Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Horrigan: A Coded Message from the IRS: Buy a Big New TV

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Horrigan: A Coded Message from the IRS: Buy a Big New TV

Article excerpt

Thrills are hard to come by these days, but last month the Internal Revenue Service sent me a $724 refund check for my 2013 taxes.

Unfortunately, the IRS did not owe me $724. I had owed the IRS $724, which I paid in March. And yes, I have the canceled check. So what should be a thrill has turned into a problem.

I have been carrying around the $724 IRS refund check for several weeks now. My tax guy told me just to hold onto it, because sooner or later, the IRS would figure out its mistake. He's a smart guy, but I'm thinking the IRS collected more than $2.5 trillion last year. What are the odds that it's going to figure out it's $724 short?

Also, my eyes aren't that great any more and I'd like to have a bigger TV. I've found one that I like and by sheer coincidence, $724 would cover it almost to the penny.

Maybe the government would like it if I stimulated the economy by $724 and purchased this TV. I could call it Freedom! In that case, it might be better to buy an AR-15 instead and terrorize a Chipotle. People carrying TVs in public don't frighten anyone.

It's possible that the government might rather spend the $724 itself on some fresh bullets or food stamps or a health care subsidy. Maybe it could buy an airline ticket for my congressman so he can check in with his constituents.

But my representative in Congress is William Lacy Clay, who might prefer that I buy my TV a week at a time at one of those rent-to- own places that donate to his election campaign. With the vig, I could wind up spending several thousand bucks for a $724 TV, but Lacy would not lack for campaign funds.

You combine Catholic guilt with a job writing about politics and tax policy, it takes all the fun out of a $724 tax windfall.

I frequently quote Justice Holmes to the effect that taxes are what we pay for a civilized society. But when Justice Holmes wrote that in 1927, TV was just getting off the ground. If he had known I had a chance at a sleek and smart $724 50-inch LED flat-screen high- def beauty, surely he would have thought differently.

The estimable David Cay Johnston, a Pulitzer Prize-winning tax journalist, recently wrote that thanks to cuts in the IRS enforcement budget, "there's never been a better time to cheat on your taxes. …

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