she likes tax season.

Yes, I realize there are tax-preparation services, attorneys, accountants and millions of others who make their living off this behemoth.

But I would bet your refund that each of them would quickly trade those careers for not having to go through this grind of other people’s infinitesimal decimal points and pain.

To me it all seems so unnecessary. Why do we need all of this to contribute our fair shares to keeping our country/state/region running smoothly?

Because, truly, there’s not a lot of evidence our contributions are being handled with care.

Like earlier in the month when we watched that latest political wrestling match about the federal budget, which is a study in partisan-clad sumos –  distasteful characters immobilized by a useless pattern of history and too much fat.

Budget deadlines have come and gone for generations. There have been stalemates and shutdowns. There has been posturing and political maneuvering added to what is really is a fairly simple accounting process.

But what we have watched unfold in 2011 is moribund and myopic management by our elected leaders in the decisions required of them to create a stable and fair fiscal future.

That was never more apparent because of the rhetoric, the attachment of social issues to ledger-balancing and, ultimately, the finger-pointing and name-calling that have become an all-too-routine element of any decision-making.

We saw similar ineptitude in that frustrating fiasco in Frankfort, but that was simply the warm-up act for an event we have had to watch because we pay dearly for our tickets.

What our leaders fail to understand – and we see this in private business as well – is that we don’t have a spending problem, we have a revenue problem.

I would suggest that if our leaders were serious on settling this matter that they would not grapple with each other’s ideas for spending reductions but, rather, embrace the idea that our tax base – our revenue source – should be fair, balanced and without the loopholes that seem to be tugging at the fraying fabric of our financial infrastructure.

I would suggest a flat tax – you can choose the rate – that is paid equally by everyone to cover all our bills, including the trillions in debt we owe to the great credit card in the sky.

Then we could eliminate the process of deduction, meticulous record-keeping and – ultimately the huge overhead expense of having to staff the IRS to the level that it is now.

And we would stop ruining my weekend!

Now this won’t happen, I know. Too logical, too simple, too difficult, too right a decision to be made by those beholding to others for their political careers.

So we are left with a process that is deadly in every way I can describe, one will exist long after most of us have been laid to rest.

No, taxes aren’t worse than funerals. Both can be costly, but you can’t compare the emotional investment, where tears arrive quickly for softies like me as we embrace the passing of someone we knew and loved with moments of melancholy doused with pride.

In the past two-plus years since I prodigaled home from Florida, I have attended more funerals than I had in probably the previous 20 – and that doesn’t include the ones I should’ve attended but couldn’t.

In my time, I’ve helped carry caskets, spoken to the gathering and even donned a tropical shirt to bear an urn of one of my best friends to the front of his church.

Those moments were real pain, nothing like those cramps manufactured by the tax code.

You know the main point about funerals: They are all meaningful until the last one you attend.

And even after that one, somebody still has to file a tax return.