Today marks the start of my most hated season of the year: income tax preparation time. I will spend the day gathering and sorting receipts. If all goes well, I’ll do the hard thinking next week. I say this every year, but I really believe this year will be the worst ever. As of today, I don’t even know if we are filing as legal residents of Maine or New York or both.
The opening step is always my sales tax return for New York State. It isn’t difficult, but there’s a penalty for forgetting it, and I do some years. This year I need to close that account and open a new one for Maine.
“Why don’t you hire an accountant?” someone will inevitably ask. I believe it’s a citizen’s duty to know what and why he’s paying the government. When that gets beyond the understanding of mere mortals something is radically wrong with our system. I’m pretty good with numbers and there are times I am totally at sea.
The major part of the job involves calculating income and expenses. Yes, I could hand my straw basket of receipts, my mileage report, my utility bills and my bank statements to an accountant, but I should be tracking those things anyway.
Periodically, someone will resurrect the idea of a flat tax. That will never happen. Government uses taxation as a goad to various kinds of behavior, home ownership being the most obvious example. Furthermore, the tax code as it stands provides employment to a whole cadre of preparers and attorneys. Washington may have stood cheerfully by while domestic industry collapsed, but it will never permit flattening its fellow lawyers’ work.
“What does this have to do with painting?” you might ask. Absolutely nothing if you maintain amateur status and sell little or no work. But if you make a living painting, business records and taxes are a very real part of your job, and not paying attention is an expensive mistake. It is just part of the hidden work artists do that also includes marketing, inventory control, and maintenance. Occasionally it even leaves time for painting.