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Tax day brings protesters and procrastinators, but post office lines are shorter

POSTED: April 26, 2008 5:00 a.m.
ROBIN MICHENER NATHAN/The Times

Tommy Sandoval and other "fair tax" supporters wave to cars outside the Green Street post office Tuesday afternoon.

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It’s the day that many dread. The scramble for lost forms, the need to write a check to the government and just plain old procrastination are the reasons many taxpayers give for waiting until the final hours of the final day to file their annual state and federal returns.

However, the electronic filing of taxes has had a dramatic effect on the lines at the post office. Once the place of a daylong dash to get the return in the mail, the Gainesville post office on Green Street was busy, but not the packed place it once was.

Just minutes before the post office closed at 5 p.m., not every car in line was dropping off a return. "I did that weeks ago," said a driver who tossed in a stack of envelopes and drove away.

John Edwards of Gainesville said he was actually getting a refund, but just procrastinated until a half-hour before the deadline.

"I just waited," he said.

But a group of protesters who favor what they call the "fair tax," a national retail sales tax paid, would like to see April 15 become just another day.

The fair tax supporters, ranging from six to 10 people bearing signs, walked the sidewalk in front of the post office.

"I’m here to protest the way the United States of America collects taxes," said Stephanie Usery, a leader in the fair tax movement in Hall County. "I’m here to promote a different way, a consumption tax, not taxed on income but what we purchase.

"I would love for April 15 to be just another spring day. Maybe we could hold some kind of ceremony of remembrance of the way things used to be."

Tax season became a little more taxing this year, with the average person spending more than a day and more than $200 collecting, calculating and compiling those numbers for the tax man, according to a report based on Internal Revenue Service figures.

Businesses have it far worse.

The National Taxpayers Union, in its annual look at the burdens of taxpaying, said the corporate cost of compliance is about $170 billion. General Electric in 2006 filed returns equivalent to 24,000 printed pages.

Congress, and not the Internal Revenue Service, is the leading culprit in this time and money increase, said the group, a nonpartisan organization that works for lower taxes and smaller government.

"Congress is adding to the tax laws’ complexity faster than the IRS can simplify its forms," it said.

IRS figures showed that all taxpayers, from those using the simplest 1040-EZ form to those using longer forms, spent 26.5 hours in record keeping, studying the law and preparing and sending their forms for the 2006 tax year. That was up from 25.4 hours three years earlier.

The average out-of-pocket cost, including for those taxpayers doing their own taxes, was $207, up from $185 three years earlier. The self-employed taxpayer paid an average $444 to put his taxes together.

That takes a chunk out of the refunds most taxpayers receive. IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman told Congress last week that as of March 29 the agency had issued about 70 million refunds, worth an average of $2,467 each. The tax agency expects to process nearly 140 million individual returns this year.

The taxpayers union report estimated that, using an hourly compensation rate of $26, the value of time lost compiling tax returns was $92.6 billion. More directly, individual taxpayers spend almost $28 billion on software, tax preparers, postage and other out-of-pocket costs.

The Associated Press contributed to this report



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