Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Pennyslvania Tax. Amnesty Commercial

Wow. No, there is no Big Brother :O&
"We know where you are Tom, and will put a horse's head in your bed if you don't send money by June"

This was a real commercial, aired in Pennsylvania:


  1. Let me quote myself, from my remarks on another blog (Althouse) about this video....

    "Tell you what...that's a great ad! Cautionary and direct, without being thuggish. My state would never be so polite or give anything like those breaks. My state is a spendthrift, too...but that's not the point here. Trust me, they DO know where you live.

    Now I don't know how many of you have had serious (6 figures) issues with taxing authorities (civil penalties, not tax arrears) but let me tell you...100% off "penalty" and 50% off "interest" is one hell of a good deal.

    Unless one owns nothing and has little income, it is the best deal you can get....unless you can beat the statutes of limitations, if there are any.

  2. That may be a good deal, but having the state tell me "We know who you are and we know where you live" is downright scarey to me.

    As I have pointed out before, the state also knows how you vote (it isn't as secret as all that).

    The message I get from this ad is "You'd better keep in line you little peon or we will crush you."

    What's this about a "Bill of Rights" I keep hearing about?

  3. It's a great deal, but the ad sends chills up my spine. Damn.

  4. The advertisement is nothing about crushing "peons" nor Big Brother. It is about personal responsibility, one of which is paying your fair share of taxes. Nobody "likes' paying taxes, but pay them they must. Just because some weasels, both rich and poor, get away with evasion is not justification for some one else to evade. "Avoidance" is an institutionalized American pastime, however, evasion is a criminal act.

    If I fault our American tax system for anything it would be its lack of transparency and hidden taxes and fees....followed by its bizarre complexity.

    The "deal" Pennsylvania is offering is almost the perfect deal, bested only by one that cuts interest by 100% also, or one that recognizes virtual bankruptcy. Bankruptcy can't be accommodated because of the abuse it would engender, same as child support payment relief.

    Now I've been to the battlefield with tax authorities myself and I'll tell you right now that Pennsylvania's plan will generate more voluntary compliance than more drastic measures, which don't get vetted on air or on-line. It is a frank statement of a way to avoid the worst hassle and step up. More power to whomever created the advertisement.

    Get over this idea that "they know where you are" as a threat. Of course they know where you are, and they have known, more or less, since the day you were born. If you get a paycheck or income from any source, it is reported. If you deposit in to any bank or utilize any credit card, it is reported above certain thresholds, which may be lowered from time to time by "targeting orders" if federal, because it is necessary for policing money laundering which is related directly to drug trade or other illegal enterprise.

    If you feel evasion is cute, then you must not mind if you get robbed yourself...that is what you are doing to your neighbors when you intentionally evade your tax responsibility.

    If you feel your tax burden is too high, there is the ballot box for addressing that, even recall campaigns.

    BTW, even though bankruptcy doesn't dismiss tax arrears due, there is still a mechanism that effects it...they are called statutes of limitations, necessary so that government doesn't continually carry bads debt on their books as "assets" or "receivables' far beyond practical time frames.

  5. Ari, I don't think anyone thinks evasion is "cute"... I do think the ad pretty explicitly invokes "Big Brother" - actually the closest match would be the movie Enemy of the State with the whole satellite angle - and I don't think that's cute at all.

    Yes, we know they know who the delinquents are. So why invoke fear of the state? Maybe to intimidate people who have a legitimate dispute into settling?

    When the people fear the state more than the state fears the people, can we really have democracy?

  6. I should add two things:

    1) I agree with Ari the amnesty program is a good idea and a good deal - for those who genuinely owe.

    2) While I maintain that the "Big Brother" subtext in the ad is present, I'd also observe that it's somewhat downplayed - the announcer's voice is feminine (less threatening), and her tone is mildly snarky, not harsh and threatening. I'd cite this as evidence that the Big Brother overtones were conscious, and consciously modulated.

    All in all, I can see how the people who made it were aiming at it being a public service announcement masquerading as a self-parody of a menace. They probably did think it was "cute". I don't find it so.

