A Peculiar Letter from the I.R.S.

I got a letter from the IRS that informed me they had notified the State Department that because I have a “seriously delinquent federal tax debt” that I ought to be denied a passport.

That in itself was a little peculiar, because they had already gone through this process back in . Why, I wondered, are they doing it again? By the terms of the law, such a notification to the State Department isn’t the sort of thing that expires and has to be periodically renewed, but is supposed to remain valid until revoked by the IRS.

So I did a little digging. I looked at my account transcripts at irs.gov and discovered that, oddly, the agency had indeed issued its certification of my seriously delinquent federal tax debt in , but then had done it again in and then had reversed that certification in before again reapplying it . There’s no rhyme or reason to that as far as I can tell. My tax debt never fell below the threshold at which they are supposed to make this notification, and even if it had, the way the law is written makes the certification a sort of ratchet: it turns on when your tax delinquency reaches a certain dollar-amount threshold, but then doesn’t turn off until that amount gets all the way down to zero (or you enter into a payment plan or other such formal agreement). This seems to have just been a glitch of some sort.

But that’s not the only interesting part of the notice I got yesterday. It also contained a table of the tax years they’re pursuing me for. It looks like this:

Your billing details
Tax period ending Form number Amount you owe Additional interest Additional penalty Total
12/31/2010 1040 0.00
12/31/2011 1040 6,987.57 42.06 0.00 7,031.63
12/31/2012 1040 7,377.70 44.40 0.00 7,422.10
12/31/2013 1040 9,685.85 58.29 0.00 9,744.14
12/31/2014 1040 8,750.76 52.66 0.00 8,803.42
12/31/2015 1040 7,639.13 45.97 0.00 7,685.10
12/31/2016 1040 6,076.56 36.57 0.00 6,113.13
12/31/2017 1040 7,410.80 44.60 0.00 7,455.40
12/31/2018 1040 7,833.64 47.14 174.03 8,054.81

Two things to notice about this table: First, the blanks in the tax year 2010 row. That’s further verification that the 2010 tax year has slipped beyond the statute of limitations deadline and that the IRS considers it permanently out of reach. Second: the years stop at 2018. The 2019 tax year is conspicuously missing. That suggests to me that they’re still sitting on the tax return I filed more than a year ago, having not yet gotten around to entering it into their databases. It’s further evidence of just how badly things are going for them over there.

In other news, Truthout interviews war tax resister Howard Waitzkin. Excerpt:

Quite a few people who do tax resistance start off as conscientious objectors to capitalist imperialist war. What taxes become, then, is a fundamental cognitive dissonance in terms of ethics. Because here I am, declaring myself a resister to war and actually getting recognized for that. So, I don’t have to go out and kill people under orders. I can do other things, as a conscientious objector, to provide service, as I’ve done. But here I am being asked to pay half of my income taxes to kill people. It doesn’t really add up, does it?

There’s actually a constitutional question about how people legally can be eligible for conscientious objection and yet have to pay half their earnings for the exact thing that they have been recognized as conscientiously objecting to. And that’s in my formal explanations year after year to the IRS. That’s actually part of it. The individual stories vary a lot, but that’s a very common theme here: that people start off objecting to war as it is, and can’t imagine ourselves participating in it as it is, and then it goes from that to paying taxes.