A blog experiment by Brad Mills.


An open letter to the WV Tax Department

Dear West Virginia Tax Department:

It's that time of year again... you with your hand extended, and me with my calculator and checkbook in hand. Before we finish our business for another year, though, I have a few things I'd like to get off my chest.

First of all, I've done this tax form song and dance with you for twenty-one years, and in all those years, you've owed me a refund only once. In all the other years, I've owed you money. Whenever I fill out my withholding paperwork, I always ask my employer to hold out as much as they can — without filling in the "please hold out a little more" section. Yet despite this, I always seem to owe at the end of the year.

I did an informal poll around the office the other day, and everyone I talked to indicated the same thing is true for them. All of this tells me the state's withholding tables are most likely incorrect and have been for a long time. So why don't you do something about this? Why do you make me write you a check — is it a power thing, or what? I mean, wouldn't you rather have that tax money throughout the year, since it's yours anyway, instead of in one lump sum around the middle of April? I know I would. Likewise, I'd much rather give you what's yours in smaller chunks over time instead of all at once.

Second, the use tax. Every year you want me to fill out this section where I list all the things I bought out of state but used in West Virginia, and their prices, and then calculate how much West Virginia tax I would have paid had they been bought in-state, and then — well, pay up. Seriously? Do people actually fall for that? How's this: I didn't buy a damn thing out of state, and I never have, and I never will. Don't believe me? Then prove it. Otherwise, please don't insult my intelligence on a government form.

Third, let's talk about that form. I'm glad you give me the option of using an Adobe Acrobat document I can fill in, and I say this as someone who's not a huge Adobe fan. But you know, the PDF I get from the IRS lets me save the filled in version when I'm finished. For some reason, you don't give me that luxury. No, if I want a copy of my state tax form, I have to print out a physical copy and file it away somewhere. You realize physical media is dying, right?

Fourth, free e-filing. The Feds have made e-filing free for every American regardless of income. It's fantastic. How about something similar for our state form? It would get rid of all this paper form and PDF nonsense, and it would surely streamline a department which by all accounts could use a little streamlining.

Fifth, the new withholding form. It used to be I could just drop my W2s in with my tax form and that was fine and dandy. But no more. Apparently the W2 provided by my employer is no longer good enough. Instead, I get to waste time filling out a form which basically asks for the exact same information. To beat it all, you've given me a guide on how I'm supposed to make my numbers on this form because it will be electronically scanned and the numbers need to be in a standardized format for this to work. It's a shame, I guess, that there's no way to get these numbers in a regular format any other way — like, for example, directly off the W2.

A smiley face on an old WV tax form
Smile! You got a refund. (Once.)

Sixth. I am willing to give credit where credit is due. I do appreciate your efforts to make the rest of the West Virginia tax form as simple as possible. And apparently, someone pointed out the smiley faces and frownie faces on previous years' forms were a tad unprofessional, so those are gone too. Interestingly enough, they disappeared the same — and only — year I got a refund. Coincidence?

That's about all, I suppose. And as they say, the check's in the mail. If previous years are any indication, you'll cash it in June. Remember that streamlining I talked about earlier? Well, think about it. It may be worth looking into.


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