  7. I read yesterday that millions of dollars are pouring in because of this ad, so I guess it's working.

    When I was in business, I don't know how many times I had to bid against people who were unlicensed and who paid no taxes of any kind (including payroll taxes). I'd sure like to see THEM pay their fair share.

    We should all be taxed on what we spend, not what we earn. It's the only way to ensure that everyone contributes. The gov't wouldn't have to deal with individuals, but only with the businesses collecting the tax.

    Uh oh...did I just suggest downsizing and simplifying the federal government? Silly me. :D

  8. I agree that people should not be evading their responsibilities -- but the loudest message I heard from that spot was "Ve know vere you live."

    I also find it irritating that, I'm sure, there are many places in Pennsylvania where crime is so bad you would not want to go anywhere near them but little is done to clean it up -- but if you are behind on your taxes, you're gonna get your door kicked in.

    And how much you want to bet that the Timothy Geithners of Pennsylvania are not going to loose a lick of sleep over this?

    There are many ways the state could have presented this, but using the image of the all-powerful state with a satellite image of someone's home is downright frightening.

  9. RadioMattM.....

    I think we agree in principle about taxes. However, I think you are viscerally reacting to the message means more than reality. Fact is anyone, from benign acquaintance to murderous enemy, if they know your address, can do exactly the same thing using Google Earth. Even if they know only your name, they can deduce your address from various "finder" sites on line, then use Google Earth.

    I doubt you'd get your door kicked in, initially, if you negotiated with the tax authority in good faith. Now Geithner was quick to do so once his transgression was revealed. Anyone can do that by amending their return(s) and paying the shortfall. The authority then bills you for the interest and penalty. How much of the latter Geithner escaped, if he did, I don't know. He may have been given special treatment due to his government appointment, but he did have to pay the taxes or he would have been charged.

    One "club" the tax authorities hold over you is the difference between "avoidance" (simple reporting error)versus "evasion" (intentional deception). File amended returns and fulfill your obligation, it stays simple avoidance made whole. Play games and deny the obvious, it turns criminal immediately, and if you continue, yep, the door might get kicked in.

    Even if you do amend a return and pay up the principal, the tax folks may visit you with voluntary admission to your premises if you give it. Good idea to do so. I've done it multiple times while engaged in the "debate." The reason they do so is potential that you may still be covering up something and they want to assure themselves you are now being straight up....e.g., providing full disclosure.

    They may also do a life style audit of your affairs...e.g., you got a Bentley parked in your drive way and drive it daily, while living in a 8,000 SF McMansion, and reporting a $42,000 income? You have annual remittance to credit card providers that exceeds your ordinarily disposable income? And so forth.

    It is nothing to fear if you're hiding nothing, and making amends for a prior error. If you're operating on the "not a crime till caught" basis, you might have a problem.

    In Geithner's case I assure you he did NOT use the Turbo Tax excuse with the IRS, as a defense and grounds for withholding payment, but used it in public statements because he figures everyone is a dunce except him...he is a dick after all.

  10. I should add that the state of Pennsylvania is using the ad as a reminder with teeth, while illuminating the benefits (discounts on interest and penalty...a good thing) that "dodgers" might not be aware of...literally because it is human nature to deny stuff until a light shines on it. It prods the recalcitrant to amend and pay up. It's only a "threat" if you have an indiscretion in your past and play the "not a crime until caught" game.

    Once an "amnesty" program is announced it is individual reactions that work best. One thing is certain, if you get a letter, possibly certified mail, alleging you might have messed up something, and you respond with a defense. You are toast...just shut up, pay up, disclose reasonable cause (if you seek to mediate Interest and penalty) and hope for the best vis a vis interest and penalty.

    If you request and are granted a payment plan, meet the terms. Period. By that time you've already admitted enough to determine guilt. A part of any payment plan will be a "net worth and income statement" you fill out. If it looks "dodgey" it will bring more heat. Once you step in to the arena, it a game of punching tar babies. You're stuck.

