I had a moment of entrepreneurial exasperation yesterday that has me seriously regretting my “yes” vote on Proposition 100.
The measure, which passed easily on Tuesday, was lauded as a winner for education. Sixty-four percent of state voters said “yes” to a three-year, one-cent-per-dollar increase in the state sales tax. Two-thirds of the $1 billion expected extra revenue is dedicated to education.
As a mom, the owner of a parenting magazine and a deeply respectful advocate for education, teachers and families, it took me less than half a second to decide that I would vote to approve the measure.
And then yesterday I had a completely bizarre run-in with the Arizona Department of Revenue.
Each month, as all businesses must, Raising Arizona Kids files both state and city sales tax reports. I have faithfully fulfilled this obligation for, let’s see…243 uninterrupted months.
At the beginning of the year, I turned that task over to Operations Director Debbie Davis, along with most of the other financial, legal and operational responsibilities of running our company. She has performed her duties admirably — much better than I ever did, I should say, because I was always torn between the conflicting roles, priorities and deadlines of being both an editor and a business owner.
Okay, so no one is perfect. In a completely random moment of human fallibility, Debbie mixed up the checks she sent out for our March sales tax. The Arizona Department of Revenue got a check made out to the City of Scottsdale. The City of Scottsdale got a check made out to the Arizona Department of Revenue.
Debbie realized the error when she got a notice from Scottsdale saying that we owed penalties on our March tax filing. Because she knew she’d mailed the check on time, she immediately began pouring through our records. That’s when she discovered the flip-flop on payments.
She called the Arizona Department of Revenue to find out how we could get back more than $1,400 we’d overpaid — so we could send it to Scottsdale. They wouldn’t talk to her; they had to talk to “one of the officers of the company.” Debbie called me at home and I immediately placed a call to the contact. I got her voicemail. So I left a detailed message and asked her to call me back on my cell.
Yesterday we finally connected. I was told that our refund couldn’t be processed because “we show you failed to file your taxes for two months in August and September of 2003.” Well I knew that couldn’t be true. I have always filed my sales taxes.
“You must have forgotten those two months,” she said.
Now I was mad.
I got into our QuickBooks records and found that there were indeed cashed checks written to the Arizona Department of Revenue for those two months. I also had copies of the tax filings in my binder.
But there was one more problem.
Because of yet another perfectly understandable human error, my accountant had dated the returns for those two months with the year 2002. So I’m guessing that they got filed with the state’s 2002 records, even though whoever filed them must surely have noticed that we already had filed and paid 2002 sales taxes the year before.
“We’re not contesting the fact that you paid the taxes in 2003,” the person on the phone said to me. “In fact, it looks like you overpaid. We owe you $42. But I can’t release either refund until we have the paperwork on file.”
Let me get this straight. Because both the Arizona Department of Revenue and the City of Scottsdale cashed checks that were not even made out to them, and because the Arizona Department of Revenue misfiled, lost or threw away four pieces of paper that were dated 2002 but mailed to them in 2003, and even though all parties understand the sequence of completely understandable human errors that led to this situation, our money is being held hostage for an undetermined amount of time until I can prove, somehow, that this documentation was indeed filed on time.
My accountant has now gotten involved and eventually this whole thing will be cleared up. But this example of bureaucratic arrogance and closed-mindedness makes me want to scream. Is anyone really ever going to look at those four pieces of paper from 2003? Isn’t the fact that they got their money the important thing?
It is completely aggravating to know that I voted to send more money to an organization that allows its employees absolutely no leeway to exercise prudent judgment that could lead to better efficiency. And while my vote will, thankfully, funnel more money to education, much of it likely will be wasted paying people who are conducting their jobs within the framework of an archaic, completely inflexible never-deviate-from-the-playbook approach to management.
Creativity is what we need in this economic crisis. Not this.