Government Savage to Weak and Meek to Powerful

Poor RetireeAs you may have noticed, I’ve been gone all day today. I had to help my father. Last week, his bank told him that the State of California served a tax levy to his bank for almost $3,000 in back taxes for 2010 and 2011. The problem is that my father is on Social Security and doesn’t work. So it seemed unlikely that he could owe any money. After various attempts to use the phone to contact the state, we went to one of their regional offices in Oakland. I figured the problem was that there was something that went on because of the death of his girlfriend at that time or that they got him mixed up with me, because we have the same name.

It turned out that it was much more vague than that. The state seems to have looked at him and decided that he had too high a standard of living for his declared income. And given that my father has a contractor’s license, they figured he must be working under the table. They asked us questions such as, “What is your mortgage?” Well, my father has no mortgage; his house has been paid for for a long time. And they wanted to know how he supported himself. Given that my father is 82-years-old, one would think the answer would be obvious. Anyway, they sent us off the Social Security office to get proof that they really are supporting him. So I’m supposed to put that information together with a cover letter and send it off to them. And then, if we are good little boys, the money they just summarily removed from his account will be returned to him.

California Franchise Tax BoardAll the people that we dealt with today were friendly and efficient. And the whole system was efficient — very much like the DMV were you take a number and wait. It’s amazing, therefore, that a government that could do such a good job of dealing with the needs of its citizens would be so callous as to just take money away from an eighty-something without any due process or even warning. The bank informed my father just two days before the transfer was to be take place (even though it had received the levy 13 days earlier). And the State of California didn’t even send notice of the tax bill until the day before the money was taken; the notice wasn’t received until two days after.

Now it looks like the money will be refunded (although we have no idea how long it will take). But we don’t know why the state decided to take the money out for these two years. My father has been retired for fifteen years. What’s more, we don’t know where they came up with the tax liability. And why didn’t they know that my father was on Social Security? It’s all just terrible. And I wonder what would have happened if my father hadn’t had me to help him navigate this whole thing. It is only when dealing with things like this that I am reminded just how old he is. His level of frustration and confusion is high and quite understandable. In this case, the state seems to be taking the position of, “Woops!” But that doesn’t fly when they are so abusing the old and weak.

The State of California is known for its hardball tactics when dealing with taxes. I understand the situation — the government needs money to do the things that the people demand. But this kind of behavior is a direct result of our governmental system that is so skewed toward the interests of the rich. We can never tax the rich more, because they will use their money to destroy any politicians who counter them. So the state is put in a situation where it is more savage in its attacks on the weakest members of society. We’ve seen the same thing in Ferguson where the poor are being economically bled to provide low taxes for the “job creators.” And there doesn’t seem to be anything we can do about it.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

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