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Elder Statesman: IRS incident reaffirms right way to do taxes

March 25, 2019

EDITOR’S NOTE: The columns of Bill Duncan are being reprinted in The News-Review. Duncan, who died in November 2011, wrote a weekly column for The News-Review and The Capital Press of Salem from 1981 to 2011. Duncan wrote the following column in April 2002. His thoughts are still pertinent to today.

Did you ever study the pronoun “theirs?” Take it apart like children do in finding words within words.

What will you find? The IRS.

Come Monday, April 15, and you will discover it is theirs, even though you thought it was yours. My wife, like me, is a journalist, but she once confessed to me that she really wanted to be an accountant.

She proves that every year when she does the Duncan taxes. The only year she didn’t do the taxes was a time when we were in business together and the taxes, she felt, were too complicated. We hired a CPA.

That’s the only time we’ve ever been audited.

The CPA listed only three of our five children as dependents, but claimed all five as exemptions. For some reason that rang the big bell in Ogden, Utah.

I was living in Fullerton, California, at the time, so my notice of an audit required me to show up in Los Angeles. I dutifully met my appointment with a suitcase full of documentation, including a letter from the CPA admitting the error. It was a pleasant experience with the IRS person making notations on a yellow legal pad and assuring me that our documentation and the letter from the CPA had corrected the problem.

She even sent a letter to my home stating that fact.

Three months later, however, I received a second summons, this time to the IRS in Santa Ana, California. I made another appointment with the tax auditor.

The day I arrived at the IRS office, I was informed the person I had the appointment with was ill and so I would have to make a new appointment.

At this point my American independence tossed the IRS tea over the side. I demanded taxation with representation. I was reassigned an auditor on the spot.

The auditor came into the room chewing gum. She looked over her notes and said:

“Well Mr. Duncan, it seems you don’t know how many children you have.”

The whole shipload of tea was dumped into the IRS waters.

“Yes. I know how many children I have and if you’ll spit that gum out, I will show you their birth certificates.”

Along with the birth certificates I produced a letter from the IRS in Los Angeles stating that my records had been examined and were in order. The gum-chewing auditor apologized and said my second summons was a mistake.

My wife, the frustrated journalist who wanted to be an accountant, went back to doing our annual taxes.

Me? I just make sure I am out of the house when she starts doing taxes.

If it were up to me, I would pack all the receipts and records in a box and ship them to the IRS in Washington, D.C., with a note instructing the agency it’s THEIRS, so figure it out. On a journalist’s salary, that shouldn’t be too complicated.

Back in California I traded at a gas station owned by Buck Smith. One day I was in the station gassing up my car when an IRS auditor pulled a surprise visit demanding his records.

Smith said to him, “All the records are in that shed out-back.”

The IRS man demanded he produce them.

“No,” Smith said. “I am only required to keep them. They are in that shed waiting for you.”

The IRS man walked out to the shed and peeked in at the oil and grease stained boxes thick with cobwebs, but correctly marked IRS records.

He studied the situation for a few minutes and then he returned to the station office.

“Mr. Smith, your records are in perfect order.” That proved to me that the IRS people are human after all.

This year my wife assigned me the task of mailing the tax returns. The feds required that we send money. When my wife wrote the check, she commented:

“It is a price I willingly pay for not being forced to wear a burka.”