Income Tax Troubles
Preacher Drops Fast, Decides To Eat Again
Cincinnati (AP) — A pacifist minister, thinner, pale and hollow-cheeked after a 15-day fast in jail, has started to eat again.
He’s the Rev. Maurice F. McCrackin, slated for trial on a charge he didn’t turn up for a conference on his income taxes.
He decided to end his religious fast at advice of the county jail doctor, who has examined him daily.
Dr. George Musekamp and another physician, Dr. W.D. Lotspeich, University of Cincinnati Medical professor, had advised the minister to break his fast.
Think It Over
The minister had said he would think it over.
The Rev. McCracken has refused to pay part or all of his taxes for 10 years because he says the money helps pay for arms and he believes war is evil.
A friend, Ernest Bromley, who visited the pastor , said he was in good spirits, and seemed in good health.
But Bromley brought bad news to the Presbyterian-Episcopal minister — Episcopal officials want some changes in the church-linked neighborhood house which the Rev. Mr. McCracken directs.
The suggested changes mainly center on the minister resigning his post as director, but not his pastorate.
Episcopal Bishop Henry Wise Hobson conferred with the neighborhood house board Monday night and a board spokesman said he gave them an ultimatum:
Work Out Something
“Get something worked out by .”
The spokesman said that if no change comes by , the Bishop hopes to continue some program at the house, but without the minister or the governing board.
Bromley said, “He (McCracken) knew it (Hobson’s action) was coming, but it didn’t alter his mind at all in doing what he is doing now.
“But he was unhappy about the action because the neighborhood house program is something he’s put a great deal into and wants to see continued.”
Bromley is a former methodist minister at Bath, N.C., who got into somewhat similar trouble during World War Ⅱ when he said he refused to pay a federal auto stamp tax. He said he spent 60 days in Raleigh, N.C., county jail on that in .
Richard Fichter, a Springville, Pa., farmer and friend of both the minister and Bromley, turned up here to lend moral support.
Pickets County Courthouse
He’s been picketing the county courthouse daily since then in the current cold wave, with a sign saying, “I don’t support war taxes either” and “I support McCrackin’s 15-day fast in jail for peace.”
All three are members of a pacifist group here called the Peacemakers, who say they won’t pay part of all their income tax because some is used for war purposes.
Fichter said he’ll continue his picketing until someone else takes over. None has yet appeared.
Fichter said he was also a former methodist minister at Springville but was stripped of his church for his non-taxpaying views.
Many refuse to pay “war tax” on phone bill
Providers go along; IRS frowns, but does little
by M.L. Lyke
For Seattle peace activist Bert Sacks, the monthly act of resistance adds up to only 59 cents. Symbolically, however, refusing to pay the “war tax” on his Qwest phone bill represents a pocketbook protest against what he sees as misuse of U.S. military power.
“I object to the U.S. government policy of using famine and epidemic as tools against civilian populations. That’s wrong,” says the retired engineer, who has fought for a decade to get economic sanctions against Iraq lifted.
Sacks is one of thousands of Americans believed to be refusing to pay the federal taxes attached to their monthly phone bills — money that helps fund military operations overseas.
Many are taking the step as a protest against the war in Iraq. And in many cases, the phone companies are helping them do it.
“We oppose the policies of ‘pre-emptive war’ and an ‘endless’ war on terrorism, which led to the Iraq war, which violate human rights and international law, and which have cost us hundreds of billions of dollars while our states and cities face unprecedented deficits, and cutbacks of vital services and programs,” reads the statement on a Web site called hanguponwar.org.
Although many activists have been withholding the phone tax since the Vietnam War, the act of disobedience is making headlines again as more Americans began to question the rationale for the Iraq war. A New York Times/CBS News Poll released this week shows that 52 percent of Americans believe that the Bush administration intentionally misled the public when its officials made the case for war.
The so-called tax resisters risk the wrath of the Internal Revenue Service. Yet that hasn’t stopped them. Sacks said he has never been contacted about it, and he is not worried he will be. “After all, I’ve refused to pay a $10,000 fine, still in court now,” he said.
Sacks was fined $10,000 for violating economic sanctions against Iraq by taking $40,000 worth of medicine to help suffering children there.
Ruth Benn, who runs the National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee in New York, said it is impossible to know for sure how many people are participating in the grass-roots movement.
“Before the war started, when the peace movement was really big, there was quite a bit of interest. Now it’s picking up again,” Benn said.
She said communications received by her organization and discussions with other protest coordinators suggest that at least 10,000 people nationwide are withholding federal excise tax payments because of the war.
