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For Californians, taxes made simpler

A bill in the state Senate would give California taxpayers one website for completing forms and paying taxes to three agencies. It's a start.

April 13, 2012
  • U.S. Department of the Treasury Internal Revenue Service 1040 Individual Income Tax forms for the 2011 tax year are arranged for a photograph. Tax day this year is April 17.
U.S. Department of the Treasury Internal Revenue Service 1040 Individual… (Daniel Acker / Bloomberg )

Here's the good news: Even if you didn't file your taxes today, you're not late. Even if you don't file Monday, you're not late. Tax day this year is April 17. So stop rushing!

Here's the bad news: Californians may have to file four or more times. First, of course, with the Internal Revenue Service, and then for state taxes with the Franchise Tax Board. But do you owe sales taxes on Internet purchases? Do you run a business and are required to collect and remit sales taxes? Then you must deal with the Board of Equalization. Do you have employees — even a nanny or a gardener, for example, for whom you must withhold personal income tax and disability insurance? Then you've got to fill out forms and return them to the Employment Development Department. Do you have a car? Separate tax, separate forms, separate website.

But here's more good news: California taxpayers may finally get one online site where in one fell swoop they can complete their tax forms and make their payments to three of the separate agencies. After all, it's one state; taxpayers should be able to go online once and take care of all their state tax business. That's the idea behind SB 1326 by state Sen. Tom Harman, a Republican who represents coastal Orange County. The bill would require the three tax agencies to develop a single Web portal to file, pay, check due dates, claim refunds and seek information.

"Focusing on the customer should be a core element of California's tax administration," Harman says. Taxpayers as customers who need to be served? It's an idea long overdue. After all, the state wants and needs to be paid, but it does not need to add to the pain by making payment more of a chore than it has to be.

Credit where it's due: You can already pay your use taxes on Internet purchases — a Board of Equalization function — on your Franchise Tax Board income tax return (line 95). And yes, you are legally required to pay your use taxes, just as you have to pay sales taxes on in-store purchases. Quit griping; it's been this way since 1935, and other states do it the same way.

Why only three agencies? Will the portal include the Department of Motor Vehicles, so drivers can calculate and pay their vehicle license fees, submit their smog certificates and get their tags at the same time as they're filing their tax returns? No such luck. Please, senator, look into that. And will the portal allow them to file with the IRS, with the county property tax collector and with city business tax collectors at the same time? Not yet. But let's keep the pressure on. After all, if state agencies can work together to serve their customers, all of our various governments ought to be able to follow suit.

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