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The incident is true. I wrote the essay just for fun and for the longest time I waited for my notice for an IRS audit.  It eventually came.

A TAXING EXPERIENCE by Marty Gallanter

Congress versus the White House not withstanding, it's hard to balance the budget unless the government can actually collect taxes. And if my experience is typical, our government has even bigger problems than any of us ever imagined.

I once lived and worked in New York City. I was mugged, splashed by taxis, had my pocket picked, and even heard the bomb go off at the World Trade Center. But I think the following tale had more to do with my leaving the Big Apple than anything else.

A friend of mine had tax troubles and needed to make a fourteen hundred dollar IRS payment to avoid wage attachment. Since she worked in Brooklyn and I only a few blocks from the Church Street tax office in Manhattan, she called on me for help and, naively, I agreed. Her check arrived a few days later, was converted to cash (the IRS payment order called for cash, certified check or money order) and I innocently wandered to 120 Church.

After a mercifully brief wait, the courteous and friendly clerks located the file and confirmed the amount required. Delighted with the ease of my task, I happily counted out a short stack of hundred dollars bills. I should have known better.

"I am sorry," the clerk said, "we don't take cash."

"I beg your pardon?"

"We don't take cash," she repeated patiently, "certified check or money order."

"But your form specifically says cash is accepted," I answered pointing to the small print on the back of the official notice.

"We don't accept cash," she said, ignoring the document I waved. Her patience was clearly growing thin.

"Wait a minute," I said, the Sixties Activist gene in my blood waking after all these years, "right on the money, printed directly on the bill, it says legal tender for all debts public and private. The federal government issues this currency and you're telling me that the federal government won't accept it in settlement of debt to the federal government?"

Her silent stare was an indicator that maybe I really did understand the bottom line, subtleties notwithstanding. Still, I thought reason should be given a reasonable chance.

"Frankly, ma'am," I continued with absolute certainty in the justice of my case, "I don't think you have the legal right to refuse currency." I then worked for by The Legal Aid Society which probably explains my primitive reaction that expected government officials to obey the law even though it's not convenient.

Finally, when it was apparent that I had no intention of relenting, either my point or my spot in line, I was treated to that most ancient of all bureaucratic responses... the same one, I am sure, that Moses heard from Pharaoh's gate keeper when he was refused admittance to the palace.

"I'm sorry, I only work here. You will have to see my supervisor."

"And where is your supervisor?" I asked stupidly.

"In a meeting," came the not unexpected return.

I turned in desperation to face three fellow sufferers in line behind me and was blessed with enthusiastic and unanimous support. Several of the people sitting in plastic chairs and awaiting appointments joined the cheering section.

One elderly woman whose hearing was not strong enough for her to understand the confrontation first hand, asked her companion for a summary.

"You mean they won't take the man's money!" she shouted in disbelief and at the top of her voice. "That's stupid." I think I actually saw the clerk blush.

Suddenly I remember that I was dealing with my friend's taxes, not my own, and that she might not appreciate being sacrificed on my alter of principle. I relented... went around the corner and bought a money order.

Still, longing for vindication, I called the New York City Bureau of Consumer Protection and asked if a merchant had the right to refuse to accept cash. The intense woman on the phone advised me that it would be against the law unless the merchant has a clearly posted sign advising his customers that he will not take currency. She asked me for the name of the merchant and I admitted just having visited the IRS.

"Oh, I guess they do what they want," she responded with resignation.

Looking for more solid support, I called the Justice Department and reached a man in the Federal Attorney's Office. He was incensed and spoke of the injustice of requiring someone to purchase a money order or maintain a checking account. When I told him I was talking about the Internal Revenue his response was instant.

"I don't believe you."

"It's true," I said.

"You stood in front a tax collector with a handful of cash and she sent you out the door?"

"That's right."

"How stupid do you think we are? No one's going to believe that one." He hung up on me.

I have since come to understand that, in an economy measure, the Church Street IRS office eliminated the position of cashier and solved the resulting service shortage by trying to eliminate cash... the law or the justice of the situation didn't seem to have much impact on the decision.

OK, we've endured a pair of government shut-downs and a whole new level of Washington gridlock, largely over the issue of how much we should collect in taxes. Now that they've finally come to some sort of agreement, I, like most Americans, am prepared to pay my fair share of the national sacrifice. But, come on guys, are these really the only people available to collect my money? I'm not sure they'll take it.


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