The Ottumwa Courier

Columns

April 19, 2012

The ‘evil’ commissioner

Remember When

OTTUMWA — April is the month we share with all Americans, for that is the month the IRS picks our pockets, and this is the week of that big hit. It all began when the Act of 1862 was passed, and the office of the “Evil” Commissioner of Internal Revenue was established to live on to this day. The act gave him the authority to assess, levy and collect taxes, and the right to enforce the tax laws through seizure of property and income, as well as prosecution. In 1868, Congress had begun to set their sights more on tobacco and distilled spirits, which kept this “evil” commissioner really busy. However, by 1872, the income tax was eliminated. There was a sigh of relief, as the country had a reprieve, as did the “evil” commissioner, who had only to be concerned with finding the evaders of taxes on tobacco and liquor until 1894, when the income tax was re-enacted again. However, in 1895, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the income tax was unconstitutional based on the lack of uniformity of the apportionment among the states making the collection of income taxes unlawful according to the Constitution. For it to be settled once and for all, there would have to be an amendment to the Constitution, which was finally passed in 1916, and with this 13th Amendment to our Constitution, the matter was settled, ensuring the “evil” commissioner will never die until the Second Coming.

In 1921, the state of Iowa enacted its own tax on cigarettes, to be followed in 1925 by the state taxing  gasoline and finally the enactment of a state sales tax in 1933, when 45,477 Iowans filed individual income tax returns for that year. The returns were up, as the “evil” commissioner had reported that in 1931 the returns totaled 31,495 (So he must have been very happy). Now, would you like to know how these figures were calculated? The results came from the count of index cards made from the returns filed in each collection district. Yes, you read correctly — from index cards! But that was so long ago that we forget there was hardly any other way to keep track of the results, but for the taxpayers to be noted on individual cards.

In 1932, the “evil” commissioner reported that in Wapello County there were 958 returns, with 904 within the city of Ottumwa. Eldon came in with a whopping 44, while Appanoose County had 221, with Centerville contributing 192 of those. Davis County must have been having a really bad time, as there were only 37 returns, with all of those coming from Bloomfield except five. North of us, Keokuk County had 115 with Sigourney bringing in just over half at 58. Oskaloosa’s returns of 284 brought in the majority of Mahaska’s 316. East of us, Fairfield’s 210 was all but nine of Jefferson County’s. Lastly, Henry County had 163 with Mount Pleasant’s 110.

Suffice it to say, the returns today from all of these counties is much higher, with Iowa having the highest rate of corporate income tax in the nation! If it is any consolation, Iowa is one of the states that receives the most federal funding per dollar of federal taxes paid than other states. Two things are certain, as the old saying goes, and they are death and taxes. However, it is unfair for anyone to have to pay taxes when they are spent on lavish trips and parties for bureaucrats, for cabinet members, as well as prostitutes for the Secret Service on their trips to foreign countries. Character counts, and these things cannot be hidden because of today’s technology, but one wonders how much more is going on that the tax payer is not aware of. And poor Mary Todd Lincoln was crucified by Congress for the money she spent, which was nothing compared to the waste committed today. And they would not allow her any kind of pension until years after Abraham’s death.  But Washington, D.C., did not like her, and that makes all the difference. It is called politics! 

Sue Parrish is a retired museum director, author of the book “Days Gone By,” and retired president of the Wapello County Historical Society.

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