Yes; I’m talking directly to you.
See, I’m reading and hearing a whole lot lately about how sacred are the "laws of the land." …How respectful and reverent we must be and how solemn must be our demeanor when contemplating the dire warnings of crumbled civilizations brought about by the prospect of lawbreakers!!! Well, dear reader:
YOU ARE A LAWBREAKER!
Do you own a computer? An Internet connection? Browse the Internet? Ever shop? Buy anything online? Ever not be charged sales tax, like from Amazon, or a private purchase on eBay or the like? Yes? Uh…and did you calculate your sales tax liability over the entire year of purchases and send in a check to your governor? Do you send in a check for purchases you make in other states with no sales tax or a lower sales tax while traveling or on vacation?
Online purchases from sites like Amazon.com and eBay may seem to arrive
in a state of untaxed bliss. But the law actually requires shoppers to
pay their own state’s sales tax rate–the concept is called a "use tax"–and voluntarily cough up the exact amount owed each year at tax time.
New York state has added a line to income tax returns requiring all
residents to calculate how much they should pay on Internet, mail order
or out-of-state purchases. The threat is explicit: Anyone who
creatively underestimates will face stiff penalties if an audit occurs.
"If you’ve written zero or left it blank, during the audit we’re
going to make you produce your financial records, bank statements,
credit card statements," said Michael Bucci, a spokesman for the New York Department of Taxation and Finance.
"If we find out you have made purchases you haven’t reported to us, not
only are you going to be liable for the amount owed, the tax liability,
but also interest and penalties, which…could be up to three times as
much as what you actually owe."
For the first time this year, California has taken its
thou-shalt-pay-up warnings to the Internet through banner
advertisements on four newspaper Web sites. One on the Sacramento Bee’s site warns: "Make online purchases? You might owe use tax." (It has the
benefit of being easily, and accurately, misread as "You might owe us tax.")
"One reason we want to collect the use tax and have been very
aggressive about it is that 100 percent of the sales tax goes to
education–the use tax does too," said Danny Brazell, a spokesman for
South Carolina’s Department of Revenue.
South Carolina is one of the more diligent states–or from a taxpayer’s
perspective, one of the most brutal. It has signed a deal with the U.S.
Customs Service to obtain records about state residents who import
expensive items from abroad; has sent out random mailings to taxpayers;
and has added a line to its income tax return.
"In the event that we were auditing one of our customers, one of our
taxpayers, if we found a use tax liability, yes they would be held
accountable for that and there would be penalties," said Gore, the
California tax agency spokeswoman. Those include an interest rate of 9
percent, and, if negligence is proven, a 10 percent additional penalty.
California residents pay a sales and use tax of up to 8.75 percent in
some areas, one of the highest in the nation. Golden State laws are
strict: If Californians travel to a state with a 5 percent tax and shop
there, the law requires them to write a check to the state tax agency for up to the 3.75 percent difference upon their return.
Well, you know, since we live in a day when the most essential attribute of America that most people seem to be able to regurgitate is that we’re a "nation of laws," it seems to me that we’re in quite a pickle. …Although, I’m sure that the thousands of people who read that CNET article, the hundreds who read this blog entry, and the many who’ll be informed elsewhere will immediately commence sending in their checks–you know–since "we’re a nation of laws" & all.