Twenty years ago, somewhere in the bowels of an auditor's office in the New York State Department of Taxation, was most likely a poster bearing a likeness of yours truly with the words "tax cheat" emblazoned across the bottom.
At least in my mind I was sure there was. Why else would I get letters threatening paycheck garnishments and possible fines and imprisonment over a $575 dispute in state taxes?
Years later, my tax preparer would warn me, "Bill, you can reason with the IRS but not with New York."
For those of you not familiar with government proceedings in the Empire State, it may be hard to fathom and even harder to appreciate. But for those New Yorkers, especially those who lived downstate circa the 1960s through the 1980s, and were forced to undergo the "hurry up and wait" process in order to receive a driver’s license, or apply for some type of state permit, you probably can feel my pain.
After the humbling experiences of being sardined behind an elaborate roping system just to reach the information window at the Department of Motor Vehicles, I could only imagine what bureaucratic evil lurked behind the doors in Albany at the state’s department of taxation.
Needless to say I lost my case with New York in the early 1980s – although ‘relented’ is probably more accurate. I was given a court date but I soon realized that it was more economic and probably reduced my chances of a future audit to just pay the tax and move on.
Fast forward to 2002. Another problem with the tax people in New York.
This time the dispute involved my wife who works in neighboring Connecticut. I won’t bore you with the details, but my state examiners determined that she paid no taxes to New York – despite it being painfully obvious on her W-2 that she had. As a result, they subtracted the amount in question from our refund.
Cut and dried case right? Nope. I was told that a review would take a minimum of seven months. Like an old anti-government radical who assimilated into society, I was afraid they’d dredge up my past tax peccadilloes.
Imagine my surprise when a pleasant sounding gentleman called about seven months later, apologized for the delay and informed me that "we have found in your favor." He said we should be getting a check shortly "with interest" and was "sorry for any inconvenience."
I pinched myself. Was I dreaming? Did my regular coffee guy slip something in? This couldn’t be the tax man. To compound my incredulity he reminded me to have "a great day."
So this is the new tax department? I certainly hope it lasts.
Come to think of it, my driver’s license need to be renewed and I was just wondering…….
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