Perhaps it is the unseasonably pleasant weather, but there’s an almost eerie quiet in Sacramento these days given the state’s lack of a spending plan for the year that began July 1. At times such as this, talk turns to the deals and trade offs that inevitably occur as a result of California’s “double supermajority” requirement, which mandates two-thirds legislature approval of a budget and any tax increases needed to help pay for it. An op-ed authored by UC Davis Law Professor Dennis Ventry in this morning’s Los Angeles Times sheds light on issue that’s once again been percolating just below the surface: elimination of the state’s extraordinarily popular “Ready Return” program. Ready Return offers a no-cost alternative for taxpayers to file simple tax returns electronically. Consumer reviews include statements such as, “Absolutely awesome. This is the best service I have ever seen by government,” “Thanks for simplifying my life!,” and “I love it.” Such rave reviews are particularly noteworthy when you remember that we’re talking about how people feel about filing their tax return.
Why would policymakers consider ending a service that saves money and wins kudos? Good question. The answer comes in the form of a hardball lobbying campaign led by Intuit, the for-profit makers of “Turbo Tax,” as described by Professor Ventry. The fundamental question comes down to whether taxpayers should be forced to pay a private vendor if they want the convenience of filing their tax returns on line. In a fair fight, under the light of day, Ready Return is a clear winner for everyone. What’s not to like a about a program that program that saves taxpayers and the state money? Unfortunately, there’s reason to fear that this common sense solution could be on the chopping block.
Let’s take advantage of this lull in the action to praise, and not bury, Ready Return – an example of government that works.
— Jean Ross