Published: Wednesday, April 4, 2007
Protesters withhold payment of taxes
Anyone who gets caught can face civil or criminal penalties, the IRS warns.
Dorothy Hansen used to pay her taxes faithfully every year until the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.
Since then, she has stopped filing her income tax returns to show her disapproval of the war.
"I am very sure that I don't want to have any part in killing people, and I certainly don't want a part in any wars that do just that," said Hansen, 87.
With the tax-filing deadline just two weeks away, some Bay Area residents are using it as an opportunity to protest the war by withholding their tax dollars to fund it.
Known as war tax resisters, they consider it an act of civil disobedience. Some withhold only a symbolic portion of what they owe $10.40, for example, to represent the 1040 tax form while others, like Hansen, refuse to pay anything at all. Many will redirect their tax dollars to a charity of their choice.
The risks can be costly if a resister is caught. The Internal Revenue Service recently increased the penalty for people who fail to pay their taxes to $5,000 from $500. Some resisters have had their wages garnisheed or property seized.
"There is no law that permits taxpayers to refuse to file a tax return or refuse to pay their taxes based on an estimate of what the government spends on programs or policies with which they disagree on moral, ethical, religious or other grounds," the IRS said in a statement. "These frivolous positions are variations of arguments taxpayers have made in the past about religion and taxation, and that courts have repeatedly rejected."
The IRS added that by not paying what they owe, tax resisters place an undue burden on the people who file their taxes legitimately.
Jesse Weller, an IRS spokesman, said the agency does not keep statistics on war tax resisters and how much money goes uncollected from them every year. The National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee in New York, as well as its local affiliate, the Northern California War Tax Resistance in Berkeley, said they have no way of tracking their numbers either.
Generally speaking, the IRS recovers about $55 billion through enforcement activities and late payments, but there still remains a gap of $290 billion between taxes owed and taxes received. Weller said the IRS goes after promoters of tax resistance more aggressively than those who participate in the movement and warns that anyone who gets caught can face a criminal or civil penalties.
Nonetheless, war tax resisters persist, emboldened by the fact that it is probably too costly for the government to come after them. Hansen said she will stand by her beliefs regardless of the consequences.
"I have paid for taxes I have helped to pay for wars before," she said. "I've never felt good about that. It was the invasion of Iraq that pushed the button for me."
Elizabeth Boardman, 65, of San Francisco plans to withhold 41 percent of her taxes this year, a number she estimates the government to be spending on the military from its total budget, excluding what it pays out to war veterans.