Uncommon Ground

Eye Penny

I’m glad income tax season is over. Now we can focus on the growing season.

By Mike Jopek

He took thousands from retirement to pay last year’s taxes, due a few days ago. It’s an expensive time for retirees and the self-employed. Our government needs money to run. And that means pages and pages of complicated tax forms for retirees and independent workers.  Forms that demand paid professionals or big software fees.

She made small-talk with the bank teller while withdrawing separate thousands to transfer into checking for Uncle Sam. It signaled a good construction year for their small company. Even with inflationary building costs the tax amount sounded significant.

Another family was happy about the refund, having overpaid last year. The returned money would help them during an increasingly expensive time in rural Montana. The ever-increasing price of all things is adding up. The stress on working families is real.

The excavator sat idle. The owner returned home to do taxes. The federal deadline was pending, the dig would wait until the next day. There’s no arguing with the tax man.

Here’s my money, take it. The software assured it’s the right amount. We’ll send more if you demand. Just no more paperwork. It’s quite overwhelming.

I should be doing the farm taxes now, instead I’m writing this column. Having gone through tax season for decades on the farm, I marvel at tax inflation. Politicians keep telling us we got a tax cut. They apparently didn’t mean farmers like me.

Something feels askew. Either the feds keep requesting too much each year, or the politicians writing the tax code aren’t telling the whole taxing truth. It seems they meant that someone else got a tax break while working people pay the balance.

It’s like the men in charge of writing Montana’s tax code don’t appreciate the value of a hard day’s work or how expensive and demanding tax season is for retirees and contractors.

Most Montanans willingly pay our fair share to keep society safe, healthy, and livable. There’s no other place we want to live. This is our home, our way of live. The place where our friends and family can prosper through hard work, sacrifice, and some good old-fashioned luck.

The cost of taxes combined with the price of private insurance and sundry expenses of living like food and shelter seem to gobble up an increasing share of the money workers earn in a year.

The restaurant employee said it’s hard to save money toward retirement, even think much about retirement, when the daily cost of living requires all her income to stay afloat. She wasn’t looking for much. Just a livable place, in a rural Montana town where she works, and one that didn’t fully drain each biweekly paycheck.

The tax man has come and gone. The man taxed my dad, who died last year.  The man is always on workers’ paystubs, earning Social Security. Come fall, the tax man will be collecting to keep local government and public schools open and free for everyone.

I’m glad income tax season is over. Now we can focus on the growing season. Property tax season is soon enough, just like the fall’s killing freeze.

Everyone seems willing to do their fair part to keep our government open. Like most Montanans, I don’t resent fair taxes. I find them too high and openly begrudge the overly complex paperwork.

Rural Montana is getting shortchanged on services, or so it feels in the morning diners and evening pubs across the valley. The resentment is real, a lot of working people are feeling left further behind.

We need our firefighters, police, teacher and librarians. Someone has to build the houses, fight the forest fires, plow winter streets, and fill the potholes from that incessant traffic of tourism. Thanks for paying your share during this tax season.

Stay Connected with the Daily Roundup.

Sign up for our newsletter and get the best of the Beacon delivered every day to your inbox.