My favorite Italian restaurant lies nestled in a bustling street in the Bronx. Like many red-sauce family-style establishments that have existed for generations, this restaurant -- which I'll decline to identify -- accepts cash only and doesn't bother to present you with a formal bill at meal's end. You more or less have to accept the word of your server that his tabulations are accurate. It's rumored that server jobs at the place are so hard to secure that you literally have to be left one in a will.
Places like this probably don't fly very high on the radar screen of the Internal Revenue Service. Or maybe they do, but the field agents are regulars as well. But it would seem almost sacrilegious for anything or anyone to change its long-standing tradition -- even if they occasionally forget to log a bottle of wine or dish of osso bucco on their 1040.
Turning nearly 180 degrees from teaming platters of mussels fra diavolo or chicken scapariello, is a proposal from Senate Finance Committee chair Chuck Grassley to put an end to another tradition -- one that we're not quite so proud of.
The Iowa Republican last week proposed to help stamp out employees of the world's "oldest profession" by levying taxes on pimps and prostitutes and sending them to jail if they don't pay.
Grassley's bill also calls for more time in jail for workers in the largely cash-only sex trade.
Grassley's proposal would subsequently authorize some $2 million toward establishing another office at the IRS' Division of Criminal Investigation -- a unit that would work toward prosecuting those who are, well, gainfully employed in that line of work.
Under current guidelines, the IRS has to prove, for example, a pimp's or streetwalker's income before going after them on any tax law violations.
Under the Grassley proposal, a pimp would receive up to 10 years as a guest of the government for each member of his, ahem, stable, for whom he hasn't filed a W-2.
Now, not to make light of a serious and often sickening situation, but I'm trying to envision a Super Fly-type pulling his Escalade over and diligently filing W-2s for employees named Ginger, Misty and Blaze, before the April 15 deadline -- provided he doesn't need to file for an extension.
Now I'm sure the senior lawmaker's intentions are sincere, but somewhere along the line reality has to set in. Threatening prison for failure to file W-2s isn't going to stop or even dent a business that has been booming for roughly 5,000 years.
And we certainly don't need to add yet another office to the IRS.
Yet I doubt most folks would argue that working to eliminate or reduce the street trade is a good thing -- by any means necessary.
But should someone propose a similar bill affecting cash-only red-sauce restaurants, I'm sure there'd be more than a few angry diners -- and yours truly would be at the front of the line.
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