State, taxpayers owe same fines

"Tax not paid by the statutory due date of the return is subject to 1 percent interest and 5 percent late filing and/or 1/2 of 1 percent late payment penalty per month, or fraction thereof. Interest accrues until the tax due has been paid in full ... An extension of time for filing the return does not extend the date for making the payment. Additional penalties may apply ..."

- Georgia Department of Revenue general instructions for individual income tax Form 500.

In other words, your government wants its money - in full and on time. And if they don't get it, you pay extra.

Interestingly, when the government owes you money, the sense of urgency is gone with the wind.

Case in point: My tax returns were mailed March 24, more than three months ago, and I'm still waiting on a refund from the state of Georgia.

The federal refund was returned to me in about five weeks. Despite the state guaranteeing delivery within seven weeks, I'm now into week 13.

A call to the Georgia Income Tax Information System channeled me to the Automated Tax Information System, which gave me the following information: "Your tax return is currently being processed. Allow six weeks to complete processing."

But that means it could take 19 weeks - well into August, or a third of a year - before they give back my money. And that's if they make good on their promise.

A check with Brent Duncan of Beard, Duncan and Company, an accounting firm in Lawrenceville, confirms mine is not an isolated case.

"In 20 years, we haven't taken this many calls from clients asking about their state returns. The state is just that far behind in processing," Duncan said.

State officials say due to budget cuts and layoffs, it could be five months before all 2009 returns are finalized.

The state will pay interest - but no penalty - to those who filed their taxes correctly and on time but haven't received their refund beginning July 16 - 90 days after the April 15 deadline.

I know the government makes the laws and enforces the laws. It seems, though, that those in government expect us to have all the patience in the world while requiring none of themselves. We're all dealing with a tough economy. Would they have allowed us to miss April 15 and waive the penalty?

My point is that state government should hold itself to the same standards it expects of its citizens. It demands penalties if taxpayers get behind. Why shouldn't the taxpayer expect the same?

J.K. Murphy is the publisher of the Gwinnett Daily Post. E-mail him at jk.murphy@gwinnettdailypost.com.