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                                       politics + culture

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Ready Return: a good idea versus business as usual...and how you can help

Making paying taxes easier for working people and improving government efficiency may not seem to be breathtaking issues in the grand scheme of things; in politics, however, sometimes it's the "small" and "local" issues that stand in for the bigger battles.  In fact, I'd argue that it's often with a program like the one I'm about to tell you about, that a party makes its reputation for standing up for the people and for what's right.  

People remember the small things.

With Ready Return, California State Democrats have a chance to do the right thing and to help the little guy.  Read below to find out what stands in the way and how you can help.

The link you are about to click on below is to a page that lists the feedback of real California citizens regarding a State pilot program called Ready Return:

* The program is innovative.

* The program would increase California State Tax revenues.

* The program would increase government efficiency.

* The program puts into action the principle of citizen access to government information.

* The program makes the lives of everyday taxpaying citizens less complex.

* The program eases the burden of filing taxes for thousands of taxpayers who aren't good at reading forms or doing math, some of whom actually don't file tax returns for that very reason.

* Finally, this program is poised to become law.

Legislation written by a Stanford Law Professor and endorsed by a diverse range of Californians...from former GOP Congressman (and current Dean of the Haas School of Business) Tom Campbell to the Labor Union SEIU...would make this innovative program a part of our California State Law.

But, there's one more thing you should know before you click on the link and read the citizen feedback below: unless something happens to change minds in Sacramento, this program has little chance of passing.

Read citizen feedback for Ready Return.

Have you ever read comments like that about any government program before?   Much less one that deals with TAXES?  Yes, there is honest feedback about minor difficulties, but, for the most part, people who've tried it love Ready Return.  Simply put, everyday citizens...taxpayers... found that Ready Return made filing their taxes easier.   They used this program and they liked it.

Now, there's a reason for that.  For the majority of wage earners with basic taxes, people who receive standard paychecks from one employer, the State of California already has all the information needed for them to file an accurate return.  The principle behind Ready Return is straightforward:  instead of making these taxpayers come up with their tax information independently...ie. do the math and paperwork on their own...why not send them the accurate information the government already has?  Why not let them file their return right then and there on their home computer?  It's a simple and elegant solution in a zone, taxation, where simple and elegant solutions are hard to come by.  More than that, it's a government program that works for working people.

What on earth would stop the California State Legislature from passing the Ready Return bill into law?

If I told you that a consortium of business interests representing the Tax Preparation industry had made an alliance with both the GOP and a segment of the Democratic caucus in the California legislature, would it come as a surprise?

Be surprised, be very surprised.  As Lawrence Lessig wrote in Wired magazine:

Soon after Ready Return was launched, lobbyists from the tax-preparation industry began to pressure California lawmakers to abandon the innovation.  Their opposition was not surprising: if figuring our your taxes were easy, why would anyone bother to hire H&R Block?  If the government sends you a completed form, why buy TurboTax?

But what is surprising is that their "arguments" are having an effect.  In February, the California Republican caucus released a report highlighting its "concerns" about the program-for example, that an effort to make taxes more efficient "violates the proper role of government."  Soon thereafter, a Republican state senator introduced a bill to stop the Ready Return program.

Inefficiency has become a virtue in government-and not just in California.  Last year, the US Senate passed a funding bill with an amendment prohibiting the IRS from developing its own "income tax electronic filling or preparation products or services."

Ready Return is a great idea, but it lacks a natural constituency to fight for it in our State House.  Working people work, and, let's be frank, when it comes to the powers that be in Sacramento, there aren't many champions of the little guy.  

Ready Return's author, Stanford Law Professor Joseph Bankman has made passing this bill a labor of love.  He's even hired his own lobbyist in hopes of opening doors in Sacramento.  When I asked him what would be the most significant step everyday Californians could take to help pass this legislation, his answer was simple:  call or write your State Representatives and tell them you support Ready Return in your own words.

(Here's a link that tells you how to locate the name and website of your California State Senator and Assemblyperson by entering your zip code.)

In the face of GOP opposition and powerful industry lobbyists working both sides of the aisle, Ready Return will need every Democratic vote it can get.  

Business as usual in Sacramento shouldn't be allowed to block a great idea that works.



  • I wish someone would propose this in Kansas -- or nationally. It sounds like a great idea. Thanks for sharing this information. (thinking about how to bring it to the attention of someone in Topeka)

    By Blogger katiebird, at 9:13 AM  

  • Wow. I'm so happy to hear about this program and that it's getting favorable reviews. I've wished for something like it ever since that first instant--the first second that I was off my parents' return, doing my taxes on my own, and suddenly wondering why--why! WHY was I wasting all this time, filling out paperwork, just to tell the IRS what they already knew?

    (Note: I'm pretty good math. I even enjoy some forms of it. Tax math is not one of them... in my book, it doesn't even rise to the level of math. It's perverse busy-work.)

    I've probably said it a dozen-dozen times since then: The IRS should send me a bill (or a "proposed refund notification") when W2s go out. If I agree with their bill (proposed refund), I pay (accept) it. Done. If I think I can do better hiring an accountant or diddling with receipts and tax forms myself, I have until April 15.

    I always had a private conspiracy theory--the reason taxes didn't work the way I envisioned them was because of the powerful accountants' lobby. With their green visors. And their sick attention to detail. And their use of -0- instead of 0.

    Enough about me. Thanks for the post, Kid.

    By Blogger &y, at 2:53 PM  

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