Before the economic crisis hit Europe, I observed during a trip that many Greek businesses wanted to be paid in cash only. I didn’t think much of it at the time; if anything, I figured they were being niggardly about the credit card fees. Later when that country’s unmanageable debt was revealed, I read that the insistence on cash had to do with avoiding paying taxes, a contagion that had infected Greece’s whole economy.
What you don’t see in the news are a lot of Greeks offering explanations for skipping out on what they owe. Some American welchers, though, tell a different story.
Of course, there have always been the tax protesters, who for one strained reason or another claim income tax is unconstitutional or otherwise wrong. But even Ron Paul, who wants to eliminate income tax and repeal the Sixteenth Amendment to the Constitution, hasn’t made a big issue out of it during his presidential primary run, probably on the theory that you have to pick your battles. (I was a little surprised that the Occupy Wall Street movement never generated a new wave of tax protests, since one of the key items of complaint was the lower rate of taxation for capital gains than for earned income. But that’s another story.)
Anyhow, if you’re not running for President, there’s no need to be shy about not paying up. Some of us even get help and encouragement from dodgy accountants, like United Revenue Service Inc., a tax preparation firm accused of filing false income tax returns for clients. Hey, if it’s so easy for these knowledgeable folks to help me hide my income in secret overseas bank accounts, it must be OK, right?
Matt Lynch, a Republican politician in Ohio with a history of property tax delinquencies, is a classic example of the habitual offender, having used several tried-and-true excuses over the years. Family illness. Clerical error. No surprise, it’s local Democrats bringing all this up now. But really. You get one “clerical error.” After that we have a problem.
The owner of a sushi restaurant in the Washington, DC area is using another strategy, the “oh, you don’t want to hear all these boring details” parry. Why does the business owe $840,000 in back taxes? “It’s actually a long, long story,” laughs Daisuke Utagawa, a co-owner of Sushiko. “At the moment, I’d really rather not talk about it.”
At least he’s willing to talk about not wanting to talk about it. Gigantically successful singer R. Kelly has apparently not yet offered any explanation for why, according to reports, he owes $4.8 million in back taxes. One might infer the usual excuse for entertainers: Thrust into the limelight of fast and loose living and big paydays, they trust their new fortunes to managers who may be incompetent or dishonest.
Elusive singer Lauryn Hill might be breaking that musicians’ mold. Accused of not filing income tax returns for three years in a row, she’s charging into the 1099 breach with an impressive excuse. For “several years,” she says, she has “remained what others would consider underground,” alluding to unspecified threats to herself and her family. “I conveyed all of this when questioned as to why I did not file taxes during this time period. Obviously, the danger I faced was not accepted as reasonable grounds for deferring my tax payments, as authorities, who despite being told all of this, still chose to pursue action against me, as opposed to finding an alternative solution.”
Nice try, Lauryn. You can use all the formal terminology you want (“conveyed all this,” “reasonable grounds for deferring,” “alternative solution”), but you’re still a tax dodger, and evidently not an artful one. Even mobsters file tax returns (on their legitimate income).
But I guess it’s easy to get miseducated when it comes to citizenship. Lauryn Hill, you may be a fine singer, but you’re no Tony Soprano.