Today feels like Monday, and I am ready to set out with purpose, tackle everything that needs to be taken care of before my Friday morning meeting with my accountant, five long days from now . . . but then it turns out it’s Wednesday, and I now have two days to do four days’ worth of work.
I’m sure most of you feel quite different than me on this subject, but I for one really don’t enjoy getting sick. Dr. Pimple Popper aside, the days are just wasted. Kara keeps telling me I’m not missing much at work, but I am: Jan. 31 is starting to loom large, and I need any number of things filed, catalogued and/or reported by then.
Governments of every size love collecting forms from businesses. The bigger your business is, it seems, the more it exists for the privilege of the shareholders and less for the taxpayers, but if you’re a small (micro) business like Pat’s Screen Printing, governments want a piece of you. Lots of pieces, and every one of them with a form.
Let’s take the company I heard about just last night, Delta Airlines. Because it didn’t have to ground any of its fleet last year, because it hadn’t “updated” to Boeing’s Airmax 737 that essentially got pulled off the shelves, just like a food recall, it was so darn profitable that it is awarding bonuses to its employees of $1.6 billion (with a B). I’m not clear how the distribution goes, but the report said it would be the equivalent of about two months’ pay for everyone.
While I don’t want to begrudge their ramp workers, of which I was one once, anything, I did wonder why they didn’t consider any sort of price rollback for customers. It’s like the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center, an alleged non-profit that rakes in so much money that it doesn’t seem to know what to do with all of it other than build more buildings. Here’s a thought: cut back on your prices. But that’s just me being delusional again.
Although Pat’s Screen Printing doesn’t have any Airmaxes in its fleet, we do not have to worry about having so much profit we don’t know what to do with it. Instead, I will give it to others, most of them governments.
We’ll start at the municipal level. The City of Gunnison, like many municipalities around the country, runs on sales tax. Instead of extracting items like coal from the ground, we generally thrive these days by extracting money from the wallets of tourists. And tourists and locals alike pay the city 4% of every purchase made within city limits to the City of Gunnison.
This is done through an intermediary like Pat’s. You buy something; we tax it. We hold that tax money until the 20th of every month, at which point I fill out a form accounting for all my sales, not just the taxable ones. We do a lot of work for exempt entities, such as the city itself, but the city still wants to know how much my sales were there as well. So I tell the city everything.
For tracking all this, which my accountant tells me I do more assiduously (read: more time-consuming) than most, I have to have a license. And while the fee is nominal, every year when I go to pay it, I think about my friend who can’t figure out why we have to pay the city when it’s a service we are doing for the city. Why aren’t they paying us to collect on their behalf?
The city does offer me a “vendor’s fee,” and Gunnison’s is more generous than most: of the tax I collect, I can keep 4 percent. Four percent of the 4 percent. This does not pay for the time I spend on tax reporting, plus it gets booked as income, so I suppose I ultimately get taxed on it. It’s a weird system.
The county also charges sales tax, 1 percent, and when I was on the farmers’ market board I unwittingly unleashed an entire controversy about this. All I wanted to know was what rate our vendors should be taxing food. The city taxes everything, including food; the state is happy to collect sales tax from restaurants and bars, but leaves grocery items alone, the thought being that this would be a punitive cost on people without much money who nonetheless need to eat.
The county, it turned out, had no idea whether it taxed food or not, and it further turned out that one of our groceries had been taxing food for the county, while the other had not. (Despite this “discount,” it was still perceived as the more expensive grocery.) And then I got taken to task by that grocery, after the county decided it did want to tax food, because the store had to reconfigure all its tax rates. All I did was ask what I thought was a simple question.
Then we have a Rural Transportation Authority, which used to tax .35% inside the city of Gunnison and 1% outside it. Now it taxes 1% everywhere, which meant that grocery had to reconfigure its tax rates again, but this time I wasn’t held personally responsible — although I did vote to continue the RTA tax, which was going to sunset and take with it not only our free bus to and from Crested Butte, but also the senior bus that has been a real boon to many of our elders, several of whom, I note perhaps cynically, likely voted against the tax that now gives them access to medical appointments, shopping and entertainment.
The State of Colorado, which must purposely pay people to develop the most labyrinthian websites they can manage, also wants sales tax, 2.9 percent. (So, if you’re doing math and want to buy something in Gunnison, Colorado, you will pay an additional 8.9% on your purchase. Those of us who are residents thank you, I’m sure.)
But that’s just sales tax. Then there are payroll taxes, due on the 15th of each month and remitted to both the state and the federal government. Both of these entities, in their infinite wisdom, this year completely reconfigured the form that employees fill out to tell me how much to take out of their paychecks. And while it appears that the intent on both was to simplify things, this is of course not how the new forms worked out.
For instance, some employees, like students who don’t necessarily expect to make a lot of money, can mark themselves “exempt.” They still have to pay Social Security and Medicare taxes (all of which must be matched by the employer at the employer’s expense), but they don’t have to have state and federal taxes withheld if they just expect to get that money returned. If you file “exempt,” you are supposed to fill out a new W-4 every year. Guess what category can’t be found anywhere on the new W-4?
And then we could discuss the withholding tables, which this year are all over the map and a point for conversation with my accountant on Friday, which is not five days away like I’m thinking, but only three.
I have barely warmed up in my rant about governmental forms, and here I am, near the end of my word count (to your immense relief), but don’t you worry: this could consume the rest of my week, short as it is.