|Thousands of 'resisters' refuse to
pay amount owed in protest
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Like most
Americans, Peter Smith and his wife, Ellyn Stecker, sit down each year
to fill out a federal tax form. Then they write a check to the U.S.
Treasury for half the sum in the "amount you owe" box.
They are among thousands of Americans who refuse to pay part or all
of their federal taxes as a protest against war and military spending.
"It takes two things to fight a war: people and money," says Smith,
67, a retired math and computer science teacher. "I can't refuse
anymore to go, but I certainly can refuse to send the money."
The National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee says about
10,000 people "resist" paying taxes. The group plans demonstrations in
Washington and 24 states Monday against the Iraq war.
Other tax protesters contend that the Constitution's 16th
Amendment, which was adopted in 1913 to give Congress the power to
collect income taxes, is illegitimate because it was not ratified by
the required three-fourths of the states. Courts have ruled repeatedly
against this argument.
The organization We The People says on its website, "There is NO
LAW that requires most Americans to file a tax return, pay the federal
income tax or have the tax withheld from their earnings."
There are no data on how many people refuse to pay taxes on
"There's no free lunch; people have to pay their taxes," IRS
Commissioner Mark Everson says. "There have always been individuals
who, for a variety of reasons, argue taxes are voluntary or illegal.
The courts have repeatedly rejected their arguments as frivolous."
Everson says people who "buy into these schemes ... will find it a
very costly error."
To recoup unpaid taxes, the IRS places liens on property, garnishes
wages, takes money from bank and retirement accounts and can seize
In its 2007 budget request, the IRS proposed spending $4.7million
on enforcement and set a goal of increasing voluntary compliance from
83% now to 85% by 2009.
Billions trapped in the gap
The result of tax protesters and scofflaws who can't afford to pay
or cheat on what they owe is a tax gap: the difference between what
should be paid and what the IRS collects.
The gap was $345 billion for the 2001 tax year, according to an IRS
study completed last fall. Late payments and IRS enforcement efforts
brought the 2001 gap down to $290 billion.
Smith and Stecker pay 50% of what they owe because they calculate
that's about the portion of the federal budget that goes to the
military and interest on military-related debt.
Smith, who counsels people interested in becoming tax resisters,
says other war opponents pay no federal income taxes. Some subtract
$10.40 from their payments as a low-risk anti-war statement. Others
refuse to pay the 3% federal excise tax added to phone bills because
that money goes into the federal budget and some of it funds the
Smith and Stecker donate their withheld tax money to charities,
such as Oxfam America, which fights global poverty and hunger, and a
local shelter for battered women.
Stecker, 60, a physician, wishes the government would spend tax
dollars on those sorts of programs instead of war. "You look at what
your money is being spent for, and you say, 'No, I will not give my
money for that,'" she says.
The IRS eventually gets its share. The couple know the routine: By
July, they get a letter from the IRS asking them to pay the rest of
what they owe. They respond with a note explaining their reasons for
not paying the full amount.
Then there's a final notice. The IRS says that in 30 days, it will
extract the money from paychecks, bank accounts or retirement funds.
And the agency does just that.
The couple figure that over the years, the IRS has collected about
$75,000 in back taxes, penalties and interest from them. This year,
thanks to withholding and charitable giving, they owe nothing to the
federal government. They pay the full amount of their state taxes.
They belong to the Michiana Peace and Justice Coalition, a branch
of the National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee. They
distribute brochures that spell out the risks of refusing to pay taxes
-- "high" that the IRS will assess fines and interest, "extremely low"
for criminal penalties.
Glenda Rae Hernandez, 65, who also belongs to the Michiana group,
says the IRS can be aggressive. "They always come after us," she says.
"That's what they operate on: intimidation and fear."
Hernandez, along with Smith and Stecker, began resisting federal
income taxes in 1969 to protest the Vietnam War. "Kids were burning
their draft cards, and I felt I had to do something," Hernandez says.
Tradition of resistance
Smith, who served four years in the Navy in the early 1960s, says
resisting taxes was a natural progression from his involvement in the
civil rights movement. "Martin Luther King said it was just as
important to oppose the fighting in Vietnam," he says.
Proponents say there's a long tradition of refusing to pay taxes
that support wars:
*Quakers resisted taxes for military uses in Colonial times.
*In 1846, writer Henry David Thoreau protested the Mexican War by
refusing to pay a Massachusetts poll tax. Later, he wrote that
declining to pay taxes is preferable to enabling the government "to
commit violence and shed innocent blood." Thoreau went to jail for a
night. He was released after a friend paid the tax for him.
*In 1942, Ernest Bromley refused to buy a $7.09 "defense tax stamp"
required for all cars and went to jail for 60 days.
Jeff Fouts, a tax attorney in the Atlanta area, says, "No matter
what argument you raise as to the legitimacy of the tax system, you're
going to lose."
|GRAPHIC,b/w,Robert W. Ahrens,USA
TODAY,Source:Internal Revenue Service(Line graph); PHOTOS, B/W,Joe
R. Raynmond for USA TODAY(2)
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