“This is civil disobedience, and you can be at risk,” Benn, 53, said. “But the government listens when it involves money. This is a good way to get their attention.”
As it turns out, most phone companies aren’t shedding any tears over missed federal excise tax payments. It’s not that they sympathize with protesters’ feelings about the war. They just don’t like the tax.
Qwest Communications International Inc., which provides local phone service to most of the Seattle area, thinks the excise tax is “a silly tax that should go away,” company spokeswoman Shasha Richardson said.
The Denver-based company said it adjusts customers’ bills to remove the excise tax. It then complies with IRS Publication No. 510, Richardson said.
That publication requires providers of local, toll or private communications services to impose and collect a 3 percent tax on services rendered. If customers fail to pay it, the companies must give the IRS a list of those customers’ names and addresses, the services provided, the dates and the amounts the customers owed.
Some phone companies may repeatedly insist that the money is due. Others, such as Qwest, make it easy for the protester.
“We believe this is an illegal tax, and we would support any legislation that repeals it,” said John Britton, a spokesman for AT&T.
He said AT&T will routinely eliminate federal excise taxes from customers’ monthly bills if asked to do so in writing.
“We’ll go into our system and make an adjustment,” Britton said. “But we will have to report you to the government.”
For its part, Cingular Wireless sends a letter to tax-resisting customers agreeing that the federal excise tax is “antiquated and discriminatory” and that it has “has far outlived its purpose.”
“Please be aware, however,” Cingular’s letter warns, “that as required by law, Cingular Wireless will report your non-payment, and provide your name, address, amount of tax written off to the IRS.”
Cingular, MCI and Verizon Wireless all say they adjust customers’ monthly bills to write off the federal excise tax on a regular basis.
Tax resisters such as Benn advise would-be protesters to include a note with their phone payments explaining why they are not paying the tax. The note will make clear to the phone company what’s happening and, in most cases, deter the carrier from cutting off one’s service.
The federal excise tax on phone usage dates back to . It was adopted under the War Revenue Act as a temporary levy to help fund the Spanish-American War. The war ended in . The tax was repealed in but didn’t stay gone for long. It was reintroduced during World War Ⅰ and was subsequently used to help fund the nation’s military activities during World War Ⅱ, the Korean War and the Vietnam War.
The tax was given permanent status in . It raises about $6 billion a year for general federal expenditures, including military spending.
Aspects of the federal excise tax have been challenged in recent court decisions. Nevertheless, the IRS still insists that it be paid in full. Though phone companies are legally obligated to try to collect the federal excise tax, they have no enforcement power.
Because the amount of federal excise-tax money withheld per household is so small, it’s highly unusual nowadays for the IRS to go after people for not paying.
Jesse Weller, an IRS spokesman, said that failure to pay the federal excise tax on phone bills is against the law.
“There is no law that permits a person to refuse to file a federal tax return or pay a federal tax based on what the government spends on programs or policies they disagree with,” he said.
“This includes failure to pay the telephone excise tax based on moral, ethical or religious opposition to government spending for weapons programs or military operations,” he stressed.
Moreover, he insisted that the IRS is determined to identify all those who evade taxes “based on their opposition to government policies or programs.”
Weller said such people may be liable for all unpaid taxes, as well as interest and penalty fees.
Benn, at the National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee, said she hasn’t paid her federal excise tax since , and hasn’t heard a word in all that time from the IRS.
“It’s a pretty small thing,” she said of the amount she denies the government each month. “It won’t end the war all by itself. But perhaps it will help.”
Phones taxed for war
Within the last month, ABC news with Peter Jennings featured a woman concerned that the war tax imposed on telephone bills to raise money for the Spanish-American War is still in place. Originally 10 percent, it was dropped at the end of the Vietnam War, then reimposed the same day by the U.S. Congress. It was lowered by 1 percent a year for several years but has stood as a 3 percent federal excise tax for several years.
As a Quaker and pacifist, I have not paid my phone war tax for 30 years. When I pay my monthly phone bill, I always remind the phone company why I do not include the war tax so that the phone company can report that to the IRS.
The unpaid figure amounts to approximately $25 a year, which I always contribute to a recognized peace organization. To my great surprise, after ignoring this for all this time, the IRS recently sent me a bill for $7.21 for “unpaid phone taxes.” After several months a second bill arrived, this time with $1.01 added in “interest and penalty.”
I understand that phone companies hate to do this collecting for the IRS, since they get nothing for the service. According to the Oregon Community for War Tax Resistance, the tax has raised nearly $30 billion since 1966.
It is estimated that many thousands of phone users refuse to pay the 3 percent war tax on their bill. In effect, we are saying, “I cannot pay for killing.”
Constance P. Brown