It's frustrating for us tax professionals to be sitting around this time of the year with plenty we could be doing but little we actually can do on the filing 2011 season. The many-faceted reason boils down to congressional inaction trying to score political points causing IRS to work furiously programming its computers to conform to the new laws the lame-duck Congress passed the last minute.
For example, IRS hopes those who itemize deductions (and other categorical examples) will be able to file by mid-February but can't guarantee it. The manufacturers of the computerized programs that preparers use are reprogramming their software to include the changes. The program I pay well over $1,000 a year for is automatically downloading updates into a basic program they already shipped and into the files of clients we've rolled over into that skeleton 2010 program.
All this doesn't help taxpayers (Hall County has tens of thousands). Late filers get penalties and interest unless they file extensions. If they file extensions, that doesn't extend the due date of taxes they might owe in excess of withholding, credits and estimated payments.
Regardless of how hard and long preparers work, they physically can do only so many returns a day, and probably will be interrupted numerous times daily by anxious clients wanting to know the status of their returns, further slowing them and possibly causing errors.
The one task Congress is mandated to do each year is pass the fiscal year budget, which is broken into 13 separate bills. Oct. 1 should be a reasonable deadline that would give programmers ample time. Not a single one of those 13 were passed before adjournment just before Christmas. They kept the government going a few weeks with a continuing resolution keeping spending at the 2010 budget. This is unacceptable.
First off, Congress should pass a quick bill extending this year's due date from April 18 to the end of the month following when IRS certifies that its reprogramming is complete. There should be no penalties or interest for failing to pay on time. Taxpayers and their preparers can do only so much.
Secondly, Congress ought to pass another bill requiring completion of the budget by Oct. 1 each year starting 2011. That's their must-do job. If they don't complete it, cut off their own salaries until IRS certifies completion of the reprogramming Congress caused the inexcusable delay, and their pay shouldn't be made up. They LOSE it, permanently. Period.
Were that law, you can bet they'd do that mandated job in a timely fashion. Our own U.S. Rep. Tom Graves would set a popular example if he would introduce and push such legislation himself. Do it, Tom. Same goes for our national leaders.
Something you can do: Write our congressman, U.S. senators, House speaker and even president urging this be passed.
The new majority of the Hall County Commission raised a hornet's nest and created a public relations fiasco when before the full commission voted on it effectively sacked the county administrator, attorney and fiscal officer. Whether it will produce the results the trio of Ashley Bell, Craig Lutz and Scott Gibbs claim won't be answered until the results are in one way or the other.
Moving the North Hall library from Nopone Road was expected and though it will be closer to far fewer people, it may have saved a victory in a coming SPLOST election. Rightly or wrongly, many people across the county felt it had been promised to Clermont. The early months of the new commission will be interesting.
Ted Oglesby is retired associate and opinion editor of The Times. His column appears biweekly on Tuesdays and on gainesvilletimes.com. You can contact him at P.O. Box 663, Gainesville, GA 30503.