This Dave Barry column was originally published April 13, 2008
Taxpayers: It's almost April 15, and you know what that means. It means the Miami Dolphins already have been mathematically eliminated from the pennant race.
But its also time to file your federal tax return. Yes, this is a pesky chore, but remember that paying taxes is not a "one-way street." When you send your money to the government, the government, in return, provides you with vital services, such as not putting you in prison. The government also uses your money to pay for programs that benefit all Americans, such as the Catfish Genome Project.
I am not making this project up. According to a group called Citizens Against Government Waste, the United States Congress (motto: "Hey, It's Not OUR Money") is giving $871,854 to researchers at Auburn University in Alabama so they can develop a better catfish. Now if you ask me, the way to improve on the current model of catfish is to make it look less like a hostile life form from the Planet Klorb, and more like Nemo. But the goal of the Catfish Genome Project, as I understand it, is to create a bigger, stronger catfish, a Shaquille O'Neal catfish that can stand up (so to speak) to global competition from foreign catfish.
Perhaps you wonder why this project is being financed by taxpayers, as opposed to the catfish industry. The answer is that the Catfish Genome Project is crucial to achieving a vital national goal that we all share: reelecting the Alabama congresspersons who stuck it in the federal budget. THE U.S. OF BYRD
And this is only one teeny example of the ways in which your tax dollars help congresspersons stay in office. The entire state of West Virginia is covered with a dense layer of federally funded buildings named after Sen. Robert Byrd, who will still be in office centuries after his death, which for all we know has already occurred. There is no end to the list of projects that congress- persons would like you to finance so that they can take the credit. According to Citizens Against Government Waste, this year Congress is spending more than $17 billion on earmark, or "pork, " projects, including:
* $372,375 to study the management of pig manure;
* $188,000 for something called the "Lobster Institute";
* $183,705 for asparagus technology, and
* $150 to have a guy come clean out your garage.
I'm kidding about that last one, of course. The federal government has no time for your problems! It's busy managing pig manure.
My point is that, as you do your taxes, you should remember where your tax dollars are going, and recognize that you, as a citizen, have a moral obligation to prepare your tax return with the same degree of conscientiousness that Congress exhibits in spending your money. So let's get started on your taxes! Heres a step-by-step guide:
Step one is to gather together your tax forms, your financial records, and, if you plan to itemize your deductions, at least two liters of vodka.
Step two is to go through all of your receipts, separate the ones that are for tax-deductible expenses, and mail them to me, because I need some. The way my accounting system works is, when I get home at night, I take off my pants. (Usually inside the house.) If I find what might be tax-related documents in my pockets, I put them into a two-ply grocery bag labeled TAXES.
At tax time, I go through this bag, hoping to find receipts that say things like, "BUSINESS SUPPLIES TO BE USED FOR BUSINESS -- $417.23." Instead, I find some ticket stubs for Shrek the Third and several hundred wadded-up snippets of paper on which the only legible printing says "Thank You." Now, because I am mentioning Shrek the Third in this column, I can legally deduct the $10 cost of my ticket, plus a large popcorn, which I estimate cost $53, for a total of $63, or, rounding off, $250. But that still leaves me a little short of what I need, deductionwise. TIME TO DRINK
This is where the vodka comes in. If you go to the official Internal Revenue Service site on the Internet (www.irs.gov) and start poking around among the thousands and thousands of forms, instructions, bulletins, etc., you would be amazed at the range of deduction options. For example, according to IRS Rev. Proc. 2006-50, certain individuals recognized by the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission may deduct up to $10,000 for whaling expenses. Could this deduction apply to you? Think about it! I, personally, have done many things that I later could not remember; being a recognized Eskimo whaler would not be the weirdest of these. So go ahead! Find an empty box on your 1040 form and write "Harpoons -- $9,990." (Don't claim the full $10,000, because that might arouse IRS suspicion.)
Also, if you are an ostrich rancher, you can claim the depreciation on your ostriches. The IRS doesn't give an exact amount, so let's say for the sake of argument that your ostriches have depreciated to the tune of $4,800, or, rounding off, $17,000. If the IRS questions this figure, explain that you had to start raising ostriches because you were unable to make ends meet with just the whaling. That way your story is basically airtight.
See how easy it is? In no time, your tax return will be covered with deductions, not to mention drool. Be sure to mail your return in a timely manner, because this year, filing taxpayers will receive an Economic Stimulus Payment. This is a very exciting new program that I will explain using the Q and A format:
Q. What is an Economic Stimulus Payment?
A. It is money that the federal government will send to taxpayers.
Q. Where will the government get this money?
A. From taxpayers.
Q. So the government is giving me back my own money?
A. Only a smidgen.
Q. What is the purpose of this payment?
A. The plan is that you will use the money to purchase a high-definition TV set, thus stimulating the economy.
Q. But isnt that stimulating the economy of China?
A. Shut up.
In conclusion, I hope this tax guide has been helpful. If you follow my advice, and the IRS asks you where you got your information, remember to give them my full name, George Will. Good luck!
And now, if you'll excuse me, I need to harpoon an ostrich.
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