  11. Lady Red said: "We should all be taxed on what we spend, not what we earn. It's the only way to ensure that everyone contributes. The gov't wouldn't have to deal with individuals, but only with the businesses collecting the tax.

    Uh oh...did I just suggest downsizing and simplifying the federal government? Silly me. :D

    Last thing first: NO, you just proposed making it geometrically larger. Think of it this way, instead of tracking incomes for between 150 and 300 Million folks, you would now be trying to track transactions for all of those folks...the progression is geometrically huge. Nothing possible would increase the IRS reach and size more than a consumption tax...which is by definition, regressive to the core as well.

    Now Nancy P would like your idea, sort of, because it is what a VAT tax is in essence. Realize, of course, that you'd have the national VAT, plus state sales taxes, plus income taxes anyway (taxes seldom "go away"). Want to see it in action? Visit Michigan. We have it all here. Doing well too...we lead the nation in unemployment numbers, 1st of 50...Yay!!

    Next, the first issue...taxes on what? I'd far more prefer a real flat income tax, on every dime acquired by any means, no hockey stick. That would be both a fair tax method and fully transparent to even the lowest income earners, whose taxes would be correspondingly low...while the higher income folk would save and invest. As you work your way up the income chain, you'd know you'll not be penalized for earning more by paying progressively more while others, without much ambition, just get a ride. In short, much less temptation to cheat.

  12. Aridog, I was thinking more along the lines of ONE single tax, collected at the point of sale only. Then the powers-that-be could divvy it up between the city, county, state, and feds.

    I don't know if it's feasible, but at least everyone would be vested in our system.

    But if we're gonna tax income, I like the idea of a flat tax, with no loop holes. :)

  13. Lady Red....I understand your idea, but I contend it would be even more burdensome than our current system...hence a geometric increase in federal enforcement. Point of Sale taxes are among the easiest to scam and hardest to police. Income tax covers potentially 300 million people once a year more or less. A national sales tax would cover 300 million times say, for the purposes of demonstrating scale, 1000 transactions per year...e.g., 300 billion transactions.

    An example is the federal excise tax on motor fuels...18.5 cents per gallon....it became so burdensome to monitor and collect that the Congress and the IRS devised the "Ultimate Vendor" system for tax collection...e.g., the wholesaler pays the tax and a consumer, if exempt, must file quarterly returns for reimbursement...same for the retail vendor. It's fookin' nightmare drill. The government gets your "consumer" money up front and you must apply to get any of it back if deserved. You will note that your receipts for gasoline or diesel fuels, heating fuels, etc., do NOT breakout the tax applied...it is buried in the retail cost to you.

  14. Aridog said: "Point of Sale taxes are among the easiest to scam and hardest to police."

    True, in fact they almost encourage an underground economy. We have two "point of sales" taxes in BC, Provincial Sales Tax, and Federal Goods & Services Tax. You would be surprised (or maybe you wouldn't)at the number of businesses that will flat out offer you a "no tax" deal for cash payment (granted usually on higher priced goods & services). Not advertised of course, but still offered and not by shady dealers but by legitimate going concerns.

  15. I don't like the ad, because I find the tax system incomprehensible. I never know what we're going to owe until we get to the accountant.

    Also, the fines and penalties piss me off tremendously. Not because I don't think people who screw up shouldn't have to pay the piper, but because due to the husband's job we often find ourselves floating money to the gov't for travel and other expenses for MONTHS. It sometimes runs into the thousands (or more). And know what? The government NEVER has to pay us interest or penalties because their accounting is screwy. And that is on MY credit card, so in effect I'm paying the interest for the stupid government. We're OUT money so the husband can do his job.

    So I get it. But I also hate them on principle. Because they're assholes that way.

    PS: I'm not whining about it, for the record. But I probably should go whack on the heavy bag again now that I'm getting all worked up.

  16. Yes, we owe (and dutifully always pay) taxes. However, I found it very creepy with the implied threat - and that's how I read it, how else could "we know where you live" be interpreted?

  17. Hey, I just got back from the dentist, I'm cranky.


  18. Dentist?!? Ack!

    Hope you feel better soon, florrie!

