By Tom Baxter
The pandemic has played havoc with our national calendar. There was a time not long ago when April 15 was looked upon as a shared day of tribulation, that day every year when our taxes were due.
Last year, in the early weeks of the pandemic, Tax Day was moved back all the way to July 15 to give newly quarantined Americans more time to file without incurring a penalty. The Internal Revenue Service announced in March that it was moving the deadline again this year, to May 17. That is, it was Monday unless you were a resident of Louisiana, Oklahoma or Texas. Because of the severe winter storms in February — and yes, that is a mighty thin “because” — Tax Day for those states isn’t until June 15.
The result of this splintering of deadlines is that we still have our day of tribulation, but it is not shared. In that respect, the way we pay our taxes mirrors the nation we have become.
One reason for this year’s extension was to give taxpayers more time to deal with the effects of the American Rescue Plan, including the third stimulus payment and a tax break on the first $10,200 in unemployment benefits received in 2020. The IRS also needed more time to deal with the backlog from last year’s tax season. But more than 35 million tax returns had already been filed by the time President Joe Biden signed the rescue package into law on March 11, and more than 50 million had filed by the time the extension was announced.
That means the IRS has to make adjustments in the returns for many early filers, possibly creating more delays and more extensions down the line. Last week, the IRS announced a plan to send out refunds to those who got the unemployment tax break on a rolling basis. It expects that process to go on through the end of the summer.
At this rate, we may or may not resume the traditional tax calendar by next year. By then, the way we think about taxes may have changed considerably.
In retrospect, it’s striking that the Trump campaign didn’t spend more time last year attacking the Biden tax plan, particularly the parts that involve tinkering with the rules for their 401(k)s. That may not have stirred emotions like the social issues Trump did campaign on, but among suburban white voters, where the Republicans fell short, it could have had real impact.
They may have missed their chance. Republicans in Congress are unwavering in their resistance to raising taxes on the wealthy, but polls show the broad outlines of Biden’s plan gaining in popularity. “Just say no” isn’t going to remain politically viable indefinitely.
On Monday, this year’s Tax Day, the Biden Administration announced that the first monthly enhanced child credit payments will be going out to some 39 million families beginning July 15. The payments are scheduled to continue only through the end of this year, but there will be pressure to continue the program in some form. Like it or not, sending monthly checks to the families of 88 percent of the nation’s children is going to have a political impact.
Consider the contrast here in Georgia. The Tax Relief Act of 2021, passed in the legislature and signed by Gov. Brian Kemp, will give individuals a tax break of up to $43 a year and married couples up to $63 a year, when they file their 2022 taxes in 2023. That’s supposed to help those at the bottom of the economic ladder, but those are the same Georgians most affected by Kemp’s decision end to the extra $300 weekly emergency federal unemployment supplements.
With the GOP now presenting itself as the party of the working class, it’s easy to underestimate the contrast this presents, but when those checks start hitting bank accounts this July, it will be noticed.
If April 15 ever does become Tax Day again, it’s going to come as a shock to some of us late filers who’ve grown accustomed to the extra time. But it could be reassuring in a way — a sign that at long last, things have come back to normal.