Once again it is time for my annual helpful tax advice column. This year's Timely Tax Tip Topic is: "What to Do if You Are Called In for an Audit, Aside From Drugs." But before we get to that, let me just state how very pleased I am to report that the Internal Revenue Service has straightened out the little problem it was having wherein some employes, trying desperately to meet their Production Quotas, were throwing away incoming tax returns without opening them. Really. One employe actually flushed tax returns down the toilet. Of course when the IRS computer found out about this, it was just furious. It fired off a whole batch of angry letters to the taxpayers in question ("WE HAVE DESTROYED YOUR TAX RETURN WITHOUT OPENING IT. SEND US ANOTHER ONE IMMEDIATELY, OR WE'LL THROW YOU IN JAIL.")
The reason the IRS computer must be so firm with delinquent taxpayers such as these is that the government needs all the money it can get to balance its budget. The government is now operating under an entirely new concept, the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings Amazing Budget-Balancing Act, under which if we taxpayers fail to send in enough money, the government has to CUT SPENDING, both Defense and Social, which of course would mean we'd all die instantly from a combination of Russians and starvation. We could even reach the point -- I don't wish to alarm you, but we have to be aware of the danger -- where we'd see A CUTBACK IN NEWSLETTERS FROM OUR CONGRESSMEN.
Speaking of which, I think these would be much more cost-effective if they were delivered in bulk via Air Force bombers. Under the current system, they go willy-nilly to everybody in the district, which means a lot of them are wasted on people who already support the congressman. But with bombers, he could specifically target areas where, according to election returns, the voters opposed him. So one minute Mr. and Mrs. Opposition Voter would be enjoying a quiet evening at home watching bullets enter cocaine dealers in slow motion on "Miami Vice," and the next minute a 600-pound bale of cheerful upbeat congressional newsletters would come crashing through their recreation room ceiling, along with a little note stating:
"SUPPORT CONGRESSMAN ED LUNGER, OR NEXT TIME, THIS COULD BE A BALE OF CAMPAIGN BUTTONS WITH THOSE SHARP LITTLE PINS STICKING OUT. THANK YOU."
I bet that would bring Mr. and Mrs. Opposition Voter around in a hurry.
I don't want to alarm anybody, but according to my calculations, we have digressed so far from the original point of this column that if we try for a smooth transition, we won't have enough fuel to get back. Everybody hang on.
What other reforms has the IRS made, besides no longer flushing returns down the toilet? Well, for one thing, it has beefed up the Taxpayer Intimidation Unit, whose job is to choose taxpayers at random and send them Form 5049-U, which is your standard Unintelligible Vaguely Menacing Form Letter. I get these regularly. They look like this:
"YOUR SOCIAL SECURITY NUMBER: 171-92-4544
SQUARE ROOT OF YOUR SOCIAL SECURITY NUMBER: 13,112
WHICH, WHEN WE ADD UP THE DIGITS, GIVES US: 8
WHICH, MULTIPLIED BY THE LIFE SPAN OF THE LONGEST LIVED MOLLUSK (THE OCEAN QUAHOG, 220 YEARS) GIVES US: 1,760
IF YOU HAVE ANY QUESTIONS, DIAL YOUR FINGER DOWN TO A BLOODY STUMP THE SIZE OF A TOOTSIE ROLL SEGMENT IN AN EFFORT TO CONTACT THE TAXPAYER ASSISTANCE UNIT BY TELEPHONE, OR WRITE US ON WATER-SOLUBLE PAPER."
When I get these letters, I ask myself: What are they saying? Are they saying I owe them $1,760? Are they saying they owe me $1,760? So my procedure is to send them copies of every form I have ever sent them since I was a junior counselor at Camp Sharparoon, and that usually quiets them down for a couple of months. But not always. Once, a few years back, they sent me a letter that seemed to be suggesting I owed them $130. So we had this lengthy correspondence. I would write them a letter saying, essentially, "WHY do I owe you $130?" And they would send me back a letter saying, essentially, "In response to your question, the amount you owe us is $130." We kept this up for almost two years, and then suddenly, out of the blue -- this is the truth -- they sent me, with no explanation, a check for $7.
Of course, I never cashed it. It's probably a trick. They probably have undercover agents at my bank at all times, lounging around, pretending to examine the clock radio you get if you open an individual retirement account, and the instant I cash the $7 check they'll pounce on me like those seagulls that pecked that woman to death in Alfred Hitchcock's excellent thriller "The Birds." "Aha," they'll say (I'm talking about the undercover agents here). "Cashing a federal check for $7, eh, Mr. Barry? Don't you already OWE your goverment $130, which you have NEVER EVEN TRIED TO PAY? How is your government supposed to get the money it needs to help the American farmer, Mr. Barry? And WHAT ABOUT THE ELDERLY?" At this point the elderly, who are in the bank cashing their Social Security checks, will gather around and whap me on the head with their umbrellas. Assuming it's a rainy day.
I see by my digital watch that we barely have time left for our Timely Tax Tip Topic, so I'll just wait here for a moment while you go back to the first paragraph to remind yourself what on earth it was.
Dum da dum, da dum dum.
Okay! As any competent accountant will tell you, your wisest move, if you get called in for an audit, is to take along plenty of dog treats. To achieve maximal taxpayer cooperation, the current IRS policy is to have most audits conducted by highly trained German shepherd dogs. What they do is sniff around the suspected taxpayer, paw through his records, etc., and if they sense that something might be amiss, they bare their teeth and snarl to indicate they want to see additional documentation. The key is to remain very calm, move slowly and never raise your voice, even if they make doots on your W-2. Remember: They are just trying to do their jobs.