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GOP shill game

A ploy to kill the ReadyReturn program to boost a private firm shames Republican legislators.

October 11, 2009

California's Republican state senators claim they act the way they do -- blocking budget votes, demanding health and education cuts, opening tax loopholes for downtrodden classes such as yacht owners -- because they want to protect their constituents from overbearing and ineffective government. They're becoming progressively less believable, especially after GOP senators last month held more than 20 mostly worthy bills hostage in order to try killing a program that old-school Republicans would have championed.

The senators refused to vote on Democrats' bills in an effort to eliminate ReadyReturn, a service of the Franchise Tax Board. Instead of just combing tax returns for mistakes, the board came up with the program to actually help some taxpayers, Tax officials complete returns for simple filers -- those whose income is mostly from wages -- allowing them to just sign it and send it in (with a check). Filers, if they prefer, can still figure their taxes themselves.

So let's get this straight: ReadyReturn saves taxpayers time and headaches. The board has shown that it pays for itself with increased compliance. It reduces errors. It lowers the state's costs for processing returns. Republicans oppose all that?

Yes, they do -- because in this case efficient and responsive government means fewer sales of TurboTax, software that helps filers prepare their tax returns and that, presumably, more Californians would buy if the Franchise Tax Board were as inefficient and messed up as so many other state programs. Intuit is the company that makes TurboTax, and perhaps you can guess what else it does: It gives lots of money to GOP lawmakers.

This new breed of elected California Republican has become almost unrecognizable. Think through the philosophy these senators are supposedly espousing and here's what you get: Government shouldn't try to do its job better because that would deny some entrepreneurs the chance to make money by correcting government's flubs. It shouldn't reduce regulatory burdens because that would devastate the market for fixers, expediters, lawyers and lobbyists. It should roll back improvements to the Department of Motor Vehicles because Internet license renewals and shorter waits in line could lead fewer people to join the Auto Club to cut through the morass.

Republicans, of course, deny that they're trying to help Intuit; they say they're merely protecting taxpayers. But that makes no sense. They ought to be ashamed of themselves. And for Intuit, whose product doesn't do much for the mostly low-income taxpayers who get their taxes done for free with ReadyReturn, shame doesn't even begin to describe it.

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