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Their Objections to War Lead Activists To Do Battle with IRS
Published on Saturday, February 12, 2005 by The Register-Guard (Eugene, Oregon)
Their Objections to War Lead Activists To Do Battle with IRS
by Matt Cooper
 

Carol Horne considers herself a good American: She loves her country, she does what she can for others. She cries during the national anthem.

But she won't pay taxes to support the war.

"What good is it protesting (that) this war is not in my name," the 52-year-old Eugene writer asked, "if it's with my money?"

Horne is a war tax resister, one of the estimated thousands withholding federal taxes to protest the U.S. war in Iraq. With tax season in full swing and the war continuing, some say the decades-old protest and some long-standing legislation on Capitol Hill will get new attention.

Interest in war tax resistance is up, in part because it's tax time, said Ruth Benn, coordinator of the Brooklyn-based National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee.

The group's Web site, which drew 100 daily visitors prior to President Bush's re-election, spiked at 2,100 recently.

"When people sit down to write that check sometime between January and April 15, if they're anti-war, they're going, `Oh my, here I am paying for it,' " Benn said.

The Religious Freedom Peace Tax Fund bill, a 33-year-old effort to establish a nonmilitary fund where conscientious objectors can send their taxes, goes before lawmakers again this spring, said Marian Franz, executive director of the bill's national campaign.

The bill has never been put to a vote, but Franz expects it to gain ground. "Constituents are more deeply committed to it than they have been in recent years because of the Iraq war," she said.

Meanwhile, a 4-year-old bill to establish the Department of Peace, which would promote nonviolent conflict resolution, also will be reintroduced this session, said Doug Gordon, a spokesman for Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, the bill's sponsor. The bill has never been put to a vote but gets more co-signers each session, he added.

Gordon wouldn't speculate about whether such a department might persuade war tax resisters to rejoin the tax rolls, but he said Kucinich believes that the promotion of nonviolence "is a great use of taxpayer dollars."

There are 8,000 to 10,000 war tax resisters today, Benn said, down from a Vietnam-era high in 1972, when an estimated 100,000 to 500,000 people withheld taxes in some form.

Half of every tax dollar goes to the military, in part to pay the debt for past wars, Benn said. Some conscientious objectors pay half their tax bill; others pay nothing and include a letter of explanation.

Some withhold the federal excise tax on telephone service, money historically earmarked for the military, Benn said. Others dodge the Internal Revenue Service entirely or reconfigure their lives to live below the taxable level - $7,950 in income for a single person under 65, according to the IRS.

Many protesters give the money to charities instead, Benn said, or simply wait for the IRS to take it out of their salaries or bank accounts. Few go to jail, she added - about two dozen people since the 1940s. "A lot of people think, `If I don't pay my taxes, I'm going to go to jail,' " Benn said. "That's not the first thing the IRS does. They really want the money."

IRS spokesman Jesse Weller generally agreed, saying that the priority is collection and that imprisonment, property seizures and the garnishment of wages or bank accounts are last resorts.

No law exempts those who don't pay taxes due to religious, moral, ethical or political beliefs, he said.

According to the IRS, 18 percent of the tax dollar goes to the armed forces and other national defense activities, but Weller couldn't say how debt might affect the number.

Nor can the IRS estimate how many war tax resisters are among the nonpayers who, collectively, owe the government $300 billion. But the agency is stepping up collection in expectation that more people may withhold taxes due to the war, Weller said. "All we want to do is collect the tax that is due," he said. "Where it goes is determined by Congress."

For more than 20 years, Sue Barnhart, a 50-year-old Eugene social worker, said she has withheld half of her tax payments, lived below the taxable level or used credits to avoid paying money that supports war. She's never been imprisoned, she said, but the IRS has garnisheed her wages - the agency took more than $5,000, for example, for taxes from 1993 to 1997.

"I would love to pay taxes for houses for all people, food for all people, education for all," Barnhart said. "I'm not against the government; I'm just against the government killing people."

Horne, on the other hand, believes that some wars are justified - just not this one. Frustrated by the reasons for invading Iraq, she lowered her taxable income in 2003, in part by donating about $5,000 to a local social service agency - a move that also satisfied her desire to help others.

Horne still owes more than $1,300 for 2003, but she said that's a small price to sleep well at night. "As each announcement of another soldier killed comes across the news, my heart breaks," she said, reciting from a letter she wrote to the IRS. "My only comfort is in knowing that I have not allowed my tax dollars to be used."

WAR TAX RESISTERS

Several groups work with people who don't want to pay taxes because they oppose war. Among them:

Lane County: Taxes for Peace Not War; call Peg Morton, 342-2914

Nationwide: Call the National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee at (800) 269-7464, or visit the National Campaign for a Peace Tax Fund at www.peacetaxfund.org or call (888) PEACETAX

© Copyright 2005 The Register-Guard

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