  19. Had they implied a threat WITH A dentist in that commercial, I think everyone would have been up in arms for sure.

    Because that's just terrifying.

  20. Dentist? No problem! Just do what I did last year and go for sedation. Good drugs, great sleep, no pain, no memory, and teeth fixed.


  21. AFW said:"The government NEVER has to pay us interest or penalties because their accounting is screwy."

    I vaguely recall a provision (at least within the Army) where they DID have to pay interest, etc. if they didn't settle travel costs timely. It may only apply to NGO's however.

    I'll do some digging...if I find the citation, I'll forward it by email.

    As for the federal penalties...I do think they are outlandish and would be more effective if less onerous.

    And the tax system IS incomprehensible...but thank Congress, not the IRS. Congress writes gibberish, the IRS is supposed to translate that in to something understandable. Garbage in, garbage out.

    PS: If I were you guys (specifically, in consideration of AFG's job), I'd try Turbo Tax Deluxe, just as a means to estimate, even if you still have a accountant do the final return. It is quite systematic and explains much of the smoke and mirrors. I've used it for years.

  22. Fay....that has been my modus operandi with Dentists for years. Booger DDS can use those nice rubber wedges to keep my jaws open and wake me when it's over.

  23. Look, guys...the reason I find the Pennsylvania advert benign is because I've had to deal with state treasury before on hostile terms. Trust me, most state treasuries make the IRS look like Mary Poppins.

    Good lawdy, they DO know where you live, always have known...that is not threat, it is just fact. Simply put, I thought the Pennsylvania advert was humorous (or humourous).

  24. AFW...another thing, where I understand your irritation on "float." That was one of the primary reasons I turned down sub-contracted work...as proposed, it could have involved "float" of $10K or more at a time if I'd taken the one from the Northwest Division. Northwest Airlines, Avis or Hertz, and Marriott
    would have "owned" me.

  25. If a private company did an ad like this to collect from deadbeats, people in that company would be going to jail and The Messiah would cite is as a reason that government needs to enact stringent rules against companies to protect citizens. But because the benevolent government is threatening me I'm supposed to say "Happy happy joy joy?"

    I do not buy it. I refuse to buy it. Maybe if the government seemed to give a flying fuck about protecting its citizens I might not be as vehemently against it.

  26. RadioMattM....you are perceiving this advert from the perspective of an honest and tax paying citizen. Granted the government doesn't do as much as it should, but it does do some things, and we all utilize those things.

    In short, the advert shouldn't occupy your mind for more than a moment. No reason to give it deep thought. You're honest.

    Now the advert as seen by a tax evader is a warning, as it should be, that they're not so hidden as they think...with the message to pay up sucker, because otherwise you are neighbor bleeding parasite and we will pound your ass for it.

    Which is fine by me.

  27. I think they government goes through a lot of effort to scare the crap out of honest citizens. If the State of Pennsylvania wanted to send letters out to suspected tax evaders telling them that they what they are up to, fine.

    But to make a blanket threat in a medium that a majority of people watch is not acceptable.

    How much crap to we have to take from the government before it becomes too much? "We know you don't always wear your seat belt.""We know you put recyclable material in your garbage.""We know you watch material on YouTube for which royalties have not been paid.""We know you have some incandescent light bulbs in your home."

    It is not acceptable. Period.

  28. Thanks, Fay and Aridog, that's definitely something to consider next time.

  29. "We know you put recyclable material in your garbage."

    You're damn skippy I do. And I laugh every time I do it.

    I was raised to be environmentally conscious without being ridiculous. My Pop made us "pack in/pack out". And given the choice I usually choose to reduce and reuse, because that just makes sense.

    But I've seen the trash truck here put EVERYTHING in the same place; recycling, trash, green waste, etc. I've also been reading up and I know that the recycling methods most used here aren't tremendously effective and cause more pollution than the original garbage.

    Which is the kind of crap that happens when you legislate a solution to something that does not yet have a solution.

    Throwing away recycling makes me feel like I'm sticking it to the man, even if it's silly, childish, and not necessarily true.